How To See If Your Camera Uses Huawei Hisilicon Chips

By Ethan Ace, Published Aug 30, 2019, 08:47am EDT

Rarely do manufacturers disclose what SoCs (System on a Chip) they use, even though it is the core of IoT devices.

Interest in this has increased as supply chain risks generally and the debate over Huawei usage more specifically have risen including the US NDAA ban.

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In this report, we show how to locate and access the SoCs inside common cameras so users may investigate themselves, including:

  • Where chips can be found inside cameras
  • How camera teardown and reassembly differ from camera to camera
  • The risks of tearing down cameras
  • SoCs used in example cameras

Chip Locations

The exact location of the camera's SoC varies from model to model. We take a look at cameras from Axis, Hikvision, and Uniview in this video, showing where the SoC is located and accessed and what each is using.

Disassembly And Reassembly Differences

Shown above, some chips are easily accessible just by removing a few screws, while others may require small security drivers and disconnection of multiple delicate cables.

Of the cameras used as examples here, the Axis camera was the simplest to access, only requiring a few screws to remove the camera module, with the SoC prominently labeled on the bottom.

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However, the Hikvision and Uniview models required removal of multiple multi-pin connectors, including one connecting the imager to the mainboard which uses very fine wires, easily damaged. After disconnecting these, several small screws must be removed to flip the cameras' main board over, with the SoC located underneath.

We review these details in this video:

Teardown Risks

Before taking apart any camera, users should consider two key risks in doing so:

  • Void warranties: Disassembling a camera can void the warranty, as most do not cover the vaguely defined "misuse". Users should expect to pay out of pocket for any future repairs if they damage the device while doing so.
  • Broken cameras: More critically, disassembling some cameras is a touchy process. The small gauge wires used to interconnect components are prone to pulling loose from multi-pin connectors, leaving sensors malfunctioning, IR not working, or cut filters stuck in one position.

Because of this, we strongly recommend users budget for a replacement if a camera is to be torn down. IPVM routinely tears down cameras as part of our tests so you can ask for input before doing so.

SoCs Used

The images below show details of the SoCs used in each of the cameras in this report:

Axis P3225-LVE Mk II: Axis ARTPEC-5

The P3225-LVE Mk II uses the ARTPEC-5, now two generations old, as Axis has begun releasing ARTPEC-7 cameras (see our test of the P1375-E) with signed firmware support, a machine learning engine, and improved low light/WDR.

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That noted, Axis uses multiple SoC suppliers across their models including a notable number of Ambarella chips and a few Hisilicon ones for their Companion line.

Hikvision DS-2CD2725FWD-I: Ambarella S3LM

Hikvision's Performance Series 1080p model uses an Ambarella S3LM, released in 2015, which Ambarella describes as:

designed for small form-factor consumer H.265 cloud cameras up to 3M

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Like Axis, Hikvision uses a variety of SoC suppliers, including Hisilicon in many models, Intel Myriad in their new DeepinView model, etc.

Uniview IPC3234SR3-DVZ28: HiSilicon Hi3516C

The Uniview 4MP model uses a Huawei HiSilicon Hi3516C V300 (.pdf link), a SoC released in 2016.

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So far, all the Uniview cameras we have torn down used Hisilicon chips, not that surprising considering they where effectively a spin-out of a Huawei business (before they were temporarily owned by Bain). That noted, like other vendors, it is certainly possible that some Uniview cameras do not use Hisilicon.

Determining HiSilicon chip capabilities may be especially confusing to those unfamiliar with their specs, as Hi3516 is not a part number, but a platform name. There are A, B, C, D, and E variants, and V100, 200, 300 versions, as well, with different capabilities.

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