IP Cameras for the Mass Market

By: John Honovich, Published on Jul 14, 2008

While Axis brought IP cameras to the enterprise, ACTi could be fostering IP cameras to the masses. With a broad camera line and extensive NVR support, ACTi offers reduced pricing for simpler features. I believe ACTi is and will increasingly become very attractive to the mass market of traditional security buyers who have resisted or not been able to justify the use of IP cameras.

Comparing the strategy of Axis and ACTi, Axis looks like the Mercedes of IP cameras while ACTi seems to be the Honda. Similar to the car companies, both are strong, well respected providers, serving different customers needs. If ACTi does emerge as the Honda of IP cameras, this could have a major impact on customers adopting IP cameras.

[UPDATE 2012: In the past few years, ACTi has stumbled while local rival Vivotek has surged and Axis aggressively moved downmarket. See our review of ACTI's financial performance/market position.]

State of the Market

The legacy analog players seem to offer few IP cameras and the newer IP players generally offer premium products. By now, Pelco, Panasonic and Bosch all offer a few IP cameras. The lines are not very extensive. By contrast, the newer IP players like Axis, IQinvision, Mobotix, Arecont Vision and Lumenera generally offer a full line of IP cameras including a variety of megapixel cameras. The challenge is that the pricing of this latter group is far higher than traditional analog cameras, making it difficult for many to justify IP cameras.

Current product offerings and recent announcements demonstrate that Axis is focused on making better, more sophisticated cameras, not cheaper ones that close the gap with analog. Axis is a great company and their introduction of H.264 and support for more video analytics should be well received at the enterprise level. Nonetheless, these advances may overshoot the needs of customers who need more basic, more affordable solutions.

Overview of ACTi

ACTi offers a full line of IP and megapixel cameras at pricing that is very comparable to analog cameras. They have bullet cameras, dome cameras, fixed body cameras, day/night cameras, etc. ACTi offers both standard definition and 1.3 megapixel camera lines. ACTi's cameras are widely supported by two dozen NVRs including Milestone, Genetec and Exacq.

The pricing is significantly less expensive than Axis. Take the ACTi 5601, a 1.3 megapixel camera that is an alternative to the Axis 211m. At an MSRP of $355, the ACTi 5601 is nearly half the cost of the Axis 211m and not much more expensive than a traditional analog camera.

From discussions I had with multiple NVR providers and CCTVForum.com reviews, ACTi received high marks for reliability, support and image quality. So much like a Honda, it's not flashy but it seems to get the job done.

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This does not mean that ACTi cameras are as full featured as Axis or IQinvision cameras. For instance, ACTi does not support dual streaming, analytics, QoS or encryption and the resolution today maxes out at 1.3 MP. The presence of such features are quite important to certain customer segments but a lot of mainstream users will be happy with the basics that ACTi offers.

Killer IP Camera Application

ACTi's megapixel line can be used for a killer application that brings IP cameras to the mass market. Most everyone agrees that higher resolution is a significant benefit of IP cameras vs. analog. The problem is standard definition IP cameras quality really is not different enough and most megapixel cameras are too expensive. ACTi's megapixel cameras are just slightly more than analog cameras and use MPEG-4 encoding. Plus ACTi provides a free NVR software solution for up to 16 cameras.

With ACTi, a 16 camera system with megapixel cameras and a complete NVR can now be sold for $8,000 - $9,000. This is about the same price as buying a DVR plus 16 analog cameras. For a lot of users, getting megapixel resolution at this price level would be a huge deal and very attractive. Small businesses, offices, restaurants are just a few ideal uses for this solution. If I were an integrator, I would promote this hard because it provides a very clear source of differentiation.

Now using a full ACTi solution is a niche. For instance, the ACTi NVR software only supports ACTi cameras. Bigger businesses will clearly want more flexibility. And certain applications with need even higher resolution cameras or analytics built in. You may want to use ACTi cameras and Gentec or deploy a mixture of ACTi, Axis and Iqinvision for a Mileston deployment, etc.

My point is that ACTi opens up the market to an under served segment which is a good thing for customers and the growth of the industry.

Concluding Thoughts

While the analysis has focused mainly on Axis and ACTi, ultimately the issue is less about the companies then the differences in fundamental positioning they present. Customers need high end solutions that solve complex problems. The market also needs simpler, more streamlined and economical solutions that let more customers participate. Companies like Axis may lead the way at the high end but ACTi could take the lead for the masses.

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