MJPEG vs. H.264

Author: John Honovich, Published on Apr 17, 2009

Recently, IQinVision releaed an article advocating benefits of MJPEG.

[Update Dec 2010: We conducted extensive testing comparing MJPEG and H.264. Read our Test Results of MJPEG vs H.264.]

While I found the article technically accurate, well written and worth reading, the nature of the application and its economics demand that MJPEG be almost always avoided. Since H.264 is hot right now, this is a popular claim to make. However, a discussion of this can help examine the economics and operational drivers driving this interest.

Jason's central claims are:

1. With moving cameras or images of high activity areas, MPEG4 and H.264 provide little bandwidth savings relative to MJPEG.

2. Proper network design requires factoring in worse case scenarios so you will need to dedicate the same amount of bandwidth whether or not you use MJPEG, MPEG4 or H.264.

3. MJPEG provides higher quality because of no intra-frame compression.

4. Unlike MJPEG, with MPEG-4 vendors deviate from standards, increasing potential integation costs.

My counterpoints are:

1. For most users, cameras usually have low or modest activity, translating into significant savings for MPEG-4 or H.264. Most cameras in the world are fixed. Most cameras have significant periods during the day when there is little or no motion (nights, weekends, etc.) Even within PTZs, PTZs are often left at a home position, or iterate over a series of pre-sets stopping for 5 - 10 seconds each.

Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox
Get Video Surveillance News In Your Inbox

2. Many, perhaps most organizations, do not set network bandwidth budgets for worst case scenarios. Sometimes, organizations don't want to pay the money for the extra capacity but sometimes it can't be done due to constraints of reutilizing existing infrastructure (very common in wireless networks). In other words, organizations generally trade-off infrequent pixelization for immediate cost savings. Maybe this is 'objectively' wrong but this is common.

2a. Jason does not discuss storage but storage is a HUGE economic driver in the move away from MJPEG. I have had a number of occasions where my DVR/NVR with a 1TB hard drive was only recording for 13 days. Why? I had forgot we recently integrated just a few megapixel cameras using MJPEG. Let's say we can save 1 Mb/s by switching from MJPEG to MPEG4. Over a two month period, for one camera, that is 650 GBs. It would cost you $300 to $600 to add that much storage for each MJPEG camera.

3. As for quality, the difference in quality is usually close enough that most customers are ok with it, especially for the savings.

4. The issue with deviation from standards is generally a one-time cost/problem that can be amortized by the manufacturer over many different customers. In the larger scheme of things, it's mainly a nuisance.

In sum, then, the economics of reducing network and storage costs are usually very significant budgetary and operational factors that drive purchasing decisions. With megapixel manufacturers starting to announce H.264 support, it will be interesting to see what IQinVision does.


Related Reports

VLANs for Video Surveillance on Sep 26, 2016
Many people confidently say to 'use VLANs' as an answer to IP video networking problems and as a way to signal expertise. But how should VLANs be...
You Get Robbed, Canary Will Pay You Up To $1,000 on Sep 22, 2016
Canary is trying to break the status quo in DIY security, first by raising over $40 million, and now a revamp of their monthly services package...
History of Video Surveillance on Sep 22, 2016
This is a concise history of video surveillance covering the past decade.  The goal is to help professionals newer to the industry understand...
How to Measure Video Quality / Compression Levels on Sep 16, 2016
Two cameras have the same resolution, frame rate and scene monitored but camera A consumes half the bandwidth than camera B. Is Camera A better?...
Camera Course September 2016 on Sep 15, 2016
This is the only independent surveillance camera course, based on in-depth product and technology testing. Lots of manufacturer training exists...
Milestone Kills Go, Slashes Express Pricing, Launches Enhanced Version Free on Sep 12, 2016
Milestone is shaking up the industry again with enhanced free software and a major price drop. 6 years ago, Milestone launched their first free...
Milestone VMS Adds H.265, SVQR, RAM Video Optimization on Sep 09, 2016
Milestone is rolling out enhancements to XProtect to support H.265, enhanced edge recording functionality, and potentially allow users to reduce...
Hikvision 4K Camera Tested on Sep 09, 2016
Hikvision is the most common choice for low price entry level products but they are also competing with low light models, smart CODECs, WDR...
Pelco Optera 270° Camera Tested on Sep 06, 2016
Multi-imager cameras are typically 180° or 360°. Pelco has released a fixed 270° versions of their Optera intended to cover exterior building...
ONVIF Profile G Video Storage Test on Aug 26, 2016
A standard to retrieve video stored on 3rd party devices. This is the aim of ONVIF Profile G. The proprietary nature of accessing recorded video...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Axis Secretly Paid Anixter Sales People To Push Axis NVRs on Sep 26, 2016
Internal Axis communication shows how Axis paid Anixter and Tri-Ed sales people with secret bonuses to push Axis NVRs. In this report, we examine...
VLANs for Video Surveillance on Sep 26, 2016
Many people confidently say to 'use VLANs' as an answer to IP video networking problems and as a way to signal expertise. But how should VLANs be...
Ambarella CEO Admits H.265 and 4K Not Popular on Sep 26, 2016
Ambarella is the main chip provider for high-end surveillance cameras driving higher resolution and new CODECs. While Ambarella has been pushing...
Nest Cam Outdoor Tested on Sep 23, 2016
After years of claiming an outdoor model was "coming", addressing their biggest user demand, Nest has finally released their Outdoor Camera, an...
ACTi Refuses Race To The Bottom, Shifts To Solutions on Sep 23, 2016
The original low cost IP camera disruptor was ACTi. Back in the 2008 - 2010 time frame, Taiwanese manufacturer ACTi challenged the Western and...
You Get Robbed, Canary Will Pay You Up To $1,000 on Sep 22, 2016
Canary is trying to break the status quo in DIY security, first by raising over $40 million, and now a revamp of their monthly services package...
Milestone Ends Development of "Enterprise" VMS on Sep 22, 2016
Milestone 'Enterprise' was one of the first enterprise video management software offerings, selected by many early adopters of IP video. However,...
History of Video Surveillance on Sep 22, 2016
This is a concise history of video surveillance covering the past decade.  The goal is to help professionals newer to the industry understand...
Access Control Course Fall 2016 on Sep 22, 2016
IPVM offers the most comprehensive access control course in the industry. Unlike manufacturer training that focuses only on a small part of the...
Totally Wireless IP Camera (IPVideo Corp NomadHD) on Sep 21, 2016
Wireless battery powered cameras have been a surveillance pipe dream for years, limited by camera power consumption, battery technology, and...

The world's leading video surveillance information source, IPVM provides the best reporting, testing and training for 10,000+ members globally. Dedicated to independent and objective information, we uniquely refuse any and all advertisements, sponsorship and consulting from manufacturers.

About | FAQ | Contact