Mobotix's 2011 Challenges and Future Plans Examined

By John Honovich, Published on Mar 20, 2011

While Mobotix's growth continued and accelerated at the end of 2010, we believe the company faces new challenges as competitors catch up to a number of key Mobotix differentiators and Mobotix's product development appears to slow. In this note, we examine the key factors, risks and competitive positioning. Included is extensive direct feedback from Mobotix regarding: H.264 support, multi-megapixel offerings and new product development.

Over the last few years, a number of key differentiators has made Mobotix stand out:

  • On-board storage / recording or as Mobotix calls it a 'Decentralized' Architecture
  • Free VMS software / no licenses for recording
  • MxPEG where most megapixel vendors only had the less efficient MJPEG
  • 3MP cameras when most vendors where stuck on SD
  • Hemispheric / 360 immersive cameras (e.g., the Q24)

However, recently a number of those advantages have been eroded as competitors expanded their offerings:

  • HD resolution cameras are now commonplace and numerous vendors now have equal or higher resolution cameras than Mobotix (e.g., 5MP cameras)
  • Almost all new MP cameas (outside of Mobotix) now support H.264 - widely held to be superior to MxPEG (and even if one disagrees that it is superior, it is clearly far better than MJPEG, closing the gap, if not turning this into a Mobotix disadvantage)
  • Free or very low cost VMS offerings have rapidly expanded, eroding the price savings of using an all Mobotix solution
  • VMS support for on-board storage is growing with the best example coming from Genetec's recent trickling feature

We find 3 key areas where Mobotix's advantages have remained or gained: (1) outdoor deployments (high resolution, low light, environmental durability), (2) hemispheric cameras (where offerings are still very limited) and (3) the introduction of the T24 Door Station / video intercom system. Unfortunately for Mobotix, the later two are relatively niche applications. 

We shared our concerns with Mobotix and asked them 3 questions. Below are their responses in full:

IPVM: Will you release support for H.264 for megapixel resolution? If not, can you briefly explain why?

Mobotix: At this juncture, we have no immediate plans to support H.264. H.264 is a multimedia codec that is not optimized for video surveillance and because of this fact we have invested significant resources in the development of MxPEG. This codec is developed specifically for use in video surveillance applications in which the quality of still images needs to be as crystal clear as live video. Although very efficient, H.264 can distort or reduce the quality of captured or still images. In the surveillance world, customers rely on still video clips to prove a crime occurred or identify a particular individual, and therefore maximum image quality is paramount. Our MxPEG codec enables users to gather the most data from their still images as possible, without distortion or reduced image quality. 

The other predominant issue with H.264 with higher resolution cameras is that more servers are needed on the back-end to decode video streams when using H.264 compared to MxPEG and therefore the approach is more costly. 

We feel that MOBOTIX addresses these issues with the combination of MxPEG, the decentralized approach and high-resolution surveillance cameras. 

We do support H.264 for video-SIP connections and I think this demonstrates that we will provide support for such standards where it makes sense. We do recognize that there is significant market support for the use of H.264 for megapixel cameras and we continue to monitor the industry’s need for this specific compression technology. If our customers and partners begin to demand support for H.264, we will certainly look closely at how we can best meet their needs.

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Summarized: The benefits of MxPEG in comparison with H.264:

  • Better images
  • Less artifacts
  • Shorter latency
  • Easier access to intermediate frames

Optimized for multiples video streams with different frame rates and different resolutions – This is absolutely necessary for the hemispheric technology, because usually the live image is displaying the corrected image for the operator and the original 3MP full-image is stored in high resolution for research. 

When coupled with the decentralized approach to surveillance, we feel MxPEG is most efficient for use in video surveillance applications.

IPVM: Do you have plans to increase maximum resolution beyond 3MP?

Mobotix: At this time, we are focused on maximizing and upgrading our current line of megapixel cameras with 3MP sensors because research demonstrates that a majority of the market isn’t demanding resolution beyond that range. Although there are applications that require higher resolution cameras, this market is still quite limited. As a company, we’ve decided to focus on mainstream demand to maximize business opportunities and meet current market needs. As demand for these types of megapixel cameras grow, we will certainly re-evaluate the situation as the market dictates.

As you know, higher resolution does not always mean better video because the image quality depends on the entire total system, i.e. lens, sensor, image processing etc. and of course, frame rate, network bandwidth and storage requirements. The true image quality of the camera rests on the interaction of all these separate components and we continue to educate the industry on how these components can be ideally used together to enhance video quality. 

Furthermore, the increase in the number of pixels on the same sensor can lead to lesser light quantity per pixel, causing the camera to be less light sensitive, and therefore, image noise and motion blurring can increase. 

IPVM: What are the main new product developments planned for 2011? If you can overview your analytics, that would be helpful.

Mobotix: We are planning on announcing innovations to our product line in 2011 and are excited to share these with the market. We are currently evaluating the value that video analytics on board of e.g. hemispheric cameras may bring to the company and our customers, but we cannot provide additional details on that specific initiative at this time. We will also announce the redesign of our dual camera board with e.g. increased processing power and additional features in 2011, and will continue to look for new ways to upgrade and enhance our existing product lines while developing new ideas for technology development in the future.

At ISC West, we are demonstrating our new T24 IP Video Door Station to the Americas market. The new T24 IP Video Door Station is an integrated access control and megapixel video solution. With 3.1 megapixels and internal memory, the hemispheric door camera records the entire entrance area — 180 degrees — with no blind spots, from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. It also features recording with sound, keyless entry and integrated message function. 

While Mobotix certainly has a clear and contrarian vision, we think some important aspects of the approach are problematic:

  • Re: H.264 - H.264 has already won the battle for mindshare. Cameras that do not have it are now generally considered to be at least somewhat antiquated. Moreover, in our testing and conversations with integrators, the real world problems that Mobotix claims of H.264 are not typical. Indeed most of Mobotix's H.264 criticisms are theoretical and without actual proof (e.g., MxPEG: The Only Codec Made for Video Surveillance [link no longer available]). The lack of H.264 will be detrimental both from a specification process (only allowing H.264 cameras) and for users looking to reduce storage/bandwidth consumption.
  • Re: 3MP - The concerns of 5MP+ quality are certainly worthy. On the other hand, Mobotix has been offering 3MP cameras for years and when Mobotix first released 3MP cameras, such claims could have equally been made for the state of technology for 3MP cameras at that time. With numerous manufacturers offering 1080P and 3MP cameras, those looking for other options have a lot more choice now.
  • Re: the IP Video Door Station: Whether or not the IP Video Door Station is a success, it does little to strengthen 'regular' surveillance systems. While the Door Station may expand Mobotix into new verticals and new markets, for those looking for surveillance systems of dozens or hundreds of cameras, we expect this to be of minimal benefit.

Undoubtedly, Mobotix leverages a strong historical position and like all early entrants into the IP camera market now has to determine how to withstand the thrust of new entrants and legacy players moving into the market. We believe that Mobotix's recent steps and plans are insufficient to keep pace with ongoing competitive developments in the industry.

2 reports cite this report:

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