Testing ONVIF Integration 2011

Author: Benros Emata, Published on Feb 12, 2011

The IP Video market has come a long way since 2008 when 'standards' were first proposed by 2 industry trade groups. Now, 'standards' are widely supported in production, primarily through ONVIF. However, an important question remains: How well does ONVIF work in the real world? If you depend on ONVIF to connect IP cameras to VMS systems, what if any issues will you face?

We did a test to better understand how well ONVIF works today in the field. To do so, we selected 7 products (4 cameras, 3 VMSes) that are listed in the ONVIF conformant product list. We then went and attempted to connect all the cameras to all the VMS systems to learn how well the combinations worked.

The products tested included the Axis P1347 camera, Axxon's Smart VMS, Exacq's ExacqVision VMS, the Lilin IPS-2124 PTZ, the March CamPX MicroDome, Milestone's Go VMS and the Sony SNC-CH140 camera. This provided a range of manufacturers from different continents, price ranges, feature sets, etc.

While we were able to integrate many combinations of cameras and VMSes, we found a variety of issues, problems and potential limitations that should be carefully considered, especially today in the relatively early stages of field use. Inside the Pro section, we dig into each of the elements and provide extensive commentary and recommendation on best use.

[UPDATE 2014: See our ONVIF Mega Test 2014]

Key Findings

  • Frequent difficulties connecting ONVIF conformant IP cameras and VMS software
  • ONVIF integrations present some administrative 'hassles' such as time sync, and firmware/software updates
  • ONVIF devices will generally function with a subset of features
  • For many combinations, ONVIF was far from plug-n-play
  • ONVIF camera/firmware certification by VMS providers reduces interoperability risks/ambiguity

Recommendations

Prior to specifying or selling products that depend on ONVIF support, we strongly recommend you verify interoperability in a test setup. Do not assume a camera and VMS both having ONVIF 'labels' will simply work in a meaningful way out of the box. The first step we recommend is contacting the VMS manufacturer for the make/model/firmware of devices known to work with your version of the VMS. Additionally confirm the specific camera feature set that will be available for use in an ONVIF integration.

The Outlook Ahead

Today, in February 2011, using ONVIF in production systems is a risk and a headache. If you can get an integration to work, you should be ok going forward. However, getting connections to work will often be a problem - one that regularly requires time to coordinate, test, get updates and retest.

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On the positive side, the surge in ONVIF production support is quite impressive. 646 products have completed ONVIF conformance and are posted on the ONVIF site - an increase of over 50% from 3 months ago. The frequent pace of firmware upgrades with ONVIF improvements shows manufacturers commitment to making this work.

On the negative side, the frequent issues makes this often feel like an industry wide beta where each integrator is an unwitting, unpaid QA tech.

At this time last year, ONVIF was essentially at pilot / demonstration stage. Now, we we are at a beta stage. The question becomes: how soon to we reach 'full production' where integrators can be confident that the overwhelming majority of connections will be plug n play? 

We suspect this will occur in 6 to 18 months as various issues are ironed out. In the meantime, caution is critical.

Next steps to look for include (1) steps by manufacturers to provide greater clarity on their ONVIF support (e.g., which services, which specific products) and (2) new firmware with bug fixes.

ONVIF cites its plugfests and an upcoming Applications Programmer's Guide as two means to foster improvements in interoperability.

Firmware Issues

When starting to integrate, the very first thing you should check is upgrading to the most recent firmware/software for both cameras and recorders. We hit various roadblocks and detours. Here is a summary to give you a feel for the issues you may encounter.

Making sure correct firmware/software is running on both camera and VMS is key to getting ONVIF to work. For example, Exacq's version 4.4 VMS provides ONVIF connections to Bosch cameras, however, they require a specific release of firmware (4.11.1 or later). Another example is that to get ONVIF support of Samsung cameras, the Exacq VMS must be updated to 4.5, and the Samsung (supported models) cameras themselves would require the proper firmware (1.32_110201 or later).

We experienced firmware/software issues when attempting to connect a March CamPX camera to Milestone Go. We updated the CamPX dome from firmware version 1.8.0 to 1.9.0; and, we updated the Milestone Go VMS to the latest 1.0b version. After completing both steps, the integration was successful.

In another test we attempted connecting a Axis P1347 to ONVIF conformant VMSes. However, we were unsuccessful because the latest available production firmware for the P1347 was 5.11 but ONVIF integration required the 5.20 version. This was particularly interesting / confusing because the ONVIF website listed the P1347 as supporting ONVIF with the 5.20 firmware but the 5.20 firmware was not available for production use. Axis has stated 5.20 will be available for the P1347 in Q1 2011. Note that other Axis cameras did have 5.20 (e.g. the P1346) firmware available; we did not test any of those cameras.

Another VMS we tested, Axxon Smart, uses driver packs to provide camera specific ONVIF support. We were able to connect the CamPX and Lilin IPS212 via ONVIF after a couple rounds of updating to newer driver packs. Interoperability was limited however, e.g., we could not get remote-zoom or PTZ function on either camera to work. Access to other camera functions such as codec, resolution, frame-rate, etc. was limited, as well.

In further testing, a Sony CH140 could not connect via ONVIF to Exacq or Axxon, and connected to Milestone Go only sporadically and unreliably. However, both Axxon and Sony claim version 1.30 (ONVIF 1.02 compliant) is required for an ONVIF connection. Oddly, Sony's fw 1.30 is available only for E-series models, while the CH140 is a V-series model with 1.26 as latest firmware.

Mandatory vs. Optional Services

With ONVIF, many commonly used features are optional services. A VMS provider can be ONVIF conformant and not support these feature sets. Worse, there is no central public description of what optional services an ONVIF conformant VMS does or does not support making it difficult to determine up front.

The chart below should help show what services are optional vs mandatory. Note a conformant VMS may lack support for video analytics, PTZ, imaging, media and device I/O features. Imaging and media cover fps, resolution, codec configuration, etc

Variances in supported ONVIF features between camera and VMS result in diminished levels of performance and interoperability. For example, a user may be able to view video but unable to do other operation/management tasks such as manipulate PTZ, change codec, change resolution, change frame-rate, auto-back focus, etc.

We experienced this issue with ONVIF PTZ controls in our test with a Lilin PTZ. In our test of the Lilin IPS212 (fw 0.3.28), we were able to view live video using AxxonSmart and Milestone Go (version 1.0b w/ driver pack 5.2). However, only the Milestone VMS allowed us full control of the PTZ. The March CamPX (fw 1.9.0) gave us live video in all of the VMS systems (Exacq, Axxon, Milestone), but provided very little support to configure camera settings, and no support for the remote-zoom feature.

Since optional services support is not listed in the ONVIF site, we recommend you checking directly with your VMS manufacturer.

Note that Milestone supports a variety of the optional services in ONVIF. Also, interesting to consider is that Milestone also supports PSIA, but their PSIA support not provide any PTZ control, I/O nor VMD support.

Incompatibilities and Restrictions

Even a mutually supported service between camera and VMS may not work due to the specifics of how each manufacturer implements the ONVIF service. For example, both camera and VMS may each provide ONVIF control of I/O, but because of some idiosyncrasies may not exactly ‘talk’ correctly to each other. A function as fundamental as video streaming may not even work due to these kinds of ‘communication’ problems.

In this light some VMS manufacturers may look to publish certification lists of specific  make/model/firmware known to work using their ONVIF interface or plug-in. Exacq has been taking this approach to restricting ONVIF support to only cameras and firmware they have tested. This IP camera integration list is published on Exacq's website

In contrast, at this time neither Milestone nor Axxon provide a make/model/firmware list of supported ONVIF cameras. They only use general ONVIF conformance levels such as 1.0.1, 1.0.2, etc. In cases such as these, it is especially important to contact the manufacturer regarding any specific camera intended to connect via ONVIF to the VMS.

Showing ONVIF in Action

In this section, we show ONVIF use in action, walking through the issues we faced and the lessons we learned. First, we start with our Milestone experience:

In the next video, we review our experience using ONVIF with Axxon and Exacq:

Time Synchronization

ONVIF conformant devices generally must authenticate as part of the ONVIF core specifications’ security provisions. As timestamps are involved in this communications transaction between camera and VMS, not having synchronized clocks can result in connection failures.

The March CamPX (1.9.0) demonstrated the importance of synchronizing camera and VMS clock. When not synchronized, connection to our VMSes failed.

Unless cameras begin to support ‘out-of-box’ syncing with NTP sources or VMSes, this will present an added burden to the administrator. Even after an initial connection is achieved devices may ‘drift’ out of time-sync causing ‘drops’ or reliability issues.

The screencast below shows steps taken and issues to consider in setting up time synchronization.

Free ONVIF Tools

We test two free ONVIF Tools:

In this video we provide a brief investigation of two free ONVIF applications. We note that only one (1) of four 'ONVIF' test cameras are discovered by each tool. Interestingly, each application discovers a different camera. For cameras that do successfully connect, functionality is extremely limited.

2 reports cite this report:

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