Will ONVIF or PSIA win the IP Camera Standards Battle?

Author: John Honovich, Published on Nov 24, 2008

While momentum grows for IP camera standards, significant questions exist as to what will happen with ONVIF and PSIA.  They are two groups pursuing the same fundamental goal of brining interoperability to IP cameras. As such they are direct competitors to one another (though neither would likely frame it as such).

UPDATE NOV 2010: We believe ONVIF has now won the battle - Read our new analysis.

Delivering IP camera standards is a very important element of expanding and maturing the IP video surveillance market. If you are not familiar with ONVIF, PSIA or the IP camera standards initiatives, I encourage you to read an overview of IP Camera Standards before proceeding. This article will explore the detailed relationship between ONVIF and PSIA.

General Observations

  • IP Camera Standard efforts have significant momentum
  • The technical specifications of ONVIF and PSIA are fairly similar
  • Both specifications can co-exist

ONVIF Strengths

  • As the global IP camera leader and de facto leader of ONVIF, Axis commands significant respect amongst manufacturers and integrators
  • ONVIF seems to be favored in Europe and Asia

PSIA Strengths

  • PSIA is moving faster than ONVIF is
  • PSIA has opened up sooner than ONVIF
  • PSIA specificaiton is easier to implement

Momentum Exists

This is not a false start. Both sides are very motivated to make progress. Indeed, the competition is likely motivating both sides to make progress.

As such, I expect this to culminate into widely implemented specifications in the next 3 years that will have a significant impact on the industry.

Specifications are Fairly Similar

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ONVIF and PSIA's specifications are fairly similar. The structural approaches are not that different plus there is nothing in either specification that signals manipulation or evilness. You can download the ONVIF Specification or register for the entire draft PSIA specification

Specifications can Co-exist

Unlike DVDs or VHS tapes, multiple specifications can co-exist. The difference between IP camera specifications and VHS tapes is that cameras are specifying a logical connection while VHS tapes (or DVDs) are physical.  The cost of supporting 2 different logical specifications is relatively inexpensive. The cost of supporting 2 different physical implementations (like Beta and VHS) is extremely expensive.

As such, it is possible that we will see both PSIA and ONVIF specifications adopted by camera and video management manufacturers. This is not ideal but it is feasible.

ONVIF Strength: Axis

Axis is a very powerful force in the IP camera market. Not only are 1/3rd of all cameras Axis cameras but many manufacturers and integrators feel safe following Axis lead.

If both specifications continue to develop, Axis sponsorship of ONVIF could be a powerful driver of building support for ONVIF. While PSIA has manufacturers with large analog camera sales (e.g., Pelco), I do not anticipate this to have the same force amongst the leaders in IP video systems.

ONVIF Strength: Global

In Europe and Asia, ONVIF is viewed very favorably (no doubt because of the presence of Axis, Bosch and Sony). Indeed, among many of my global connections, the PSIA is unfamiliar and viewed as an "American". While this is certainly technically incorrect, such perception is certainly a strong factor in building momentum for its specification.

PSIA Strength: Moving Faster

PSIA released its draft specification in September. ONVIF is having its e="color: #105cb6;">first meeting on December 3rd, and just released its draft specification on November 25th.

PSIA's headstart is giving it an opportunity to improve, build awareness and, perhaps most importantly, allow manufacturers to start planning implementations of the specification.

Because PSIA is moving faster, it may be able to release products supports its specifications while ONVIF is still discussing its specification.

PSIA Strength: Opened Sooner

By releasing its specification and hosting on line discussion forums, PSIA is gathering feedback faster than ONVIF.  PSIA has also opened to more members sooner and is allowing a large number of companies participate at a higher level.

This can reduce manufacturer reluctance and ensure that specific concerns are redressed. If PSIA maintains this advantage, this could overcome some of the strength that Axis brings with its larger market share.

PSIA Strength: Easier to Implement

While the technical specifications are similar, they are implemented in slightly different manners. PSIA uses a REST based architecture while ONVIF uses SOAP. While SOAP is the older, traditional choice for enterprise applications, REST is the hot new approach that almost all web services are using today.  REST is simple to use (it is like entering a URL for a web page) and has less overhead than SOAP.

PSIA's use of REST will likely appeal to manufacturers and broaden the developer base who can implement PSIA's specification. While I don't think this issue is critical, it is an advantage for driving quick uptake.

Not a Factor: Supporting Other Security Systems

PSIA advocates developing specifications for more than just video - access control, storage, etc. ONVIF looks to be focused on video - cameras and analytics.

I don't think theoretical support for all security systems will be a major determinant in selecting a standard for IP cameras. Most video surveillance participants will make their decision on the best specification for video, not because an offering has support for other indirectly related products.

Who Will Win? ONVIF or PSIA

I believe that, at this point, PSIA is more likely to be succeed in fostering the eventual IP camera standard. While Axis certainly has the power to lead ONVIF in the development of the industry standard, I speculate that Axis will not be aggressive enough in taking the steps necessary to accomplish this.

First a look at a general timetable for the next few years:

  • 2009: Key highlights will be a number of manufacturer's announcing plans to implement one of the specifications; While it's unlikely to be many implementations, it is likely that a few manufacturer's implement production support for PSIA

  • 2010: With the early announcements done and a handful of manufacturers implementing support for a specification, expect momentum to build for most manufacturers to support a specification. The key unknown here is how PSIA and ONVIF resolve the multiple specifications. If they both still exist and are advocating their unique specifications, this could have slow adoption considerably as cautious manufacturers wait for resolution.

  • 2011: It will probably take until 2011 for either specification to be broadly enough supported to start making a major impact on buying decisions. Even at this time, it is highly unlikely that we will have an official standard but we may have consensus enough to encourage wide spread adoption.

Axis Actions are Key

Because of their market share and their vast partner program, Axis has the ability to drive the standards setting process. What I question is their willingness to take steps that could undermine their advantage in being the de facto IP camera standard. If they delay or work slower than PSIA, this provides a clear opening for PSIA to build support around their specificaiton.

To date, ONVIF has clearly proceeded slower and with less openness than PSIA. My speculation (and it is only speculation) is that Axis is being cautious about standards development and the potential negative business impact. I also think it's possible that given Axis' continued slowing growth that Axis could hesitate promoting a standard that might hasten that growth decline.

PSIA Momentum

On the other hand, PSIA has been extremely aggressive. Their actions have been consistent with the interests of companies with lower market share that are fighting to expand their position in the IP camera marketplace.

Given the momentum PSIA is building, I think it's very plausible that companies looking to expand in IP video will rally around the PSIA specification. Given that analog camera sales are growing far slower than IP, many manufacturers will look towards the IP camera market as the means to push growth in difficult economic times.

Indeed, while I certainly recommend manufacturers to carefully track both organization's efforts, I would bet on PSIA and place my development resources on implementing their specification. This is no guarantee of success but given their momentum and openness, the PSIA specification could be helpful in the next 18 months of expanding manufacturer support and, thereby, helping sales.

UPDATE NOV 2010: We believe ONVIF has now won the battle - Read our new analysis.

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