Panasonic Extreme H.265 Cameras Tested
Panasonic has released their latest generation, the i-Pro Extreme series, with enhanced compression (smart H.265) enhanced WDR and secure communication.
We tested their Extreme series vandal dome, the WV-S2531L against their previous generation SFV631L as well as competitive cameras from Axis (P3225) and Hikvision (2CD4526) to see how it stacks up and whether these H.265 advancements are all hype or deliver real savings.
Overall, the i-Pro Extreme series is a step up for Panasonic users, at a slightly lower price than past models.
In our tests, the Panasonic i-Pro Extreme series offered solid image quality in full light, low light, and WDR scenes, with some of the lowest bitrates seen in 1080p cameras due to their combination of H.265 and smart codecs. Bitrates were as low as 12 Kb/s in still, well lit scenes, and only ~1/2 Mb/s in high complexity low light scenes.
However, VMS support for these cameras' H.265 streams is currently limited to Panasonic's own Video Insight VMS until Panasonic ships their own H.265 i-Pro NVRs and partner VMS support is completed (said to be later in Q1 or Q2 2017), so VMS limitation will be a key issue for at least som time.
Pricing of the i-Pro Extreme line is about 10-12% less than comparable 6 series models. For example, the WV-S2531L has an MSRP of $1,242, compared to $1,420 for the 6 series 1080p vandal dome, WV-SFV631L. Based on street price of the SFV631L, the S2531L has an estimated street price of about $750-800.
i-Pro Extreme cameras are physically similar to their past generation counterparts in physical construction, with few notable new features.
The WV-S2531L is almost identical in size and construction to the WV-SFV631L. The camera's button layout has been rearranged, and the second SD slot found in previous models has been removed. The majority of other casing components are the same.
See our Panasonic Series 6 IP Cameras Test for a full physical overview.
Compared to other vandal domes, the i-Pro Extreme (and the 6 series) is slightly smaller overall, seen below, with a smaller polycarbonate dome and housing.
New Panasonic Web Interface
The Extreme series ships with Panasonic's new web interface, which most notably now includes cross browser support, while past versions have required ActiveX for configuration as well as live viewing.
Only MJPEG video is displayed in browsers other than Internet Explorer. Aside from this change, most other differences are purely aesthetic. Note that unlike new web interfaces from Axis and Hanwha/Samsung, the Panasonic interface is not responsive, and does not scale to fit tablets/mobile phones.
Smart Coding Options
In the Extreme series, Panasonic has added more options to their Smart Coding, which was previously simply On/Off. Users may now adjust dynamic I-frame interval settings ("GOP control"), as well as dynamic compression ("Smart Facial Coding"), shown here:
Panasonic explains GOP control levels as:
- Low: Max I-frame interval of 8 seconds
- Mid: Max I-frame interval of 16 seconds
- Advanced: Up to 60 second I-frame interval, with "long-term" P-frames used in 2-second intervals. These frames are smaller than a full I-frame, larger than a typical P-frame, but allow for smooth playback as other P-frames may use them as reference frames (an issue seen with long I-frame intervals in our smart codec testing).
We plan to cover these new P-frame types further in a future report.
Smart Facial Coding
Panasonic's Smart Facial Coding is intended to reduce compression specifically on faces, for better clarity, as opposed to the entirety of moving objects. In our tests, this setting improved usable slightly, if at all, shown below. In edge cases, it may provide a slight advantage over not using it, but not a major difference.
Smart Coding DNR Blur Still Present
In our original test of Panasonic's Smart Coding, we noted significant blur created by high digital noise reduction levels. This issue is still present in Extreme cameras.
As an example, the image below shows our subject moving across the room in low light (~0.1lx). On the left, with Smart Coding On, a significant artifact trail may be seen behind the subject. On the right, with DNR reduced to 64 from its default level of 128, digital noise levels are much higher, but blur is eliminated.
H.265 Smart Codec Performance
In our tests, Smart Coding reduced bitrate by over 98% in a still, well-lit scene, with 1080p 10FPS bitrates at a very low 10 Kb/s using H.265, 70-75% lower than H.264 (still low at ~38 Kb/s).
As with other smart codecs, dynamic I-frame interval had the biggest bitrate impact, reducing H.265 bitrates by nearly the same margin, while using Smart Coding alone resulted in more modest 60% reductions.
Testing in a nighttime high motion scene, reductions were not as significant, though still notable. Bitrates with GOP control Mid and Smart Facial coding on were about 70% lower using H.265 and ~55% using H.264.
Notably, in this high motion scene, GOP Control's effects were lessened, while dynamic compression was more effective compared to daytime, due to the levels of motion in the scene.
Competitive Bitrate Comparison
The Panasonic i-Pro Extreme's H.265 bitrates were the lowest among cameras tested in all scenes. In our simple daytime/low motion test, gains vs. Axis' P3225-LVE were only slight, due to that camera's use of dynamic FPS (see our Zipstream 2 test). However, in our low light/high motion test, Panasonic's H.265 Smart Coding bitrates were drastically lower than competitive H.264 cameras, an average of about 70% lower than Axis and Hikvision, and ~50% lower than the camera's own H.264 stream.
*Camera Smart Codec Settings Used
The following settings were used for each camera's smart codec:
- Panasonic S5231L: GOP Control On (Mid) / Smart Facial Coding On
- Panasonic SFV631L: Smart Coding On
- Axis P3225-LVE: Zipstream Extreme / Dynamic GOP 1200 / Dynamic FPS On
- Hikvision 4526: H.264+ On
Wide Dynamic Range Performance
We test WDR performance against an open overhead door on a sunny day, shown here:
Performance of all cameras was fairly similar, with only slight differences between them. Note that Panasonic claims 144dB dynamic range in the Extreme series, compared to 133dB in the 6 series, though the two perform very similarly.
We also tested WDR performance in motion, with the subject entering an exterior door with strong backlight behind him. In this scene, the Panasonic S2531L and Axis P3225 show clear images of the subject as he moves through the scene, from outside to inside, while the older generation Panasonic and Hikvision 4526 show blur/artifacts which obscure facial details.
Low Light Performance
Indoor low light performance was also similar to other models, with all providing even illumination and clear details of the subject.
Full Light Image Quality
Finally, as with other test scenarios, full light image quality was similar as well, with few notable differences, except the overexposure seen in the Axis P3225 here:
Easy Kitting Package
Note that all i-Pro Extreme cameras ship in Panasonic's Easy Kitting package, which provides access to the camera's Ethernet connection so it may be powered, addressed, and configured quickly on a test bench prior to taking the camera to the field.
This is demonstrated in this animation below. In our discussion, the majority of users, especially integrators, found this feature useful.
The following firmware versions were used in this test:
- Axis P3225-LVE: 18.104.22.168
- Hikvision DS-2CD4526FWD-I: 5.4.0
- Panasonic WV-S2531L: 1.13
- Panasonic WV-SFV631L: 2.52