Testing Axis Camera Station - VMS Software

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 31, 2009

Axis is much better known for its IP cameras than its VMS software. Nonetheless, their VMS, Camera Station, is quite interesting because of the relative sophistication of the product, Axis' market size and speculations about the future of Camera Station.

[For background information, see Axis' product page on Camera Station, its datasheet  and a product evaluation]

In the video below, we provide an overview of the basics of Camera Station and background on the test conducted:

Key Findings From the Test

The features that ACS provides are sophisticated and generally easy to use. However, ACS lacks many features critical to enterprise video management systems.

  • Almost all features are available from a single application, reducing the complexity of finding and access functions.
  • Live video monitoring is quite sophisticated with event management, maps, web pages, etc all built into a single interface
  • Investigations across multiple cameras is difficult with key features limited and hard to access
  • Installation is simple but configuration requires some training
  • Built-in tools for support and maintenance are very useful

Product Overview / Limitations

Axis Camera Station supports up to 50 Axis cameras/encoders per server. Because this is an Axis product, the support for its own cameras are strong including the most recent products (like the Q1755) and for newer CODECs like H.264 and the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD camera.

The Camera Station Client provides access to all administration, monitoring and investigation functionality. Camera Station supports most basic functionalities including a few that are considered to be higher end: maps, integrated event monitoring, complex rules system, enterprise management of cameras and Active Directory.

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However, there are a number of important enterprise features that are lacking:

  • No Virtual Matrix across ACS servers: While you can run multiple Camera Station servers (to handle hundreds of cameras), you cannot login in to them simultaneously or view cameras from different servers on a single interface (virtual matrix)
  • No 3rd party camera support: Additionally, Axis recently verified that they do not plan to add ONVIF support to Camera Station. As such, it will not be possible to add ONVIF enabled IP cameras to Camera Station
  • No Web Client: Viewing and administration of Camera Station is limited to the thick client application that must be installed
  • No Enterprise User Management: Users must be set up in each server (though integration with Active Directory allows for centralized password management)
  • No Access Control integration
  • No PoS Integration
  • Limited video analytics integration (only events from analytics running on Axis cameras - e.g., Agent VI and ViaSys)

Cost

Axis Camera Station costs between $100 - $150 license per camera. A 4 camera license runs about $600 (or $150 per camera). The cost of higher camera counts becomes closer to $100.

For a non-enterprise, limited camera count offering, this is in the same range as most other product offerings. However, many VMS providers offer multiple tiered product offerings, allowing customers to upgrade (for an additional fee) to the enterprise version (if needed later).

Compared to other VMS software that only supports the manufacturer's own cameras, Axis Camera Station tends to be more expensive. Many of the other IP camera companies provide their VMS software at no charge (at least up to 16 channels). However, these offerings are not alternatives as each one usually only supports the manufacturer's own cameras.

Administration

All administration can be done in the Camera Station client (except for advanced camera management that is best done in the Axis Camera Management utility).

Installation is simple. It's one executable with no need for an external database. The installer activates the server as a Windows Service and installs the Client. You enter in a license key for the total number of cameras you have licensed (You do not need a dongle or per camera activation).

Camera Station requires accessing a series of independent menus to configure the system. Administrators should be careful that they cover each configuration option.

The following screencast demonstrates installation and configuration of the system:

Live Monitoring

The Camera Station client integrates a variety of tools into a single User Interface that allows access to many features including maps, web pages, event listings and various common camera controls.

The client restricts quick changes in views. Generally, live monitoring is restricted to displaying individually various pre-configured views. For instance, you cannot drag and drop cameras, resize panes or right click viewing panes to display different cameras. 

I think this can be frustrating and unnecessarily restrictive. On the other hand, this may be because I am used to doing this in other VMS systems.

The following screencast demonstrates using live video monitoring:

Investigations

While Camera Station provides multiple means to search and scan video, conducting investigations can be difficult.

You can search video by common means including by time, motion and events. The video can be displayed by lists, with thumbnails and via a timeline.

There are 4 aspects that made investigations hard to use:

  • The default action is to playback a recorded video clip by itself. To do simultaneously playback for multiple cameras, you need to shift click on those cameras. Also, you can only do simultaneous playback for a maximum of 4 cameras. Plus, you cannot add in or switch cameras while you are reviewing. Investigators often need to pull in different camera feeds as they are trying to understand an event.
  • When you select a clip it is for a defined time period. Once you get to the end of the time period, you cannot watch any further unless you choose a new time period. Investigators often do not know the exact time and want to continue to scan until they find the relevant video.
  • You cannot easily set the beginning and end time of an export video segment. Once you find the exact times you want, you can use the timeline view, zoom in and select that time specifically. However, this is cumbersome to use (especially compared to the flag in and out mechanism that is common in VMS software). Investigators often want to export a specific time period to share as evidence with the authorities.

The following screencast demonstrates conducting an investigation:

Future Competitiveness of Axis Camera Station

With the rapid expansion of IP camera offerings by incumbent manufacturers and the ongoing development of industry specifications (ONVIF/PSIA), the video surveillance industry is changing. As part of this, may question the future of Axis Camera Station. Let's break this into 2 questions:

  • Will Axis expand Camera Station to be an enterprise offering?
  • Can Axis be successful in such an expansion?

Will Axis Expand?

Axis continues to be clear that they do not intend to make Camera Station an enterprise offering. Given their plans not to add ONVIF support to Camera Station, this is a sign that Axis will not.

However, Axis has been continuously improving Camera Station and in the last year raised the camera limit per server from 25 to 50 cameras. Moreover, as this report demonstrates, the offering is quite sophisticated. Since they charge for Camera Station, Axis is clearly not giving this as a 'throw away' or 'bonus.' 

If Axis does not add more enterprise offerings to Axis Camera Station, they risk Camera Station becoming uncompetitive. As the IP camera specifications are adopted, other VMS manufacturers will certainly expand the breadth of their camera support. Plus, as more manufacturers offer VMS software (for free), Axis will need to provide more features to justify their pricing levels.

Can Axis be successful in expanding Camera Station?

From a technical perspective, Camera Station is quite close to being competitive with mainstream VMS providers. Adding in ONVIF support and virtual matrix capability would very easily make Axis attractive to mid-sized deployments that do not have specialized needs. Moreover, given Axis market size, large 3rd party providers would tend to be open to integrating with Axis. It would be at the very high end, where redundancy, fault tolerance and very high scalability are key that Axis would likely not be successful.

From a business perspective, it is likely that Axis will be cautious about expanding Camera Station functionalities too quickly. Rapid moves might create problems for their camera sales as VMS vendors might respond negatively to competition from Axis.

Conclusion

If you are only using Axis cameras and have small camera counts, Camera Station provides a feature-rich and well designed offering.

If you are in the video surveillance business, Camera Station is a product worth tracking as its existing features plus Axis market power make Camera Station a product with potential for future expansion.

4 reports cite this report:

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