Guidelines for Testing IP Cameras

Author: John Honovich, Published on May 25, 2009

What is the best way to test an IP cameras? We have established guidelines for our tests. These guidelines are listed below for your review and comment:

Objective

The goal of our tests is to provide recommendations on the real world capabilities of cameras and the best way to use those cameras in the field. The target audience of these reviews is the integrator or end user respondible for deploying or using the cameras.

No Payment from Manufacturers

We will not accept payment from manufacturers for these tests. When manufacturers pay for tests, they generally want control over the structure of tests and the content of the results.

Manufacturers may loan products and provide training on the use of their products. Prior to publication, key findings will be previewed with manufacturers, allowing them to provide feedback.

The tests will be funded by subscribers to the Video Surveillance Professional Service. While the public will be provided with a summary of key findings, detailed test results, screencasts and video samples will be exclusive to subscription members.

Include Training on Use of Product

Each test will include screencasts explaining how to setup and optimize the use of the camera. The screencasts will review physical system setup and software configuration. The training shall help viewers to learn about product details and help them in future deployments.

Test results are generally provided without training. However, training makes test results more valuable and easier to appreciate.

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Providing AVIs - not just Images

The results report will include multiple video clips from each test conducted. Those video clips may be downloaded, allowing the viewer to watch all of the video clips and see for themselves.

Traditionally, tests only included sample images. However, sample images do not show motion nor frame rate. Also, sample images can be selected to give an ideal snapshot that is unrepresentative of general conditions.

Multiple Testing Scenarios/Locations

Each test will include at least 3 testing scenarios:

  • Street Intersection will demonstrate significant motion of people and cars.
  • Park/Parking lot will demonstrate wide area coverage with minimal movement
  • Indoors/office will demonstrate moderate motion and controlled lighting

All tests will be conducted both day and night to demonstrate how changes in lighting conditions impact performance.

Multiple scenes day and night testing is critical to truly getting a sense of all around deployment. A single image can be significantly misleading.

Defaults Used Except for Exposure

For each camera, we use the manufacturer's factory defaults to ensure that no 'tricks' are used to make one camera better than another. One setting we have to normalize is the maximum exposure setting which some manufacturers use 'trick' default settings (review our exposure trick report).

For our low light tests, we conduct multiple tests using both 1/30s and 1/8s maximum exposure settings.

Low Light Testing

In a controlled indoor environment, we will conduct and record sample videos at both .3 and 1 lux. Lux measurements will be done in the middle of the scene at the point where the subject stops and looks directly at the camera. For background, review our lux meter/lux measurement tutorial.

Wide Dynamic Range Testing

Starting January 2010, we have added wide dynamic range testing. We use a scene with an entrance facing direct sunlight. We measure both the sunlight area and the adjacent darker areas to the left and right. We are able to reproduce scenarios with a 12x and 25x variance in lighting (e.g., 2000 lux in the sunlight area and either 160 or 80 lux in the shadow area).

Recording Bandwidth Consumption

For each scene, bandwidth consumption shall be recorded. For cameras supporting variable bit rate encoding, this rate can vary significantly based on the complexity of the scene and the configurations of each camera. 

Verify Claims to Unique/Special Features

Some cameras will make claims to special features that only they or very few manufacturers possess. When a camera is tested with such features, a special test will be done to verify the claims made. For an example, see our test of the plug n play capability of the Starvedia 202.

No Rating or Approvals

The tests will not provide ratings (e.g., 7 out of 10), grades or signs of approval. Our philosophy is to provide information and recommendations on how to use the camera and what issues to consider. With that, readers may make their own decisions.

Ratings and approvals are primarily for the benefit of manufacturers to help validate the sales of their products (e.g., this camera is top ranked or has a seal of approval). They also needlessly create political issues (why did this vendor get a 8.1 and the other one get an 8.2). We believe in providing good information and let our knowledgeable readers decide what is best for their own particular circumstances.

Feedback?

What do you think I should change or add?  I expect these guidelines to evolve and expand as the tests continue and hear from you about what you recommend.

3 reports cite this report:

Readers Respond: 134 Votes, 25 Comments Examined on Feb 14, 2010
Over 100 people voted and more than 25 left detailed comments to our recent question/discussion. In this post, we review and respond to the...
IP Camera 2009 Mid Year Review on Jul 26, 2009
Megapixel was the most dominant trend in IP cameras over the first half of 2009. So dominant was megapixel, that not only did most manufacturers...
How Well do IP Cameras Work in Low Light? on Jun 06, 2009
[2016 Update: Camera technology has changed substantially since 2009. The same pattern occurs but cameras are generally much better in low light....

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