Vivotek's SVC Camera Support Examined

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jun 12, 2011

Vivotek has announced upcoming support for SVC (Scalable Video Codec) for its Supreme line of IP Cameras. SVC is important because it has the potential to be the next 'big' CODEC, after H.264 AVC, adopted by video surveillance solutions. In this note, we examine Vivotek's plan for supports, potential issues and benefits of migrating to SVC.

What is SVC?

SVC is an extension to H.264, providing new features to H.264 compression. The key new features are the ability to dynamically 'scale' or change the resolution, frame rate or quality of the video. By contrast, in 'regular' or 'traditional' H.264, an individual video stream can only be set and viewed at a single resolution, frame rate and quality level (e.g., 1.3MP, 30fps). With SVC, the video management system can change the settings of the stream on the fly (e.g., scale down the 1.3MP, 30fps stream to only send or store 480p, 5fps).

What are Vivotek's Plans?

According to Vivotek, SVC support will be available as a firmware upgrade for their new Supreme line of IP cameras (running on recent TI chipsets) but not their legacy series. SVC H.264 support will be provided up to 1080p /  30fps. Firmware upgrades are planned to start in Summer 2011. Additionally, Vivotek says SVC support will be added to their own VMS software and believes 3rd party VMS providers will add support as well (but did not cite any definitive plans for others).

As a side note, Vivotek claimed that their SVC camera support is the 'first'. However, there is so debate about that as GE Security lists support for SVC in an SD IP camera line from 2010. However, given GE Security's integration into UTC, we have not seen any practical impact of those cameras. Regardless, anyone releasing SVC H.264 IP cameras in 2011 is at the leading edge of video surveillance releases.

What is the Upside of SVC?

If you are familiar with JPEG2000 and Avigilon's HDSM, H.264 SVC will likely provide similar benefits. Indeed both JPEG2000 and H.264 SVC are scalable video codecs. The big difference is that JPEG2000 is based on JPEG compression while H.264 SVC is based on the much more efficient compression of H.264. 

There are two main uses of a scalable video codec:

  • Streaming to clients: With SVC, you can dynamically change the size of the stream depending on the remote connection and viewing display of a client. This can improve client responsiveness and more efficiently use bandwidth. For instance, instead of trying to send 9 MP streams to display in a 3 x 3 matrix, the server can dynamically scale down the video to 9 CIF streams (reducing bandwidth consumption and CPU/GPU consumption on the client PC).
  • Storage management: With SVC, it is is fairly easy to periodically reduce the resolution or frame rate of video. This provides a simple yet powerful way to reduce long term storage utilization. You can do this with 'regular' H.264 but this is generally much more limited as pruning is limited to I frames (see a Genetec discussion on such limits).

The main alternative to achieving these benefits with 'regular' H.264 is to use multiple streams at different quality / frame rate settings. With this approach, the VMS can choose between the streams for the right 'size' given the application or time frame. The downside of this is that this generally needs to be manually set up, is time consuming and is generally not done.

What Limitations for SVC H.264 Exist?

There are a number of limitations and issues that will block SVC adoption:

  • The biggest one is that it needs to be supported by both the camera and VMS. Just like when systems migrated to H.264, it takes investment and motivation for both sides of the system to add support in. Currently, VMS support for SVC is basically non-existent.
  • Most cameras will not allow for firmware upgrades as SVC encoding is considerably intense than regular H.264 encoding. As such, this will require a move to a next generation of cameras (like the move from MPEG-4 to H.264 a few years ago).

Finally, while we expect to see more vendors use TI chips to add in SVC support, we think wide spread VMS support for SVC will be slow unless and until a player like Axis with major marketing and VMS clout makes a significant push around SVC. That said, we do believe SVC is the most likely next big codec but it could take a few years to see wide spread use.

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