Standardising the standards

September 2013 Surveillance

Standards are the one thing missing in the South African security industry. From the regulator, PSIRA, down to individual installers and integrators, there are no standards that determine who qualifies to install or integrate security technologies, who companies should hire and how employees should be treated and so forth.

The above paragraph is obviously incorrect. The security industry has a number of standards that are supposed to ensure quality in everything from choosing a registered installer or integrator, health and safety issues, employment terms and conditions and even to make technical tasks simpler. The real problem in the industry is that there is no compulsion to adhere to any standards, whether technical standards or those that should be enforced by PSIRA.

We will look into the PSIRA side of things more in the future, however, in this article we examine the standards available for IP video surveillance and the industry’s adherence to it (or ignorance of it, as the case may be). Hi-Tech Security Solutions spoke to ADI’s Gordon Moore, Axis Communication’s Per Björkdahl, and Gus Brecher from local manufacturer Cathexis.

1. How do you view compliance to ONVIF/PSIA? Is it something done to enhance brand image or is there value in compliance for the manufacturer/vendor/systems integrator?

Gordon Moore
Gordon Moore

Moore: This is an interesting one, the industry insists on specifying products that are ONVIF compliant and yet prefers not to be dependent on the ONVIF driver. The best option is always to make sure there are specific drivers developed for the camera you are using. It seems ONVIF is pretty much seen as a safety net or last resort.

One needs to be careful when relying on ONVIF as it is not always as simple as it seems. When reading the fine print one will often see that not all cameras from a manufacturer are compliant and the ones that claim to be will need a specific firmware version to work with the VMS’s specific firmware version.

Björkdahl: Standards contribute to accelerate the uptake of new technology and simplify deployment. They increase the value for the end-user as he will not find himself locked in with a single manufacturer. Standards also enable developers to focus on useful features rather than spending time incorporating drivers for multiple brands.

Gus Brecher
Gus Brecher

Brecher: ONVIF has not been the silver bullet many thought it was going to be. Some camera manufacturers pay lip service to the standards, ticking the box purely from a marketing perspective, and others don’t implement the protocol correctly. But there is also value in compliance; in particular, it allows integration of new and niche cameras quickly and at a lower cost than a custom driver would incur.

2. What benefits are there for customers in standardising on standards-based cameras (either ONVIF or PSIA)?

Moore: The benefits of the standards is the interoperability between IP cameras and VMS solutions. Although it is still not 100 percent reliable or fully functional, there have been significant improvements in the latest releases and I do believe that in time it will mature and will work as intended.

If the market continues to insist on the products that comply to one standard or another and uses social media to out the fakes, it will eventually filter out the fly-by-nights and we will have what we had in analogue CCTV. If one was to look back to the beginning of the analogue standards (PAL, NTSC) there were similar situations and it did eventually settle. Interestingly it seems like with PAL and NTSC, the Americans are favouring one standard (NTSC/PSIA) and the majority of the rest of the world the other (PAL/ONVIF).

When looking at media release for ONVIF Profile S: “Profile S describes the common functionalities shared by ONVIF conformant video management systems and devices such as IP cameras or encoders that sends, configures, requests or controls the streaming of media data over an IP network. The profile includes specific features such as pan, tilt, zoom control, audio streaming and relay outputs.” One can see there are more features defined with each new release, and interestingly ONVIF has now also started to include network access control.

Björkdahl: Standards simplify the procurement process and give the customers a greater choice. They also help end-users to protect and future-proof their investment.

Brecher: If one can get the integration right, then standards enable customers to pick best-of-breed cameras over a period of time. When a particular manufacturer is lagging the most recent technical advances, the customer may select an alternative manufacturer without compromising the overall system performance.

3. Following from (2), we often hear about customers buying cameras with a standards logo, but then they have problems with interoperability with other brands. Why is this? Who polices standards in the surveillance market?

Moore: ONVIF conformance is dependent on self declaration. ONVIF provides members with a conformance process that includes a test specification as well as a test tool. When it has met all the criteria, the member can declare conformance to the ONVIF specification. This is where the challenge comes in, with ONVIF being a non-profit organisation it is difficult to police and it is up to the users to assist in outing the fakes through social media.

One can go online to ONVIF’s web site where the current 458 registered members are listed. What we are finding is that even with ONVIF members, they claim ONVIF compliance but then not all their products are. When you dig deeper you find that only some cameras are compatible and even then they are only compatible with specific firmware versions on both the camera and the VMS.

Björkdahl: There are several factors contributing to this. One is perhaps unclear information from the manufacturers or unclear information from the standards organisations. The designers of systems still have an important role to play and need to learn how the standards work. In addition, sometimes the standards in the security industry get unfairly compared with other standards in the IT industry.

Brecher: There are some problems. Some manufacturers do not implement the standards correctly, and in some cases the standards allow for some deviations. ONVIF has test tools that can be applied to a camera to ‘independently’ test it, but there are older and newer versions of the test tools. Some cameras might have passed on the older test tool, but would not pass on the newer test tool.

4. Given that surveillance products are constantly advancing, for example, HD, edge storage, edge analytics etc., how reliable is an ONVIF or PSIA certification? How should customers view standards if they can’t rely on compliance?

Moore: If one looks at the ONVIF Core specification 2.0: “The new specification covers configuration of dedicated video analytics units, configuration and operation of IP-connected screens and monitor walls, as well as the configuration, storage and playback of video recordings in a security system. The ONVIF service architecture now supports recording features ranging from local recording in cameras over digital video recorders up to enterprise-class distributed network video recording solutions”, it is very clear that the committee is keeping up with the requirements.

The biggest challenge here is always going to be the fact that compliance is dependent on self declaration. The only way to truly manage this would be to establish a ‘policing’ committee within the specific standards committee to oversee the process. Until then it is up to all of us to assist in letting others know if we experience fakes.

Björkdahl: Axis is one of the founders of ONVIF and one of the cornerstones of ONVIF is transparency. All information is available on the ONVIF website and anyone can view the documentation and the details of the conformance documents. In addition, ONVIF is open to any company or organisation and by becoming a member, they can get access to all test tools to verify that the conformance claim is true.

Brecher: The likelihood is that the basic use of a camera that is ONVIF compliant, and used on an ONVIF compliant system, will work. ONVIF will always lag the native protocols as the independent camera manufacturers introduce new features. The features are the manufacturers’ way of differentiating themselves from their competitors, so this will continue.

Customers need to be sure that the features they require are definitely available in the ONVIF protocol of the specific camera they are choosing. The safe bet is to use cameras that have been integrated with manufacturer-specific protocols for any advanced requirement.

Contact information

ADI Global Distribution: +27 (0)11 574 2500,

Axis Communications: +27 (0)11 548 6780,

Cathexis: +27(0)31 240 0800,


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