The development of IP CCTV systems was heavily hampered by the lack of compatibility of devices and low degree of flexibility in terms of future expansion. The users were not able to choose products from different manufacturers, not to mention the integration with other systems. After years of chaotic development, in which the manufacturers were introducing their own standards for recording and transmitting video in IP CCTV systems, in spring of 2008 Axis, Bosch and Sony companies took the initiative called Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF), aimed at coordinating efforts for common standards in this field. By standardizing the digital interfaces of the IP CCTV devices and unifying compression and transmission of video and audio streams, configuration and control procedures, event handling, PTZ control, alarm inputs and outputs etc., the user is given an easy to manage and uniform platform.
ONVIF currently brings together over 500 companies that offer more than 3200 products compliant with the standard.
ONVIF vs. other initiatives
There are other organizations that promote their standards. Some of the most active ones is PSIA (Physical Security Interoperability Alliance). Its mission is to create a "plug and play" IP interface, operating like USB. The strength of this standard is a broad field of applications and coverage of different types of equipment for video monitoring, alarm systems, access control, building management systems (BMS). The problem of PSIA is a low popularity - it currently brings together fewer than 50 companies.
What about profiles?
Initially, the ONVIF standard had problems with the lack of compatibility between some versions. So, in 2012 the forum introduced the concept of "profiles" that is continuously developed. It allows for easy and effective check of the conformity of products without analyzing technical details. From now on, when a device and client are based on the same profile, they are compliant without a doubt. Currently there are 3 profiles, and next ones are planned in the near future. Below there are short characteristics of the current profiles:
  • Profile S addresses common functionalities of IP video systems, i.e. parameters of audio and video streaming between the device (e.g. camera) and client (software app, NVR). The client can configure the audio, video, and data streams, select PTZ protocols, make use of metadata, alarm inputs and relay outputs.
  • Profile G focuses on the configuration of recording and searching/playing back the recordings on the client device. It supports operations on video, audio and metadata.
  • Profile C allows integration with physical access control systems, addressing interoperability between these systems and network video systems. The client can access information about doors and access points in the system and can configure access control systems.
Why ONVIF does not always work?
ONVIF forum informs that products that are fully compliant with ONVIF standard and the same profile are compatible. However, anyone who installed devices marked with this standard might encounter some problems or even no connectivity. Why is this happening and how to avoid such problems?
First, it is necessary to check whether intended devices actually support ONVIF protocol. Asian manufacturers often mark their products as compatible with ONVIF, although this is not true. European distributors do not verify these declarations despite it is quite easy - the compliance with this standard can be verified on the official website that lists all compatible products.
Second, it is important to use ONVIF devices with the same profile. For example, a camera compliant with older version of ONVIF protocol (without profiles) will not connect to a DVR with the higher version.
One may encounter cases within a set of devices with S-profile, having no problems with connectivity and video streaming, but with some functions (e.g. motion detection). It is usually caused by errors of the standard or, more often, by an incorrect implementation of the standard/profile made by the manufacturer. Such problems should be immediately reported to the manufacturer that, in turn, should release improved software. ONVIF forum is heavily working on new, improved versions of the standard, which will be debugged and more precise in terms of terminology.
Although ONVIF standard promises compliance within the same profile, the user should always be skeptical. Before purchasing or installing equipment, it is necessary to check its compatibility or obtain information from the manufacturer(s). For example, the website of Sunell company provides list of devices that have been thoroughly tested and described in terms of compatibility levels. The company is among the full members of ONVIF forum. This status has been given to the founders and most active members that take active part in the development of the organization and the standard.