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ONVIF vs. PSIA: Competing standards bodies vie for industry support

It sounds like Betamax versus VHS all over again — but not quite. In the physical security world, two standards groups are vying for the support of the industry, but it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. One supports specs around IP video, while the other is aiming for broader IP standards across the physical security market. And some players are supporting both specs.

November 17, 2009  By Vawn Himmelsbach

The big question is where integrators and, ultimately, their end-user
customers will place their support. But the end goal is the same: to
bring interoperability to IP video through standardization, something
that has been lacking for years.

ONVIF, or Open Network Video Interface Forum, is an open industry forum
for the development of a global standard for the interface of network
video products, supported by Bosch, Sony and Axis, among others. So
far, it’s demonstrated 14 interoperable network video products from
nine companies, and its membership has grown to 103 companies, with 12
full members, 13 contributing members and 78 user member companies.

PSIA, or the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance, is a global
consortium of more than 50 physical security manufacturers and systems
integrators focused on promoting interoperability of IP-enabled
security devices across all segments of the industry. It has
established working groups for analytics and storage systems, as well
as the core media device specification. A recording and content
management spec is open for comment and review until mid-November.

“The difference is we’re looking at the physical security market as a
whole, recognizing that IP products are going to be playing in a lot of
different parts of the market,” says David Bunzel, executive director
of the PSIA. “Having all of those interoperable with each other is
going to be important, especially for integrators and end-users who
want a full solution. Their problem isn’t solved with a video solution,
their problem is solved when they can incorporate all these different


There probably should have only been one standards body from the start,
he says, but when you have competing efforts, the sense of urgency goes
up considerably. The PSIA’s first meeting took place in February 2008
and by September it had a specification out for public review; now
eight companies have interoperable products.

“Our objective was to get something out in a short period of time
because too many standards groups tend to wallow around and debate and
dither,” says Bunzel. “In the security industry, the sense of urgency
to have standards did not really exist. Yes, IP was coming into the
equation, but a lot of companies were more interested in trying to
maintain their business models the way they were.”

Pelco, a founding member of PSIA, took an interest in the specs because
it sells both IP cameras and head-end systems, says Steve Mitchell, ops
software development manager with Pelco. The ONVIF spec is based on Web
services and a technology called SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).
Web services are a collection of specifications defined by a number of
standards bodies and commercial consortiums, in which just about every
large IT company is involved, including Microsoft and IBM. Two notable
examples are the specs for WS-Discovery and WS-Notify, which ONVIF
leverages for camera discovery and event notification. An advantage of
SOAP and Web services, he said, is a rich set of tools to support
development and rigid adherence between components.

The PSIA standards take a different approach and are based on a
pre-existing and competing architectural style called REST
(Representational State Transfer). REST was developed in early 2000 in
response to the complexity and rigidity of SOAP and Web services.
Protocols based on REST are considered lighter-weight, easier to build
and integrate, with the advantage of human readable protocol messages
that aid in troubleshooting and integration.

In the case of PSIA’s specification, says Mitchell, the developer
should be able to achieve some level of interoperability with less work
than would be required with integration between ONVIF-compliant
components. Another advantage of REST is less verbose XML messaging
that requires less processing on an edge device, thus consuming fewer

ONVIF provides a test specification, a test tool and a formal
conformance process; the first version of the core specification and
test specification were made public at the end of 2008. Since then a
total of five working groups have been formed to develop the
specification further and enable members to develop and market
conformant product. Merit Lilin, a Taiwanese CCTV solution provider and
ONVIF member, recently released the world’s first ONVIF-compliant
network video products, including high-speed dome cameras, external IR
cameras and a standalone video encoder.

“Manufacturers have proprietary systems because they want to capture a
feature set that nobody else has and lure customers into their
proprietary world, but in the IP world that just doesn’t work,” says
Norman Hoefler, country manager for Canada with Bosch Security Systems.
But since no company out of the blue is going to make its products
interoperable, the industry has to do it, so an end-user customer has
the option of mixing a Bosch camera, for example, with a Genetec

If a certain camera is not ONVIF-compliant, however, it’s going to be
ex-communicated, he said, and five years down the road it’s not going
to be considered a viable alternative. However, the standard is still
in its infancy, so companies will have to decide whether they want to
build an ONVIF-compliant product now, because if they do it’s going to
cost more money, yet there’s a benefit down the road. “It’s the old
Betamax versus VHS thing, except we’re building cameras and software
frameworks,” he says.

Axis, along with Sony and Bosch, are founders of the ONVIF initiative.
“This is obviously the area where we spend all our efforts,” says Bob
Moore, country manager with Axis Communications. “Regarding PSIA I
don’t really know its importance, as I have yet to be asked if Axis
will join PSIA by any of my customers or partners.”

According to a report by IMS Research released in July, member
companies of ONVIF command a larger slice of the video surveillance
equipment market than member companies of PSIA. ONVIF member companies
make up more than 40 per cent of worldwide video surveillance market
revenues, compared with 25 per cent by PSIA member companies.

However, PSIA is going after the physical security market as a whole,
and some companies are members of both groups. According to IMS, well
over half of all video surveillance equipment sales can be attributed
to companies in one or both of these standards bodies. And 11 of the
top 15 video surveillance vendors have joined either ONVIF or PSIA.
Many component manufacturers, analytics vendors and distributors (who
were not accounted for in its analysis of the market) have signed up to
guide the future path of the market.

Both standards offer a lot of overlap and capabilities to manage and
control cameras, says Mitchell. Both specify services for device
management, including network configuration, updating firmware and
managing users and permissions. Both cover imaging configuration, as
well as streaming to cover HTTP/RTSP configuration, multicast and ports
used. Both support PTZ configuration and control (including presets,
limits and timeouts) and both address methods for managing analytics.

Two major areas where the protocols differ, he said, are with regard to
the specificity of camera discovery and the event mechanisms required.
ONVIF is specific about the camera discovery strategy that must be
employed (WS-Discovery), whereas PSIA provides the option to implement
a number of existing protocols for camera discovery (UPnP, CDP or
Zeroconf). The implication is that the camera discovery mechanism of an
ONVIF-compliant camera is guaranteed, whereas it could differ between
PSIA-compliant cameras. Likewise, ONVIF employs the WS-Notify framework
for event notification, which is specific about how a camera will
notify an application to some event. But PSIA employs a more
generalized message format for setting up events and notifications.

“The conclusion you can draw from these contrasts is that the PSIA spec
is more open to innovation amongst implementations,” says Mitchell,
“whereas the ONVIF spec probably achieves a greater guarantee of
interoperability due to its rigidity at the expense of potential
competitive differentiators among cameras and head-end systems.”

According to Carlos Varela, marketing manager with Sony of Canada, the
PSIA approach may be easier for the initial implementation, but the
ONVIF approach will offer greater flexibility and expandability. “It’s
not as quick to implement as PSIA, but it’s better for the long-term in
the flexibility it gives you,” he said. Sony is launching new cameras
with this protocol, and it’s also upgrading its recording products to
support it.

But he does see a benefit in harmonization. “Ideally it would be best
for everybody to talk together and come up with something that’s good
for the industry,” he said. He believes in the long-term something will
likely be worked out between the two groups, considering there are
members common to both, such as Genetec, Cisco and GE. Supporting two
specs could make products a little fatter. “It would be better to go in
one direction, it’s a little bit leaner, but hopefully we can share and
come out with one standard.”

Clearly the industry would be better served by having one standards
body, says Bunzel. When ONVIF chose Web services and PSIA chose REST,
however, it became more difficult to bridge that divide. But there are
some areas where the two groups could possibly work together, such as
on a common invent model. “The problem is this REST architecture is
more appropriate for other parts of the physical security market and
that’s part of our reason to be,” he says. “It would difficult for us
to switch gears without undermining the whole longer-term plan, which
is having all of these physical security devices interoperate.” This
includes access control and intrusion detection devices.

However, perhaps a greater issue is that many companies aren’t paying
attention to standards either way, at least not as much as they should
be given the fact that standards like this tend to define markets in
the IT space. “I think this reflects the fact that protocols such as
these are very much an IT thing,” says Mitchell, “while the leadership
and management in the industry are still dominated by sales and
marketing people who are either not technical, or more familiar to the
traditional analogue technology, or both.”

End-users may not be aware of the standards and will look to their
integrators for guidance, and that’s how the longer-term benefits of
standardization could reach the Canadian market. And that’s why both
groups are vying for support from both the integrator and end-user

PSIA is casting a wide net that goes beyond the camera, says Mitchell,
which is a good thing for interoperability of video surveillance
systems in general. But this ambition must be contrasted with the
considerable market share the camera vendors in ONVIF already command.
“It will remain to be seen what standard gains the greatest number of
implementations the quickest,” he says. “This could decide if there’s
one winner, regardless of their respective advantages and

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