HD video surveillance is the next big thing. HDTV cameras have been gaining huge ground over the past year and we’ve witnessed quite a surge in sales over the past 6 months. Axis have been at the forefront of this, first launching the HD Q1755 camera back in Q1 2009 and steadily releasing new models on a consistent basis including fixed HD cameras at full 1080p resolution as well as fully functional PTZ HD domes.
We looked at one of their latest HDTV models, the Axis P3344 which is a compact fixed dome network camera with models available for indoor and outdoor use. We looked at the model with a 6mm lens but a 12mm option is also available.
Summary of our key findings
HD standards compliance delivers 30fps, high quality images with large amounts of detail in normal light conditions. We found that the camera was extremely sensitive in low-light too and produced great quality images. It struggled slightly with the auto-focus when the light dropped below 5 lux.
Ease of installation: The P33-series is easy to install adopting a modular system for fixing to a wall or ceiling. The camera also supports Power over Ethernet (PoE) and provides tools for selecting the appropriate zoom level and automatic focusing of the lens through the software. It all makes installation a lot quicker, which is a great benefit for large-scale applications.
The on-camera SD recording worked very well and didn’t display any problems recording to SD cards of different capacities (SD and SDHC). However, we found there was no easy way through the software to download your captured video. We feel this is a bit of an oversight and is something which Axis will hopefully remedy in a future firmware upgrade.
Axis P3344: included in the box:
- Axis P3344 Network Camera
- Clear transparent dome cover
- Smoked transparent dome cover
- Mounting kit incl. screw driver, drill template, screws and plugs, I/O connector block
- CD-ROM including product documentation Installation Guide Axis Warranty Document
We like that Axis include both clear and smoked domes with the camera giving the end-user the choice without having to make an additional purchase.
We tested the Axis P3344 in a couple of locations and different lighting conditions.
This image was produced at factory settings after we used the quick remote auto-focus feature to ensure the scene was in focus.
As you can see the image produced in good lighting conditions is of very high quality. It is sharp and detailed with natural colour reproduction. (click the image to see it at full resolution)
This image was taken in a fluorescent-lit hallway at approx. 80 lux. Default settings, MJPEG, 30% compression, BLC on.
The corridor from the example above was dimly lit at approx. 4 lux. We can see the P3344 is sensitive in low-light environments (0.3 lux in colour, 0.05 lux B/W) but we do lose a bit of the sharpness.
When it was dark we hooked up a Raytec RM25-120-IP infrared lamp. The P3344 is a true day/night camera so it is sensitive to infrared light and will automatically switch to black and white night vision mode in low light.
The above image was taken in complete darkness using the P3344’s infrared night vision. The results are shown above and you can see the image produced is sharp and clear.
HD vs VGA
For a comparison we took a shot from the same location using a conventional VGA camera, the Axis 211.
Daylight – Axis 211 at VGA (640×480) resolution: MJPEG: 30% compression: approx. 1500 lux
First thing we notice is the reduced horizontal viewing angle. Typically a megapixel camera offers a wider field of view. Above, the Axis 211 provides a max. of 67 degrees at its widest setting where the Axis P3344 we tested with the 6mm lens will deliver up to 87 degrees horizontal at its widest setting.
It’s also apparent that the HD quality images produced by the Axis P3344 are much larger, sharper and more defined.
On-camera recording performance
The camera has a built-in SD memory card slot. This slot is full-size and supports normal SD memory cards as well as high capacity SDHC cards. We assume this would also work with mini and microSD cards with an appropriate adapter but we tested with full-size SD cards only.
Once the event is set up to record to local storage each alarm will be stored to the card as a video file based on the user’s chosen event settings.
We found there wasn’t an easy way to export the recordings directly from the camera’s interface which seems to be a bit of an oversight but the videos can be accessed directly from the card or by FTP.
When the card is pulled from the camera the video files can be found in a Matroska video format (.MKV) which is common for HD/H.264 video. These can be played back using VLC player or in Windows Media Player if you download and install the Matroska File Splitter from Axis’ website. http://www.axis.com/techsup/software/matroska/index.htm
Ease of installation
A key selling point of the P33-series is a focus on simplifying installation.
Whether you are fixing the camera to a wall or ceiling the modular concept, demonstrated in the video below, makes installation quick, simple and cost-effective for large-scale systems.
If you add Power over Ethernet (PoE) and the remote focus and zoom feature then setting this camera up is a breeze compared with Axis’ older models.
To add further flexibility to the installation there are also a range of indoor or outdoor mounting kits available allowing you to install the camera in drop ceilings, poles, walls with a mounting bracket, in corners or with junction boxes etc.
The Axis P3344 supports multiple H.264 video streams which can be individually configured in terms of image quality, resolution and frame rate. MJPEG is also supported for maximum compatibility and flexibility.
H.264 is a video compression format which offers many benefits over traditional methods of compression such as MJPEG and MPEG-4. It offers low bit-rate video which reduces bandwidth consumption by as much as 30-50% against MPEG-4 and even more against MJPEG at around 70-80% with no loss of picture quality.
Making large savings in bandwidth is hugely beneficial, especially for networks which are prone to congestion or have strict guidelines on bandwidth usage. It also means that when you record footage using H.264 the resulting archives are smaller providing a cost-saving on storage requirements.
For our in-depth look at H.264 please see our article: Using H.264 Video Compression in IP Video Surveillance Systems
Remote focus and zoom
Anyone who has tried to remotely focus a network camera by phone with an on-site engineer adjusting the focus manually will concur that it’s not an easy or pleasant task!
A new feature, which we are seeing a lot of in the new cameras from Axis, is the ability to automatically zoom and focus the lens from a remote location. The camera comes with a varifocal lens which is motorised. Focus and zoom adjustment is done with software. It can’t be done manually.
Using the on-screen controls you first select the level of zoom required (our camera uses a 2.5-6mm varifocal lens giving a horizontal viewing angle from between 87 to 40 degrees) and then hit the ‘Perform auto focus’ button and the camera will do the rest.
This takes all the hassle out of adjusting the zoom and focusing the camera, leading to considerable time-savings on site for large-scale installations. It also ensures optimum results every time.
The P3344 features a digital pan-tilt-zoom feature which is akin to the Axis 212 PTZ.
Digital PTZ (DPTZ) allows a user to zoom into a live image with no loss of picture quality. The benefits of this being there are no moving parts so PTZ movement is instant and cannot be witnessed by people in the area surrounding the camera.
The amount of achievable zoom in this mode is directly linked to the maximum output resolution. The P3344 offers 6 levels of DPTZ as follows:
When the camera has DPTZ enabled you can also set preset positions which you can instantly browse from the live view page. Using the preset positions the camera supports guard touring which can take a pre-determined set of preset positions and automatically move between them within a designated time period for automatic monitoring of areas of interest.
The Axis P3344 is a camera which meets high specification requirements. The high definition, high speed output makes the camera ideal for critical applications in retail environments, cash handling, casinos and traffic applications. It can also be used in areas where a high level of identification is required such as banks, passport control, schools, colleges or public transport terminals such as airports, train stations, bus stations etc.
The varifocal lens lends itself to specialist applications too where the camera can be positioned to look at specific areas of interest, such as an entrance to a store/building or for Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) applications.
With HD 720p output the camera can also display native resolution images on an HDTV providing excellent, high quality results for public viewing. Bear in mind that unlike the Axis Q1755 this camera does not have an HD video output so the images would have to be fed through a network.
We identify the camera would cater to SMEs and large scale enterprises, government, retail and education sectors as well as specialist applications when they arise.
First of all the P3344 is a static camera in a fixed dome design. This fixed dome design is exceptionally popular at the moment for their unobtrusive presence which lends itself well to discreet viewing.
Then there’s the modular concept of installation with remote zoom and focus. This makes the camera quick and easy to install which is a huge time (and cost) saving for large-scale deployment.
Then there’s the image quality. Out of all the HDTV cameras we’ve looked at from Axis the quality of the P3344 is right up there. The images are sharp and highly detailed and the colour reproduction is very natural and pleasing. The camera is very sensitive in low-light environments and is also infrared-capable for discreet monitoring in complete darkness.
In terms of features the camera includes everything you would expect from a high-end security network camera such as H.264 video compression, 2-way audio support, automatic infrared day/night switching, on-camera recording to SD memory cards, wide range of alarm input triggers including motion detection and anti-tampering.
Of course when you buy the Axis P3344 you not only get exceptional image quality and features but you benefit from over 15 years of IP camera expertise which has led to each camera coming with mature system software which is both easy to use and flexible enough for the most demanding applications.
For systems which require a high level of detail and a fast frame-rate we would easily recommend the P3344. There are still more HDTV cameras to come from Axis. We’ll be keeping an eye on those too…
By focusing on HDTV technology in their recent product line-up, Axis is meeting the need of many users in today’s market. From having been at the front line in the network video and CCTV market for many years, we think HD resolution cameras will see a major breakthrough into the market during the course of 2010 and 2011. There is little doubt in our mind that HD is the future in video security. Axis has a reputation of being a premium brand, suitable for SME’s and high-end, large scale enterprise solutions and the demands of this customer base is larger, more detailed images and faster frame rates. HD IP video answers those demands with the P3344 being a good example.