Claire Mahoney

Editor, Security Middle East magazine

Author Bio ▼

Claire Mahoney has been a journalist for over 20 years in industries including healthcare, print, and publishing. She has been behind the launch and re-branding of a number of international business magazines. She has been editor of Security Middle East Magazine ( for the last seven years. The magazine is now the leading English language security title in the Middle East. She also co-runs a successful design and editorial agency, which offers a wide range of editorial, design, and print services to international clients.
November 23, 2014

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‘Secure by default’ in the age of converged security

ONVIF and PSIA: Guide to Standards in Video Surveillance

We talk to two of the biggest interface standards organisations in surveillance – ONVIF and PSIA.

It’s all very well running your security across an IP network, but if your recording device won’t talk to your PTZ camera, you are not going to get very far. Over the last decade, the security industry has spent a lot of time talking up the benefits of IP-based surveillance systems, and end-users have been bombarded with literature and sales pitches on the subject.

It soon become clear in an industry that was raving about the endless opportunities for security on the network that manufactures would have to become a little less proprietary in their dealings with their customers. In short, it was no longer fair to deny end-users the ability to choose whatever camera they wanted and whatever DVR or CCTV software they wanted on their network. They were, after all, used to IT systems that interfaced. It was time for the security industry to realise it had to be more open as well.

Two organisations that have been at the forefront of the drive towards open standards in the industry are ONVIF and PSIA.

ONVIF: Open Network Video Interface Forum

ONVIF was set up in 2008 by Axis, Bosch, and Sony. A non-profit organisation, its aims are to create standardisation in the industry to aid communication between various vendors’ video devices and then interoperability between those devices and others on the network, regardless of manufacturer.

ONVIF now has 480 members and as of mid-October has nearly 2040 products that conform to its Profile S specification, which handles video and audio streaming. The total number of products that meet the ONVIF core specification has reached well over 4,000.

In order to be ONVIF conformant, manufacturers use the test tools developed by ONVIF to meet the requirements of its core specification. Only manufacturers whose products have met the requirements of the test tools can submit a test report and a Declaration of Conformity signed by the manufacturer.

The core ONVIF specification, which was launched in November 2008, aimed to define a common protocol for the exchange of data between network video devices. Since then it has extended its scope to include access control products and also has developed specialist profiles for specific categories. The idea behind the profile was to help end-users identify which version of the ONVIF specification the products they were interested in conformed to, making it easier to determine compatibilities between conformant products and specific interoperability features.

There are now three ONVIF profiles, S, G, and C. Profile S looks at the common functionalities of IP video systems, Profile G addresses storage and recording functionalities and Profile C, the integration of IP-based security and safety devices, including access control units. Profile C is expected to be released in early 2014.

Per Bjorkdahl, chair of ONVIF’s steering committee, told us:

The profile concept is a way for end users and systems designers to identify more easily what products will work together without needing an in depth technical knowledge of the specification or having to keep current on each new release.

Profiles group together common sets of features and functionalities, so when two products — for example an IP camera and NVR — both bear the Profile S mark for video and audio streaming, they will work together.

The organisation has been making a concerted effort to broaden its security scope after some criticism that it was too focused on video. Bjorkdahl continues:

From the beginning, ONVIF’s focus was video because we knew we could get the proper feedback from the marketplace and because the need for standards and interoperability on the network video side was so acute. But ONVIF recognised from the start the need for specifications in other industry segments.

Its next area of concentration he says could be new additions in the physical access control area or a new profile for intruder alarms.

PSIA: Physical Security Interoperability Alliance

So what makes ONVIF different from the PSIA?

Comparisons with other groups such as PSIA are difficult because our approach is quite different. However, we think the industry participation that ONVIF has achieved speaks for itself. Specifically, ONVIF excels with its web services architecture and strong legal framework as well as its decision to establish an underlying specification and then tackle each discipline, such as video or access control or intrusion, individually.

Its competing organisation, PSIA, says its takes a more holistic and systems-based approach to standardisation. Executive director, David Bunzel:

Our specifications focus on moving security data and intelligence among various security systems, i.e., VMS, analytics, area control, physical security information management, building automation, and enterprise systems.

Because our members tend to have strong IT background, we understood very early that security systems increasingly need to operate in a business’s broader IT ecosystem as well as with other security components. The best way to achieve this is not to focus on a single device, like an IP camera, but to ensure entire systems have a standard way of communicating with each other.

PSIA is smaller in number, being made up of 65 physical security manufacturers and systems integrators. Nevertheless it aims to make its reach very broad. It has five active working groups, namely: IP Video, Video Analytics, Recording and Content Management, Area Control, and Systems. Bunzel explains:

The PSIA membership spans all physical security domains — IP-based devices like cameras, video management, video analytics, video recording and storage management, area control including access control and intrusion detection, and we work with logical security companies and building automation systems. Again, our breadth of activity and participation by industry members demonstrates the value of our system-level approach to specification development.

Bunzel doesn’t give specific figures when asked how many products are PSIA compliant, but says that PSIA-compliant manufacturers range from camera vendors to PSIM vendors and access control to intrusion detection. He goes on to say:

Several vendors of widely used security systems also have our specs on their core system upgrade roadmaps. We have a number of companies involved with testing devices for compliance, but until the tools are officially released, they cannot be compliant. It’s also important to note that more than 1,500 individual companies have downloaded our specs, but have not necessarily gone through our rigorous compliance requirements. We don’t call a vendor’s product compliant until it has passed those tests.

This month (October) the organisation will introduce its Area Control 2.0 spec with complementary test tools.

Standardisation across the industry

For the future, both organisations will be working to improve standardisation across the notoriously complex access control market, where the push for integration is moving at some pace.

Bunzel says that one of the larger access control vendors has plans to announce a commercial device relying on the PSIA spec before the end of the year. Meanwhile ONVIF will be releasing Profile C which will cover access control units.

It will be interesting to see how this vast sector of the industry responds to these developments  and whether it will be as ready to embrace standardisation as its video counterpart.

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Dear Claire Mahoney,  I am probably inattentive, but I do not see when this article was published. I have never heared about PSIA. Is it a newer association than ONVIF? I am working on improving my surveillance system by using an ONVIF-compliant software (I found an ONVIF device manager source code that can be downloaded for free, and I am working on rewriting that based on my corporate needs: But after reading this comparison, PSIA has aroused my attention. Can you recommend me a similar solution (a software or software development kit that can be used to build special… Read more »


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