June 15, 2010 -- This morning, the Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) officially released conformance tools for its version 1.1 IP Media Device specification. The tools are designed to allow camera makers the ability to ensure that their IP video devices (e.g., network cameras, encoders) are PSIA compliant such that any IP camera which conforms to the specification will work with any video management system or recorder that also supports the specification.
According to Ian Johnston, chief technology officer at IP camera maker IQinVision, the conformance tools package is primarily composed of a piece of software. When connected to a camera or another video device, the software runs a series of tests and gives the product manufacturer feedback on which tests were passed and which were not. Upon successful completion of the test, the software tool creates a report that the vendor would provide to PSIA to certify that the camera or video encoder device is compliant. PSIA plans to list compatible devices on the organization's website, www.psialliance.org, and vendors would then publicize that their device is compliant.
Johnston said the development of a testing tool is expected to allow for greater adoption of the PSIA specification because it allows for in-house testing and it settles any questions of interpreting the specification.
"The [IP Media Device] specification has been available, but there hadn't been a way of verifying if you were compliant or that you were doing things correctly," Johnston said. "There could be different interpretations. Even when specifications are really well written and very thoughtful, we are still dealing with people and that means different interpretations. When they read it, subtle changes can happen. The goal of any specification is that everybody is doing it exactly the same way, and the compliance tool is the best way to give everyone the same yardstick."
Johnston added that camera and device makers are usually hesitant to attempt to implement a standard or specification until they know they can be certified and that they would be adhering to the same interpretation that all other vendors would be using.
"Until you have a compliance tool, not many vendors are willing to write to a spec, because it doesn't have as much value or certification. They want to know that when their end user customers plug their devices into a compliant video management system, they know it will work."
Being able to do the compliance test in-house is appealing to vendors, added Johnston.
"It allows the company to go step-by-step through the testing, and they don't have to do that publically or on an external timeline. Having it be a self-test is very useful, because no one likes to fail in public."
Johnston said that providing a conformance tool makes it easier for vendors to release products. Previously, he said, companies like IQinVision were challenged to release their products in time for major tradeshows like ISC West and ASIS International's Seminars and Exhibits because they would have to ensure that the products were supported by VMS companies. The presence of a compliance check means that they can release cameras and know they would work with PSIA-supporting VMS companies, rather than having to wait for the more robust drivers that can take months to be developed.
Danny Petkevich, the chairman of PSIA who also serves as director of Texas Instruments' video and vision business unit, agreed with Johnston that the development of a conformance tool is good for business.
"There have been barriers to entry in the IP camera market because of the lack of standards," Petkevich said. "If you want to see growth in the industry, there had to be a standard to make that happen. If you're a no-name [product manufacturer] or if don't have a lot of resources, it's challenging because you'd have to spend a lot of energy with VMS companies to get your drivers built [to support your cameras]. This really opens the playing field to a lot of folks."
Johnston and Petkevich were clear that PSIA conformance tools check only basic camera functions and connectivity. The tool ensures that a VMS can recognize a camera, control it and capture the video from the camera. What it doesn't do is check through all of the additional features that vendors can add to their cameras to make them unique for their customers. Petkevich said the specification certainly doesn't preclude vendors from adding richer feature sets.
"This is testing the lowest common denominator," Petkevich said. "We want to confirm that we can get the basic communication going. Advanced features will come in the future [to the specification]."
Rhianna Daniels, who handles media communications for the PSIA, said she would expect that all of the companies who have been involved with creating the IP Media Device specification will fairly rapidly test products with the conformance tools. The conformance tools are available for all PSIA members, including the newly added "User" member level, and non-members can check their products against the PSIA specification by paying to access the conformance tools.
Petkevich said that as PSIA releases newer versions of its specification, the conformance tools will be updated as well. The compliance tool is available from PSIA through the organization's website www.psialliance.org. He added that compliance check tools are planned for additional PSIA specifications (e.g., access control) once those specifications are finalized and ratified.