H.264 to stay as main video standard

Observers believe H.264 will remain global standard for video surveillance due to wider, global industry acceptance, despite uptake of China's Surveillance Video and Audio Coding (SVAC) standard.

The video surveillance industry will continue to adhere to the H.264 standard, primarily because of its global establishment and system compatibility, despite the introduction of an emerging standard in China, called Surveillance Video and Audio Coding (SVAC), say market watchers.

First established in 2003, H.264 was developed by the International Telecommunication Union's (ITU) standardization sector and the joint working group of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

In comparison, the Chinese SVAC standard for digital surveillance was officially ratified by the Standardization Administration of China on Dec. 31, 2010, according to a statement by one of the co-developers, Vimicro International. The multimedia semiconductor provider developed the standard in cooperation with China's Research Institute of Ministry of Public Security. "SVAC is the first technology standard designed to solve the unique needs of the surveillance industry," Vimicro stated.

It noted that the standard had special significance for the establishment of China's public security and criminal prevention system, implemented in May last year, and was the preferred protocol in government contracts and available to all suppliers participating in the surveillance industry.

Explaining the difference between both standards, Dao Thi Minh Thao, research associate of ICT practice at Frost & Sullivan, said H.264, or MPEG-4 Part 10, is a video-compressing standard and the mostly commonly used format for recording, compression and distributing high-definition (HD) video.

It is the latest codec technology after MPEG-2 and MPEG-4, and boasts advantages such as more storage capacity at lower costs, higher image quality and frame rate at the same drive size, and uses less bandwidth than its predecessors, Thao said.

"The adoption of this standard has been swift in the video surveillance market but slow in others such as DTH (direct-to-home)," she added.

SVAC, on the other hand, addresses just one segment of H.264's market in video surveillance, the analyst stated, noting that it has been accepted primarily in China because it is a local security and surveillance standard.

No tech edge for SVAC
Bill Zeng, CTO for unified collaboration in Asia-Pacific and Japan at Cisco Systems, said there were many similarities between both standards.

Based on the encoding and decoding specifications, he noted that SVAC looked like a subset of the H.264 codec but with its own variations. By comparison, H.264 was a more mature standard that could be optimized to achieve different industry requirements too.

Zeng believes there currently is no need for a different coding system in the market as SVAC is mostly a subset of H.264, which is already optimized for surveillance purposes, and would not be much of a technological advantage over the latter.

"In addition, SVAC is drafted by the Chinese police force and not by an international standards body. This will severely restrict standards-based innovation in the future and has significant system compatibility issues," he stated.

He said creating a proprietary, China-based standard for the local defense and security industries would only "create an island of equipment that cannot be connected to other systems".

Noting that Cisco believes in open standards and encourages global innovation, he said what SVAC stands for contradicts this stance and for this reason, the U.S. networking equipment company had opted not to sell its video surveillance products in China.

Limited industry impact
Thao added that while SVAC would gain market share in the future as video surveillance vendors looked to penetrate the Chinese market, this would have limited impact.

"H.264 has been around for a while. It is affordable and suitable for network platforms. Hence, SVAC is not expected to replace H.264 but [will] run in parallel with it," the Frost & Sullivan analyst said.

Zeng, too, does not believe SVAC will displace the global industry standard because the China-based SVAC is a proprietary system designed for one industry and does not provide much coding efficiency. It also is not standards-based so it cannot connect to other systems such as videoconferencing and post-analysis systems based on open standards, he added.