ONVIF has increasingly become a buzzword in security technology circles, but it can be unclear exactly what it is and how it fits into modern security systems. This article provides a comprehensive overview of what ONVIF is, how to ensure devices are ONVIF compliant, and what an ONVIF camera system looks like in practice.
What is ONVIF?
ONVIF stands for Open Network Video Interface Forum. Its aim is to provide a standard for the interface between different IP-based physical security devices. In simple terms, ONVIF specifications provide a consistent way for devices from multiple manufacturers to work together, where previously they would not have been able to. These standardized ONVIF specifications are like a common language that all devices can use to communicate.
The end user benefits from this interoperability because they are no longer tied to a single brand for everything to work; now, a business can use several different brands’ systems, with a single standard to communicate. Want to use the best ONVIF camera from Brand A, but you also want Brand B’s ONVIF IP cameras, and Brand C’s ONVIF NVR? No problem — because the ONVIF standard enables them all to work together.
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In this guide, you’ll receive:
A comprehensive overview of ONVIF
Insights into the various profiles and features
Detailed information on an ONVIF camera system
Advice on how ONVIF could work for you
Is ONVIF the same as RTSP?
A commonly asked question is “what is ONVIF protocol?” This question confuses two different concepts: a standard and a protocol. ONVIF is a security standard, whereas RTSP — a key element of video and audio streaming — is a protocol.
For the avoidance of doubt, “ONVIF protocol” is an incorrect term, because it is a standard. The ONVIF standards are defined by several manufacturers in the video security industry, including Pelco, enabling products across brands to work together and interface seamlessly. This standard determines how a protocol like RTSP will work.
RTSP stands for Real Time Streaming Protocol. It controls video and audio transmission between two endpoints, and enables it to happen with minimal latency (delay) over an internet connection. ONVIF IP cameras use a specific standard (known as a profile) to stream video and audio. In doing so, the standard defines certain rules about how RTSP should work and which ONVIF specifications it should follow.
Over a larger ONVIF security camera system, this means that all devices are using the same streaming protocol to transmit video to network recording devices, which are primed to receive it in that specific format.
ONVIF profiles and why they matter
Overall, ONVIF creates a standardized way for devices to interact. However, not all devices use the same protocols, or the same functionality, which is why there are a number of different profiles for various devices and clients to comply with.
Each profile has two sets of features: Mandatory (M) and Conditional ©. ONVIF conformant devices and clients must include the mandatory features to work, which are laid out in the ONVIF specifications available under each profile.
Access control systems use Profiles A, C, D and M. Video security systems use Profiles D, G, M, S and T.
Zooming in on video security, what is an ONVIF camera? In terms of what makes a compatible ONVIF security camera, profiles G, S, and T all apply to IP cameras, whether that is a POE ONVIF camera or a WiFi enabled camera.
ONVIF Profile A
For: access control set up and management
- Permit and withdraw credentials
- Create schedules
- Allocate access rules
This profile is designed to configure access rules, credentials and schedules. It allows ONVIF compliant devices to gather information, and set up the permissions listed above. ONVIF conformant clients can retrieve this information from the devices, and provide further guidelines for devices on how to set up permissions. If the system involves video, it can be used in conjunction with Profile S.
ONVIF Profile C
For: door control and event management
- Site details and setup
- Event and alarm management
- Door control
This profile specifically allows ONVIF compliant devices and clients to manage door controls in an electronic access control system.
ONVIF Profile D
For: peripheral access devices such as token readers, biometric readers, keypads and sensors
- Transfers data such as fingerprints, door codes and/or other access requests
- Transfers data such as lock status, door status, temperature and motion detection
- Performs actions based on this information, such as locking/unlocking, or information displayed on devices
Profile D compliant devices capture input information, then securely transmit it to a Profile D client, such as an online access management platform. The client can access the input data and send instructions back on whether to permit or deny access. Profile D makes the configuration process for these access controls much quicker and smoother.
Profile D works alongside Profiles A and C to standardize device/client communications in IP access control systems. When the access device is a camera (for example, for iris or facial recognition, or for a live view of access events), then it can also work with Profile M and T to connect video data and access permissions.
ONVIF Profile G
For: edge storage and retrieval
- Set up, request and manage video recording over an IP network
- Receive audio and metadata stream from an IP ONVIF camera
ONVIF G is designed to work with video security systems that use IP networks to record and stream data. Profile G devices include ONVIF IP cameras, such as fixed IP cameras, and video encoders. They can record video over an internet connection, or on the edge (i.e. on the device itself). Profile G clients include platforms such as a VMS (video management software). ONVIF compatible clients can remotely set up and control video recording on devices. They can also request and receive video data, audio data and metadata streaming from an edge POE ONVIF camera.
ONVIF Profile M
For: metadata and events for analytics applications
- Streaming and management of metadata
- Analytics management and information lookup for metadata
- Supports object classification
- Rule setup and management for events
- Handles geolocation, vehicles, license plate, face and body metadata
- Support object counter, face recognition, and LPR analytics
- Can transmit events via a metadata stream, ONVIF event service or MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport)
Profile M is the latest release from ONVIF, designed to be used with devices or clients that have smart analytics capabilities. It supports the setup and management of analytics between conformant devices/clients. It also supports the filtering, streaming and querying of metadata.
ONVIF M conformant products can be edge devices, such as IP cameras; they can also be services, such as a server or cloud-based software. Profile M interfaces with these devices or services to send metadata over an IP network to a conformant client (e.g. an ONVIF NVR or VMS).
For edge-based IoT security networks, Profile M conformant products that support MQTT can also communicate with IoT platforms, which in turn can communicate with edge (IoT) devices and services.
ONVIF Profile S
For: basic video streaming
- Remote video streaming
- Remote video management
ONVIF S enables simple IP-based video streaming. S conformant devices include ONVIF IP cameras, video encoders and NVR. ONVIF compatible devices can stream video over an internet connection to a compatible client. Profile S clients, such as a VMS, can also remotely manage and control video streaming from cameras. Other features covered by Profile S include audio, multicasting, relay outputs and PTZ control on ONVIF compliant devices and clients. For example, even though there are different protocols used with a standard IP camera than with a PTZ camera system, ONVIF Profile S can configure both camera streams so that they can be viewed in one client.
ONVIF Profile T
For: advanced video streaming
- H.264 / H.265 video compression
- Imaging management
- Motion detection and tampering events
- 2‑way audio (as known as bi-directional audio)
- Metadata streaming
- Secure HTTPS streaming
Like Profile S, Profile T is used in IP-based video systems. However, Profile T supports several more advanced features than Profile S. It’s important to note that Profile S and T can be used together, as each set of ONVIF specifications supports different device and client features. Profile T supports advanced video streaming features, such as H.264 and H.265 encoding formats. These formats are examples of the kinds of streaming protocols defined by ONVIF standards, as discussed in the previous section on RTSP.
ONVIF T also supports other streaming functionality, such as imaging and audio settings, and some simpler analytics in the form of motion and tampering detection. More advanced analytics features are supported by Profile M.
ONVIF Profile Q (deprecated)
ONVIF Profile Q is no longer active, and was officially deprecated on April 1st, 2022. It was designed for use with IP-based video security systems, for the quick lookup and basic management of conformant clients and devices over an IP network. It was removed from the official ONVIF profile list because it was considered not to comply with the latest cybersecurity practices; this is because it required full anonymous access to devices in their factory default state in order to work.
While Profile Q conformant devices can still use the profile, it is no longer promoted by ONVIF and it is at a manufacturer’s discretion when they decide to withdraw their “Declaration of Conformance” – the official declaration that their products follow ONVIF compliance.
Do all IP cameras use ONVIF?
No, not all IP cameras are official “ONVIF IP cameras” yet. However, new compliant devices are joining ONVIF’s ranks faster than ever. ONVIF now boasts well over 20,000 conformant products, doubling its numbers between August 2018 and April 2021. Such remarkable growth over three years demonstrates how highly interoperability is now valued by the security industry.
Why are there so many ONVIF compliant devices now? In recent years, more and more products are following the standard with the successive launches of new profiles like T and M. There is also the much larger commercial security camera trend of completely IP-based systems, phasing out analog security camera systems in favor of ONVIF IP cameras.
While many of the more established and well-known manufacturers use ONVIF (including Pelco), there are still devices and clients available in the wider market that do not follow ONVIF specifications and compliance.
Is there an ONVIF camera list?
The only way to definitively check ONVIF compatibility is through the organization’s official list of conformant devices and clients. You can also check ONVIF compatibility with your device manufacturer(s) and/or your client developer. To claim ONVIF compliance, they also need to be ONVIF members – so if they’re not, it is highly likely that you do not have an ONVIF compliant camera or ONVIF NVR.
There is no specific ONVIF camera list; the Conformant Products list covers all kinds of devices, so to search for ONVIF IP cameras, you will need to filter the results. On the dropdowns available, choose “Device”, then the profile(s) you want to check, the manufacturer, and the product name or category. The results list will show you every ONVIF compatible camera model currently registered, including popular camera models such as panoramic security cameras.
If you simply wanted to see which ONVIF Profile S cameras were available, you can select “Device”, “S” and type “Camera” where the product name field is. This method would also enable you to check for ONVIF compatible NVR security cameras, encoders, or any other devices or clients you were interested in purchasing. With some knowledge of how different profiles are designed for different functionality, you can also refine by profile to check for, say, ONVIF PTZ cameras (Profile S).
This list is a directory, not a buying guide, so you cannot use it to find out which is the best ONVIF camera for your particular needs. Still, if you are doing some research into your next camera system, it is a very helpful resource. For example, if you were looking for an ONVIF commercial security camera from Pelco, you can find 98 different compliant products, along with their respective compatible profiles.
Pelco’s ONVIF conformant security cameras
Secure your site with Pelco’s ONVIF conformant security cameras. Built on an open platform, Pelco’s powerful cameras seamlessly integrate with any video management system, allowing you to benefit from a flexible, cost-effective and enduring solution.
What does an ONVIF security camera system look like?
An ONVIF security camera system has the benefit of being flexible and futureproof. You can either choose to have a video security system that is all the same brand, or you can mix and match devices to tailor features to your specific needs.
If you do decide to purchase an entire system from one manufacturer, you always have the option to add different brands in the future, as long as they all comply with the same profile. This is the beauty of ONVIF compliance: it opens up many more options for your security system in the present and in the future.
If you want to monitor all your ONVIF devices, you can use a free software called the ONVIF Device Manager. However, there are other, more user-friendly and feature-rich options available on the market. For example, Pelco’s VxToolbox offers all the same features as ONVIF Device Manager, whilst also seamlessly plugging into the VideoXpert video management solution for easy monitoring.
VxToolbox enables you to carry out a number of different tasks, including:
- Device discovery on your network
- Adding or changing device credentials
- Editing camera settings, including adding “Friendly” camera names for easy identification
- Finding and filtering sources
- System configuration
- Event management
- Video analytics management
- User management – such as adding users, setting tiered permissions, and more
- Update device firmware remotely
- Backup and recovery of configuration files
- Generating and downloading reports
An IP ONVIF camera system will certainly use Profile S, will most likely use T and G, and if you have chosen to integrate smart analytics, then it will also use M. Together, the profiles act like bridges between different devices to ensure smooth transmission and receipt of information.
How to check your ONVIF version
It is important to keep ONVIF profiles up to date, to ensure future interoperability. The easiest way to do this is through your device manager, where you can find the relevant information about which version your camera currently operates on. Assuming your manufacturer continues to conform to the latest version of the Profile, each time you update your camera’s firmware, it should also automatically update the Profile too.
If your product is no longer conformant, then you will have to choose between updating your firmware or maintaining ONVIF – it is best practice to update your firmware regularly, but bear in mind that your device will no longer be as widely compatible.
An ONVIF compatible future? Making ONVIF work for you
If you want to move your video security system onto the ONVIF standard, first work with what you have. Check which cameras have ONVIF compatibility, which profiles they use, and whether they have the functionality you need across all your sites. If not, you will need to look for an ONVIF compliant camera range and other devices, like NVRs, which fulfill your requirements.
IP-based systems use ONVIF, meaning you will need to look exclusively for IP security cameras. There is little point looking for analog cameras unless your encoder is ONVIF compatible. Overall, the best ONVIF camera system for the future is one with security cameras that use an IP connection.
When looking for IP security cameras, associated devices or video analytics, do not get too bogged down with the detail of ONVIF profiles and different protocols. First look at the bigger picture of what you want to achieve with your system – then see how the technology, including ONVIF, will serve your purposes.
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