AXIS IP Cameras = Fail

At work, we've been developing a custom camera recording solution for the past 4 months. Essentially, it's a system to provide a web-based interface to record a number of IP cameras, transcode the videos, and output the videos to a variety of the web applications we use (Moodle, Drupal, etc.) The cameras in question are Axis Q1755 cameras, which are really intended for use as HD security cameras and not in the studio-type environment we have here. (Neither I nor my department was involved in camera selection, and those who were have serious second thoughts.) In any case, these cameras are a continuous source of frustration for us.

H.264 Support

The h.264/RTP support in these camera doesn't seem to fit to any real standard.  Multiple clients have complained about the malformed h.264 stream coming from these cameras.  (The I-frame numbering seems inconsistent, among other things.)

Hardware Capabilities

The manual claims the camera supports a maximum of 10 clients.  In our testing on a GigE network, video quality began to degrade at 3 Unicast clients (720p capture mode, h.264 streaming, GOV length of 32).  Looking at the CPU load on the cameras, load averages exceeded 5.0 with 3 clients.  This is completely unacceptable for our needs.  So we thought we would turn to multicasting.  We even called networking, confirmed that the network was setup for multicasting, and got a multicast IP allocation.  Seems that would fix things up, right?

Multicasting

Multicast support is an adventure.  Several readings of the manual found the only documented multicast capability was on Windows with IE and an Axis ActiveX control called Axis Media Control (AMC).  AMC, of course, requires administrator privileges to install.  Even that would leave Linux, Mac, and Firefox users in the cold.  I figured we were just missing something and we should contact AXIS Support.  Big mistake.  Big waste of time.  The response to the initial inquiry was, essentially, a nice RTFM:

Thank you for contacting Axis Communications. My name is <cut> and I will be happy to assist you today. The Axis Q1755 has multicast enabled by default, where as some of our older units required you to enable multicasting.

The manual is a good place to start
http://www.axis.com/files/manuals/um_q1755_35572_0905.pdf

On page 11 and 12 explains ways to pull the multicast stream from the camera.

Best regards,
Axis Customer Services

Ok, I figured that maybe they get a lot of people who haven't read the manual.  Or maybe I missed something.  I reread the relevant section of the manual, but found nothing regarding standard RTP/multicasting support.  I typed up a longer description of the steps we had taken and asked about the location of a multicast-ready SDP file from the camera.  Their response, in its entirety, reads:

The Axis Q1755 has a configuration page for Multicasting.
http://<IP>/admin/config.shtml?group=Network
Under the section Network RTP R0:

Best regards,
Axis Customer Services

Clearly, this was what I asked, since I had included the current value of our multicast settings in a previous message.  Once more, I attempt to elicit useful information from Axis support.  Imagine my surprise when I received an informative, if disappointing response:

I have found another case which has this to say about multicasting.

Unfortunately RTP multicast using VLC doesn't work on the new generation of products running firmware version 5.xx (like the Axis Q1755). Although multicast is only supported using AMC and Windows Media Player.
AMC is only available with Internet Explorer.

Best regards,
Axis Customer Services

In other words: we took out an industry standard and substituted our own homebrew multicast "solution" that only works with IE.  Thanks, Axis.  Removing functionality is always a market winner.

Conclusion: Don't use Axis products unless you're happy doing things the "Axis way."  Forget industry standards.  With a little luck, this will be the last time I work on a project involving Axis cameras.  Fortunately, I think those who are making the buying decisions have seen the problems and will start looking at alternative suppliers.

Axis, and others: vendor lock-in = bad.  You might think it helps.  Think again.


Ubuntu Women Leadership Candidates

The Ubuntu Women group is in the process of selecting a new leader.  Currently, testimonials are being accepted for the 3 candidates (Amber Graner, Melissa Draper, and Penelope Stowe).  Check out these talented women who seek to break some of the gender barriers in the Ubuntu community: http://wiki.ubuntu-women.org/UbuntuWomen/LeadershipNominations/January2010/


RHCE

Generally speaking, I try not to push my ego on here too much. It's big enough on its own. However, I feel like this is a pretty major accomplishment for myself, and I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I'd throw it up there. As of this past Friday, I am now a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE)™! This is without a doubt the hardest test I've taken, as a "practical" (hands-on) exam. No multiple-choice guessing here.

I'll probably lean towards working on an LPIC-1 certification next.


Review: The Art of Community (Jono Bacon)

I had the privilege of receiving an early copy of The Art of Community by Jono Bacon for review.  It's taken a little longer than I had hoped to get through it, but that's by no means a reflection of the book.

"The Art of Community" tackles a very difficult question in the Open Source world: how do you build a strong community around your project?  Jono addresses this by using anecdotal evidence of good community organization, and discussing the facets that apply to community development.  Jono's varied experiences are shown through anecdotes about the Ubuntu community and other communities he has participated in.  The stories he shares are concise and clear, but demonstrate their points effectively and thoughtfully.  Jono's writing skills are first-rate, with strong points made clearly.  He builds the community idea from grassroots to the enterprise and shows how community participation can help -- and harm -- at each step along the way.  It's obvious that Jono knows what he's talking about, and he communicates it well.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the dynamics of a community or any project leader looking to build from the ground up.


Free IT Atlanta

I'm very much inspired by the work that's been done out in Athens by Free IT Athens.  They provide free/low-cost IT services to low-income families and community organizations in the city of Athens, GA.  In their words:

Free IT Athens is a group of like-minded citizens who realize that computers are a necessary component of everyday life. We believe that everyone deserves access to low-cost computer equipment and computer-related services. Our goal is to provide access to information technology resources to Athens-Clarke County residents and organizations. We also aim to create well informed advocates in free software and open information technology.

I'm interested in helping/starting a similar organization here in the Atlanta area.  I know there are a lot of deserving individuals and community organizations, and it provides a great opportunity to showcase the strengths of open source software.  Unfortunately, there is no way I can get this off the ground myself.  I'm looking for some more individuals who might be interested in a meeting (either in-person or via IRC/dim dim/etc.) to discuss the feasibility and planning for such a group.  This (hopefully) serves as my "feeler" for others who might be interested in participating in/organizing such a group.