Friday, February 26, 2010

ONVIF "plug-fest" wrap-up

This week I attended the ONVIF "plug-fest", where the various members of the ONVIF organization got together to test interoperability. This committee endeavors to create a standard for interoperability between security cameras, DVR's, other devices and the software that uses and manages these devices. I came to this party from the perspective of this software, in particular in testing the capabilities of my video streaming and viewing component. This streams video from the cameras in MJPEG, MPEG-4 and H.264. In short, it displays pretty pictures (hopefully). Each came to this "plug-fest" to test their conformance to the ONVIF specification, their interpretation of the text and requirements it laid out, and (ahem) their success in coding to that interpretation. This last ensured there was some rapid fixes being made on the fly to adjust code that may have performed a task not intended (often mistakenly called a "bug"; really just a rebellious feature).

The attendees came from local companies here in Stuttgart Germany, from other European countries and from as far away as Japan, Taiwan, Korea and India. It was a pleasure to meet and work with engineers from Sony, Samsung, Canon, Panasonic and Vivotek as well as EU companies such as Axis, Bosch, Softhard, and Dallmeier. Each brought a product in various stages of development. Some brought a production device with possibly a firmware in development for testing, while others brought circuit boards with cameras attached via a wire harness. The latter were the most interesting - it was entertaining watching them search for screwdrivers to attach power supplies and to see all the wires. It felt more like a robotics convention.

The spirit of this "plug fest" was great, and the ONVIF coordinators helped ensure this spirit - while many are direct competitors with each other the spirit was one of inquiry and learning. This is "geeks" coming together to test their creations. We'll leave it to the marketing boys to duke it out in the press and market. These were techies hooking up wires and watching messages flowing across the network. PTZ cameras swung wildly and images streamed as we made sure our mad-scientist inventions had come to life as expected. While I appreciate the stern warning of the organizers that we were not allowed to share pricing information for anti-trust reasons, I'm not sure any of us even have any idea of the price of our products. All we cared about was if our code could talk to the camera, and did it give me what I expected. No? Hmm, ah - that's an optional feature of the standard - got it.

In the end I hope that everyone has great success with their products and they sell a million of them, thus funding work on yet more "toys". I'm sure as we all refine our products in conformance with the language and intent of the ONVIF standard some of the fun will be taken from these plug-fests, but I also expect that the scheduled follow-up test meetings will also have the joys of success as features work ("yes!"), and the anguish of "huh? You didn't receive my message? Hmm - let me have a look."

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