One of the biggest hurdles IP cameras have to overcome is the perception that they eat up network bandwidth. In today's Gigabit networks this simply isn't an issue but Axis' latest P3301 delivers new methods of reducing demands on the network even further.
Up until now the majority of IP cameras have offered support for both Motion-JPEG and MPEG-4 video compression with the latter being the favoured method. The P3301 no longer supports the MPEG-4 Part 2 codec and has replaced it with MPEG-4 Part 10 - H.264 to the rest of us.
This compression technology certainly isn't new and vendors such as Sony have offered it with some of their surveillance products for a while now, but the P3301 is one of the first IP cameras to market that supports multiple H.264 and M-JPEG streams. The H.264 codec has also been with us for a number of years, but its popularity is increasing massively as demand for multimedia applications rises.
H.264 is behind many common services and applications and is used by products such as iPods, video cameras, QuickTime and the BBC's iPlayer. Essentially, H.264 offers a far more efficient video compression technology but its high processing demands made it difficult to implement in older, slower equipment.
Its main benefits for IP cameras are to improve image resolution and increase frame rates whilst reducing bandwidth demands and recording storage requirements. This is particularly applicable to surveillance operations where multiple cameras are streaming video to storage servers and there is a demand for high resolution at 30fps.
The P3301 comes with a plastic casing fitted with a clear polycarbonate dome. This casing is tamper-proof but Axis also offers a metal version that is vandal-proof. The camera employs a 1/4in progressive scan RGB CMOS sensor whilst the lens is an F1.3 varifocal. To cope with the demands of H.264, Axis has beefed up its processor with its latest ARTPEG-3 RISC module.
Unlike its megapixel cameras, the top resolution is 640 x 480 pixels but the P3301 supports 30fps for all resolutions and for M-JPEG and H.264. The lens is mounted firmly in a metal bracket and provides adjustment pullers for focus, zoom and tilt. You need to be near a PC to view the live image when adjusting these as we found the focus puller fiddly to use.
The camera comes with a 12V power supply but support for the 802.3af PoE standard adds more flexibility to placement options. We tested using an HP ProCurve 2626-PWR switch and had no problems powering the camera over an Ethernet cable. Audio is on the menu as well as the camera has an internal microphone and sockets for an external microphone and speaker.