Security camera chipsets are integral components of surveillance cameras. These chipsets essentially act as the brain of the camera by managing data flows between the CPU and other components and peripherals in the system, such as memory, graphics cards, and storage devices. The chipsets handle tasks like image processing, encoding, and sometimes even analytics, such as motion detection or facial recognition. 

If you’re building a surveillance camera device, it’s important to choose the right chipset, because the quality and type will directly affect the performance, capabilities, and reliability of your security cameras. Here are some of the biggest factors to keep in mind. 

First considerations

The CPU of an IP camera chipset does all the “thinking” for the system, and it’s also one of the biggest factors influencing the amount you’ll pay for a chipset. Anyone who is building a surveillance camera system will want CPU cores that offer a good combination of speed and price. For example, ARM Cortex processors are commonly favored in the industry due to their proven efficiency and robust support from numerous compilers. This makes them a popular choice despite the licensing costs associated with ARM’s intellectual property. Models like the ARM Cortex-A53 offer a blend of power efficiency and performance, handling high-definition video processing demands without significantly driving up costs. On the other hand, non-ARM alternatives such as those from MIPS or PowerPC might provide cost advantages in certain scenarios due to different licensing structures or lower overall market demand.

Your chipset will also have an operating system or a real-time operating system (RTOS), which is like a super-fast, extra lightweight OS that doesn’t have as much processing power as a standard OS. Linux is a common OS choice due to its robustness, versatility, and strong community support, making it suitable for most general surveillance applications. 

However, for devices like smart doorbells or other battery-operated systems, in which power efficiency is more important, the CPU must effectively manage power through advanced sleep modes and other power-saving features. In these types of low-power situations, you might prefer a CPU that supports an RTOS. RTOS-based chipsets are best for high-security and low-latency environments such as industrial surveillance. An industrial environment requires immediate data processing and response times on relatively low power, and an RTOS can provide all of those things. 

Energy efficiency is also a big priority in IoT devices, particularly smart cameras. For battery-operated devices like doorbell cameras, you will likely want chipsets that prioritize power management through technologies like dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS). DVFS is a power management technique used in computer processors and other electronic devices to adjust the voltage and frequency of the processor’s operation based on the actual workload. 

This adjustment helps optimize power usage and manage heat generation, improving the overall energy efficiency of the device. In portable devices, DVFS is key to extending battery life by minimizing power draw when full performance isn’t necessary. Implementing DVFS requires processors and power supply circuits capable of supporting rapid changes in voltage and frequency.

Hardware support

Let’s get more specific about some of the hardware features you should look for in chipsets. The first is encoding support. When IP camera chipsets handle video, they need to compress (encode) the data for storage or transit. Cameras that use more efficient codecs (compression standards) can store more video footage in less disk space compared to less efficient codecs, and the cameras can also stream high-quality video using less bandwidth. 

This is particularly valuable in surveillance applications in which the camera may need to store or transmit long durations of video. Some of the most well-known standards are H.264, or advanced video coding (AVC), and H.265, which is also called high efficiency video coding (HEVC). Also popular are VP8, and VP9. Each of these standards comes with its own advantages and downsides: 

H.264 vs. H.265

  1. H.264 (advanced video coding, AVC): This is one of the most widely used video compression standards. It offers good video quality at relatively low bitrates, making it efficient for streaming video over the internet or storing video recordings. It’s supported by almost all platforms and devices.
  2. H.265 (high efficiency video coding, HEVC): This standard is the successor to H.264 and offers approximately double the data compression ratio at the same level of video quality, or significantly better quality at the same bit rate. While it can reduce storage and bandwidth requirements even further, it requires more processing power for encoding and decoding, which might necessitate more advanced hardware.

VP8 vs. VP9

  1. VP8: This is an open video compression standard owned by Google and is part of the WebM project. It offers efficient compression and is used primarily for web video.
  2. VP9: This is the successor to VP8, also from Google, and offers better compression efficiency, which can reduce data usage by about 50 percent compared to VP8 at comparable quality levels. It’s widely used in streaming high-resolution video on platforms like YouTube.

The following table summarizes a few more differences: 

H.264 (AVC) H.265 (HEVC) VP8 VP9
Year Introduced 2003 2013 2010 2016
Encoding Efficiency Good High (significantly better than H.264) Moderate High (significantly better than VP8)
Latency Moderate High Low Lower than VP8
Royalty Fees May require licensing May require licensing Royalty-free Royalty-free
Hardware Support Widespread Growing Limited Increasing
Focus Balance of quality and efficiency Increased efficiency Real-time applications Improved quality over VP8

Encryption/decryption

In the context of CCTV chipsets, incorporating hardware support for encryption and decryption is crucial for safeguarding privacy and ensuring data integrity. Look for chipsets that include hardware acceleration, meaning that the hardware actually makes the encryption process faster. Some typical hardware-accelerated encryption processes include the advanced encryption standard (AES) for symmetric encryption and RSA (Rivest–Shamir–Adleman) for asymmetric tasks. These enable real-time encryption of video feeds and efficient authentication without burdening the system’s performance. 

Note that symmetric encryption ensures privacy by encoding the video stream during transmission, making it unreadable to unauthorized parties. On the other hand, asymmetric encryption typically handles authentication and the secure transmission of the symmetric key.

Additionally, features like secure boot and secure storage are essential in CCTV systems to enhance security further. Secure boot ensures that the device only runs authenticated firmware, protecting against unauthorized modifications that could compromise the system. Secure storage, on the other hand, protects sensitive data, such as video recordings and configuration settings, by encrypting them, preventing data breaches even if physical access to the device is obtained. Together, these features boost the overall security of surveillance systems and help comply with data protection regulations, maintaining system integrity and user trust.

Wi-Fi integration

Choosing between integrated Wi-Fi capabilities and external Wi-Fi modules hinges on balancing design simplicity with flexibility. Integrated Wi-Fi streamlines the design process, reduces compatibility issues, and potentially lowers per-unit costs in large-scale productions. These features are ideal for compact devices in which power efficiency and reduced complexity are priorities. However, integrated Wi-Fi limits the ability to upgrade or alter Wi-Fi specifications without replacing the entire chipset, which could be costly and inflexible as technology evolves. Additionally, integrating Wi-Fi into the chip requires designing an antenna and obtaining approval from authorities, a challenge usually addressed with pre-approved Wi-Fi modules.

On the other hand, external Wi-Fi modules offer greater flexibility, allowing for easy updates to newer Wi-Fi standards and customization based on specific needs like range or bandwidth. This approach also simplifies troubleshooting and component replacement. However, external Wi-Fi modules come with some downsides like increased design complexity and possibly higher costs due to additional components like connectors and shielding. 

MIPI CSI-2

Finally, for more advanced camera systems that will run facial recognition software or other high-bandwidth applications, look for chipsets that support something called the mobile industry processor interface camera serial interface 2 (MIPI CSI-2). MIPI CSI-2 is a high-speed protocol developed by the MIPI Alliance. The protocol facilitates the interface between cameras and host processors. 

MIPI CSI-2 is designed to handle complex imaging setups and supports a range of imaging systems, from basic cameras to advanced imaging systems used in modern mobile devices. The protocol uses high-speed data lanes to transmit data packets, which include image data from the camera to the processor, allowing for high data throughput and efficient imaging capabilities.

When a CCTV chipset or processor has native support for MIPI CSI-2, it means it is inherently designed to handle the complexities of modern camera interfaces efficiently. This makes it an ideal choice for developers and manufacturers focusing on multimedia-rich or camera-centric devices. By contrast, if you’re creating a doorbell camera for home surveillance, MIPI CSI-2 support is probably less important. 

Surveillance camera protocols

While we’re discussing security camera chipsets, it makes sense to also mention the types of protocols that many smart camera vendors will want to integrate into their surveillance system. 

The chipset in a security camera plays a fundamental role in defining which video protocols the system can support, how well those protocols will function, and how effectively the camera can meet its intended use case. Since the web real time communication (WebRTC) protocol and real time streaming protocol (RTSP) are both common in video surveillance and are also central to Nabto’s real-time communication platform, let’s talk about those two specifically. 

WebRTC is a P2P video streaming protocol. It works directly in browsers, although more recently it also works in Android and iOS apps. This makes WebRTC ideal for IoT applications like video streaming, in which you might want to access and view the stream remotely via your smartphone or a laptop, for example. 

Unlike WebRTC, RTSP doesn’t actually transfer the data stream. It simply acts like the remote for your TV, letting you play, pause, or stop a video stream remotely. 

If you want to know more about which protocol is better for your specific application, you can learn more on our related blog post. But since the discussion here is more focused on what chipset you should buy, here are some factors to consider: 

1. Hardware support for encoding and decoding

Both RTSP and WebRTC require the camera’s chipset to support video compression and decompression standards, such as H.264 or H.265 for RTSP, and VP8 or VP9 for WebRTC. Efficient compression is vital for reducing bandwidth usage and storage needs while maintaining high video quality. Chipsets must include a hardware encoder and decoder that can handle these compression standards quickly and efficiently. Note that not all encoding standards are supported equally by all browsers, so choose your chipsets carefully. 

WebRTC, in particular, demands real-time video processing capabilities from the chipset, because it is designed for real-time communications. This means the chipset must be powerful enough to handle high-resolution video streams with minimal latency, processing the video for streaming almost instantly as it is captured.

2. Networking capabilities

For RTSP, the chipset needs to support reliable network connectivity and be capable of handling session control messages that manage the video stream. RTSP streams are usually transported over TCP or UDP, and the chipset should effectively handle these protocols to ensure stable and efficient video streaming.

At the same time, chipsets used in devices supporting WebRTC need to have robust networking capabilities, including support for peer-to-peer network connections. This is more complex than RTSP because it involves real-time adaptation to changing network conditions to maintain video quality.

3. Security features

WebRTC requires chipsets that can support end-to-end encryption directly in hardware for secure video streaming. This is crucial for maintaining privacy and security, especially in applications that monitor sensitive areas. RTSP implementations would also benefit from hardware support for security features, though this often needs to be set up and enabled through additional software configurations.

4. Compatibility and integration

Chipsets must be compatible with the software stack used to implement these protocols. For WebRTC, this might include support for browser-based technologies and RTOS compatibility, whereas RTSP would need support for media server software and possibly integration with traditional CCTV systems.

Top surveillance camera chipset providers

It would be difficult to go into specifics about the top chipsets on the market, simply because there are just so many, so I’ll talk instead about the main chipset providers. Hisilicon

1. Sony Semiconductor Solutions

Sony Semiconductor Solutions is a leader in the field of high-quality image sensors, particularly the company’s CMOS sensors under the IMX series, which are highly acclaimed for superior low-light performance and high resolution. These sensors are integral to many high-end security cameras, providing exceptional image clarity and color fidelity. Beyond sensors, Sony also develops comprehensive SoC options that incorporate advanced imaging, processing, and security features to support complex surveillance systems. The IMX490, for instance, offers exceptionally wide dynamic range and high sensitivity, ideal for surveillance cameras operating in variable lighting conditions.

2. HiSilicon

HiSilicon, a subsidiary of Huawei, is a leading player in the chipset market, particularly known for its Kirin series, particularly the Kirin 990 chipset, which features a dual-core NPU, providing powerful AI capabilities. It is suitable  for high-end gaming and multimedia applications. Additionally, the Kirin 990 includes advanced ISP for improved camera performance. There’s also the Kirin 810 chipset. Designed for mid-range and high-end devices, the Kirin 810 is also based on a 7nm process, making it energy-efficient and dense in transistors. The GPU is a Mali-G52, which, combined with Kirin Gaming+ technology, delivers a smooth gaming experience. The Kirin 810 also includes an NPU with HUAWEI Da Vinci architecture, enhancing AI processing capabilities. HiSilicon chipsets are suitable for use in smart surveillance cameras as well. 

3. Ingenic

Ingenic Semiconductor, a Chinese company founded in 2005, specializes in designing and developing microprocessors and system-on-chip (SoC) solutions. Their products primarily serve the embedded systems market, which includes applications like security cameras, smart home devices, and wearable technology. Ingenic’s T31 chipset stands out as a leading option for security cameras. The T31 chipset utilizes Ingenic’s XBurst 2 core architecture, known for its energy efficiency. This helps extend the battery life of security cameras and ensures consistent performance over long periods. The chipset also supports 4K Ultra HD video encoding and decoding, providing clear and detailed video footage. This is crucial for security cameras that n

4. XM (Nextchip)

Nextchip is known for its cost-effective image signal processors (ISPs) and System-on-Chip (SoC) options tailored specifically for mid-range security cameras. The company focuses on providing affordable chipsets that do not compromise on video quality, making them ideal for budget-conscious security applications. One of Nextchip’s popular products is the NVP2441H ISP, which supports high-resolution video processing and is optimized for CCTV systems, offering features such as motion detection and wide dynamic range (WDR) capabilities.

5. NXP Semiconductors

NXP Semiconductors offers a wide range of processors that are well-suited for network-attached cameras, providing robust security features essential for modern surveillance systems. Their chipsets support secure video transmission, encryption, and advanced tamper detection, crucial for preventing unauthorized access and ensuring the integrity of the video data. The i.MX 8 series, for example, features advanced multimedia processing, multiple imaging capabilities, and high-level security features, making it ideal for building smart, integrated surveillance systems. NXP’s options tend to be more expensive than some of the above chipsets, which means they are more commonly used in industrial cameras. 

6. Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments (TI) has a longstanding reputation in the digital signal processor (DSP) market, with a robust range designed for CCTV applications. The company’s DSPs are highly regarded for their reliability and advanced processing power, which facilitate enhanced video functionalities like video noise reduction, image stabilization, and efficient compression algorithms. The TMS320C6000 DSP series, for example, is particularly favored in high-performance video analytics and surveillance systems for its exceptional processing capabilities and energy efficiency. Similar to NXP, TI’s DSPs are more common in industrial cameras due to a higher price point. 

Final thoughts

With so many surveillance camera chipset options on the market, you’ll need to take your time finding the one that is just right for your system. Hopefully you now have a clearer idea of what to look for. If you are interested in learning more about how to get the most of a smart video surveillance system, contact Nabto to learn more about secure and scalable video streaming options.

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