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Casino operators are among the most pro-active and demanding users of CCTV surveillance. IP-video systems are an ideal solution for this industry, but it’s important to specify a well-designed system.
A quality casino surveillance system is an essential business tool used to resolve gaming disputes, monitor public safety and detect fraud, cheating and theft. The very nature of the gaming environment where patrons and staff intermingle and handle large sums of money demands that the video system delivers the best quality video available in terms of both image quality and frame rates.


November 16, 2007
By Oliver Vellacott

An IP-video system that delivers these essential elements also adds
other dimensions to the surveillance operation by providing analytical
search tools and features such as instant recall of recorded video. In
addition, the use of IP-video technology allows any component in the
system to be located anywhere on the network. This gives large casinos
the flexibility to easily and cost-effectively integrate CCTV
surveillance into their operations and establish off-site control rooms
or monitor multiple sites from one central point.

High-quality, full frame rate video
It
is a given that casinos demand the highest standard video quality. To
detect sleight of hand or subtle scams, full frame rate live viewing
and review of recorded footage is essential. Any lowered frame rates,
dropped frames or jerky stop-start video make the system unusable when
trying to track hand movements and cash or chips changing hands.
Leading
end-to-end IP-video surveillance systems can stream and record
high-resolution video continuously at 30fps, whereas some less capable,
poorly specified systems can only achieve this performance under ideal
conditions, for example when there is limited video motion. The gaming
environment is a high motion, 24/7 operation; the surveillance system
needs to be performing to these high standards at all times.

Fault tolerance, redundancy, diagnostics and hardware monitoring
Casinos
and gaming commission regulators require a high level of fault
tolerance and redundancy for different but related reasons. Gaming
commissions insist that all active gaming tables are recorded and in
compliance a casino operator is obliged to close a table that is not
being recorded. The inconvenience, revenue loss and possible penalties
mean that casinos need a high level of fault tolerance and redundancy
to minimize downtime.
In the event of a failure, an immediate
failover component must be available thus eliminating downtime.
Analogue CCTV systems often employed banks of VCR or DVR “standbys” in
case of failure. However, this approach required an analogue switcher
to reroute the video signals to the standby units. It was not feasible
to wire all cameras into a standby system so some intelligence within
an analogue system was required to detect a VCR/DVR failure and reroute
the video signal. Unfortunately, not many systems like this were
available so it was usually done manually.
In stark contrast, a
well-designed IP video system can eliminate table downtime due to a
Networked Video Recorder (NVR) failure by multi-streaming the camera
video to both a primary and a secondary NVR simultaneously.
Alternatively, the video recording can be automatically assigned to
other NVRs in the system when a primary NVR fails. NVRs can be located
at any point on the system and have redundant power supplies and
network connectivity that eliminates any single point of system failure.
In
the event of any failure and a failover to a redundant part, a quality
IP video system will also have an alert and reporting system that will
clearly identify the problem and prompt remedial action.

Advanced review facilities
IP-video
technology has enhanced the way users can search and use recorded video
footage. The casino surveillance team can review a dispute at a table
with an instant recall of the camera in question and the last few
minutes of footage. Key features including easy camera selection based
on real world names or overlay map reference and “instant replay”
facilities enable an operator to get to the footage quickly and resolve
the dispute.
In cases of fraud, theft, possible terror activities
and public liability claims, sophisticated analytics can be employed to
quickly search and find the incident. Scene changes, activity in a
particular area or directional movement can be targeted as search
criteria.
“Thumbnail” search allows operators to display snapshot
frames of varying intervals to quickly sift through large amounts of
footage and target the relevant video clip.

Fine review features
The
nature of many reviewed incidents in gaming can hinge on a few frames
of information. The facility to review full-frame rate footage in
forward and reverse, in real time, at slow speeds and frame-by-frame
are absolutely necessary to home in on the evidence needed. Additional
digital zoom facilities to enhance the subject in question are also an
important feature for any IP-video system.

No latency
Traditional
analogue CCTV systems have historically performed better compared to IP
Video systems with video transmission latency. Live video surveillance
can sometimes be hampered when video latency is so high that joystick
control is out of sync with camera movement. This has been an issue and
has hindered the proliferation of IP-video into pro-active video
surveillance environments such as casinos.
Competent IP-video
systems eliminate latency by using proprietary codec designs and
advanced digital video compression techniques coupled with good network
infrastructure.

Supervisor investigation
Many security
breaches regrettably involve collusion from security staff — the
‘inside job’. This provokes the age old question: “who watches the
watchers?” The issue with this is that CCTV operators, having more
visibility of security operations than anyone else, can detect when
they are being investigated and halt any illegal activity for the
duration.
High-end IP-video systems provide what is often called the
‘Supervisor Mode’. This allows an outside investigator to record and
control cameras without the CCTV operator being aware that they are
doing so.

Hybrid systems and migration
Over 85 per cent of
casinos still use analogue and VCR systems with significant investment
having been made in equipment and coaxial wiring. A good IP-video
system will provide the necessary components to allow a step-by-step
upgrade to digital as budgets allow, thereby creating a hybrid system
during the migration to digital. This is achieved using
transmitter/receiver modules that are connected to the existing cameras
and convert their analogue video to MPEG-4 or H.264 compressed digital
for transmission over the network. The modules can also be used to
convert the digital video back to analogue for display on existing TV
monitors.
This approach can also allow a ‘hot transition’, whereby
the digital system is installed in parallel with the existing system
and no camera feeds are lost while the system is commissioned and
tested.

Oliver Vellacott is CEO of IndigoVision. He holds  a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Edinburgh University.    


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