13 November 2008
One of the unique aspects of casino video surveillance is that the subjects of surveillance – patrons and employees – accept levels of surveillance that they would find intrusive elsewhere. Casino operators therefore have had a virtually free hand in developing systems to track people and money throughout the casino complex.
As one of the largest consumers of video surveillance technology, one might expect that casinos would be at the forefront of surveillance technology. However, despite strong arguments for deploying the latest surveillance technologies, in fact, many casinos still rely on a poorly integrated hodgepodge of analog CCTV cameras, cable wiring, IP network cameras and network infrastructure. Despite the way casinos are often portrayed in movies, the gaming industry today is not at the forefront of technology. Most of the surveillance infrastructure and video capabilities remain more analog than digital, and deploying efficient surveillance systems that can accommodate both analog and digital signals is a major concern.
Improving casino protection of assets
Modern IP cameras and network video management software enable surveillance personnel to tilt, pan and zoom in to see exactly what is on the game machines. They can monitor details as minute as how many coins a slot machine player has played and how many won. They also monitor employees and can zoom in on their ID badges. The surveillance system serves as the first line of defense to make sure that security personnel can detect events as they happen and take action immediately.
Surveillance systems also help minimize the criminal element in a casino environment. This helps improve customer service and maintain the casino’s image. If a customer’s purse is stolen, the casino staff can record the theft, capture the thief and return the purse to the customer, who will tell her friends how the casino took care of her, returned her belongings and sent the thief to jail.
Facial recognition, behavioral surveillance and data mining are a few of the latest innovations. Using modern surveillance systems and intelligent computing technologies, today’s casino surveillance systems allow casino operators to track patrons’ movements and chart spending patterns. This gives them more information to build on in improving floor plans and in launching new marketing initiatives.
Casino surveillance systems must also protect other areas of the property as well as the gaming floor, for example the parking lot. For these areas, lower camera density, different lighting requirements and other factors such as weatherproofing and anti-vandalism lead to different requirements for camera systems. Not every camera in the surveillance system needs to be a megapixel IP camera. In fact, one advantage of the best IP surveillance management solutions is that they enable hybrid systems that accommodate both existing analog cameras and IP network cameras. This allows casinos to get the most out of their original investment while taking advantage of today’s technology and even more capabilities coming in the future.
Addressing the challenges of mixed analog and digital video content, high-density camera coverage and network management technologies requires intelligent, flexible and scalable network infrastructure.
Video compression and the H.264 AVC standard
One of the biggest challenges for large-scale surveillance systems is data compression. Today, the compression standard that has gained the most attention and with the most potential is the H.264 Advanced Video Codec standard. Its high compression efficiency and superior video quality have led to a growing agreement on the H.264 AVC standard as the preferred method of compressing and decompressing video for surveillance. H.264 (or MPEG-4 Part 10) codec achieves a compression rate of about one-ninth the file size of Motion JPEG, and about one-third the size of the MPEG-2 standard commonly used in DVDs.
From this it is easy to see how H.264 video can help casinos reduce costs in terms of network equipment, bandwidth and storage. However, the trade-off for the high compression rate is the huge computing requirement for H.264 compression. H.264 compression requires about ten times more computing resources than MPEG-2. While single stream decoding can be accomplished with an average desktop PC and the right software, the task of simultaneously encoding and decoding multiple audio and video streams at once requires advanced, dedicated hardware.
Managing complex surveillance systems with a centralized server
Network video servers play a central role in any network surveillance system. Integrated with existing network infrastructure, they allow control of multiple analog and digital cameras from anywhere on the network, as well as centralized video storage and management. Choosing the right video server or NVR (Network Video Recorder) should be a primary concern for the casino surveillance industry, and choosing one that supports the latest video codec is equally important.
The NVR must have the processing power to handle H.264 encoding of multiple streams in real time, and because software can be upgraded with additional functionality at any time, the hardware should provide the flexibility and scalability to handle additional functions as the surveillance system grows – in size as well as complexity. Other important factors are advanced networking technologies including optical fiber channel network ports for multi-gigabit per second uplink, internal storage for faster read/write times, hardware RAID for data redundancy, and high availability features such as field replaceable components, bypass gigabit Ethernet and fiber ports, redundant power supplies and removable fan assemblies.
By building a surveillance system on a high performance and highly scalable NVR like the Lanner VN-3032, casino operators can achieve maximum return on investment from their existing analog cameras, IP cameras, network infrastructure and all future expansions to their surveillance network.
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