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IP Video surveillance in casinos

IndigoVision : 22 September, 2009  (Special Report)
Oliver Vellacott of IndigoVision explains why the demanding environment of casino surveillance is rapidly moving away from analogue CCTV towards IP surveillance solutions
IP Video surveillance in casinos
A casino is typically a high-activity area with staff and guests interacting with large sums of money, creating a demanding surveillance and security environment. Local Gaming Board requirements for surveillance are extremely strict and the commercial implications for unreliable and poor performing CCTV can be significant. All of this means that a casino must deploy high quality, reliable and fully-featured surveillance.

Many casinos are benefiting from digital surveillance solutions. IndigoVision alone has deployed IP Video systems in 27 casinos around the world. Nonetheless, the majority of gaming establishments are still relying on traditional analogue VCR/DVR CCTV systems. Recent developments in IP Video technology, in particular High-Definition (HD) IP cameras and integrated security across IP networks, will make the move to digital surveillance even more compelling for casinos.

Analogue vs IP Video CCTV

It is important to understand the fundamental differences between these two technologies, and the advantages that IP Video can bring to casino surveillance. Traditional coax or fibre-based analogue video systems are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and expensive to expand. They are based around a central switching matrix which is costly to upgrade as new cameras are added. It is location dependent, meaning each new camera has to be cabled back to a central point. However, the biggest weakness of the switching matrix is that it represents a single point of failure - the matrix fails and the whole CCTV system goes down!

In contrast an IP Video system is distributed, with the Security Management Software (SMS) and the IP network creating a 'Virtual Matrix'. SMS workstations, Network Video Recorders (NVRs) and cameras can be located at any point on the network. No single point of failure exists. Digital Video from each camera is streamed around the network and any operator with the right permissions can view the video no matter where they are located. Scalability is therefore excellent - all that is required to add another camera is a local network point! Standalone fault-tolerant NVRs can be located around the network to increase redundancy and reliability.

IP Video systems operate over standard corporate networks and often share resources with other IT systems. As these networks typically span entire organisations, so can any IP Video systems connected to them. As traditional control room equipment can be replaced by PCs it is possible and very cost-effective to set-up remote or shared control rooms in addition to the main casino monitoring facility.

The emergence of High-Definition (HD) IP cameras will start to accelerate the migration to IP Video in casinos, simply because the benefits of HD video are hugely significant and analogue systems cannot support it - the maximum resolution attainable with a composite video signal is only 4SIF.

High-Definition (HD) Video

Megapixel IP cameras deliver substantially higher resolution images than conventional cameras. A high quality 4CIF IP camera provides a resolution of 704 x 576 or around 400,000 pixels. Standard MegaPixel IP cameras range from 1 to 5 megapixels (millions of pixels), with some specialist cameras exceeding 12 megapixels. The problem with these very high resolution products is the huge amount of data that needs to be streamed and recorded. This effectively limits their use for specialist applications only. The CCTV industry is starting to adopt the HD video standards developed for the TV industry, typically these are:

* 720p: 1280 x 720 - 1 megapixel
* 1080p: 1960 x 1080 - 2 megapixels

HD IP cameras are now available that use excellent H.264 compression technology to deliver high-resolution images at very low data-rates. This means they can be used on standard networks and storage and are ideal for mainstream surveillance applications such as casinos.

The advantages of HD IP cameras can be summarised in three main areas:

* General Surveillance - A single HD MegaPixel camera can replace several standard 4SIF cameras, thereby reducing costs. An HD MegaPixel camera can see more detail in the same field of view or view a wider field of view at the same level of detail.

* Forensic Detail - Many existing analogue CCTV systems simply do not provide enough resolution or quality for forensic evidence. MegaPixel cameras solve many of these quality/resolution issues. In a casino, HD cameras can identify each card in a hand and chip values even when they are stacked, which is essential to catch certain scams where the chips are swapped post-bet. Similarly, if deployed in the valet/parking areas the driver and car licence plate can easily be identified and disputes can quickly and reliably be resolved.

* Digital PTZ - HD MegaPixel cameras can digitally zoom quicker and with greater detail than analogue cameras whilst still recording the whole picture for later analysis. This provides superior performance and is more reliable than mechanical PTZ mechanisms.

Integrated Security

Integration is the ability to seamlessly interface systems from different security disciplines to create a total solution that produces greater benefits to the casino operator than would be possible from the individual systems. When this is implemented across an IP network all the benefits of a distributed system remain and no additional cabling is required. The major advantage is the ability to trigger operations in one system from events or alarms generated in another, a process known as 'cause and effect'. This creates a more efficient operator environment that leads to quicker incident response.

The following scenario is typical where access control is integrated with the IP Video system. An illegal entry with an incorrect smartcard is attempted and an alarm is generated. This automatically causes the nearest camera to pan and zoom to the door entry, display the video feed on a key monitor and highlight the location of the alarm on an interactive map of the casino floor. IP Video Security Management Software typically has powerful alarm handling facilities and is the obvious place to consolidate alarms from all of the integrated systems, as it is the interface most used by the casino security staff.

'Cause and Effect' becomes the real power in an integrated system and can provide the end user with advanced features that cannot easily be achieved in wired stand-alone systems. Alarms and events from non-security systems can also be integrated into the solution such as from fire systems and building management and from specialist systems such as Electronic Point of Sales (EPOS) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) for car park entry/exit monitoring.

EPOS Integration

Monitoring tills and cashier booths is another important aspect of casino security. EPOS systems can now be integrated, over the network, with the IP-CCTV system. Data sent from an EPOS system can be overlaid on live video displays, allowing operators to view the camera feed and till transaction simultaneously. The transaction information and alarms generated by the EPOS system are also bookmarked and recorded alongside the video. This facilitates visual identification of an incident in both real time and through post-event analysis. Powerful transaction analysis can be undertaken on the stored data, for example, finding out when a particular credit card was used by searching every till in the casino.

Alarms generated by the EPOS system, such as 'till left open', 'refund', or 'large note deposit' can automatically trigger a number of events. For example, an alarm generated from a 'void' transaction can instantly display the video from that till camera so the operator can visually verify the transaction, thereby helping to reduce staff theft.

Video Analysis - Resolving Disputes

Fast and reliable resolution of disputes is of paramount importance to casino operators. Advanced video analysis features in IP Video systems ensures that the appropriate video clip of an incident or dispute can be found in a matter of seconds, as opposed to many tens of minutes with some VCR/DVR based analogue systems. Dispute resolution is further enhanced with the use of HD IP cameras, where the extra detail in the picture reduces conjecture.

The nature of gaming incidents can hinge on a few frames of information. Many of the best IP Video systems guarantee that no frames will be lost when recording at full framerate, no matter how much motion is in the scene. They also provide the facility to review full frame rate footage in forward and reverse, in real time, at slow speeds and frame-by-frame. These tools are absolutely fundamental to find the exact footage. Providing fast and reliable evidence to confirm or contradict customer disputes creates a better customer service environment and avoids unnecessary compensation, thereby saving the casino money.

Advanced analytics can be used to analyse recorded footage with such features as Congestion Detection, Motion Detection, Abandoned Object Detection, Counter Flow, Virtual Tripwire, Shape-Based Detection, Object Tracking and Theft Detection. These analytics can also be run in real time at the camera. Pre-determined events are identified as they happen and can drive the virtual matrix, e.g. display a salvo on a bank of monitors. For example the analytics feature 'Hooded Camera' automatically triggers an alarm when the camera lens is obscured, which can alert the operator and instantly display the feed and location of the camera. Real-time analytics lead to increased effectiveness and improvements in incident detection hit rates.

Video Recording

Reliable video recording is a fundamental requirement for the local Gaming Board and the casino operator. Gaming Boards 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 minimise downtime.

An IP Video system can eliminate table downtime due to a Networked Video Recorder (NVR) failure by deploying redundant configurations. Backup NVRs can work as failover backups and mirrors for primary NVRs. The backup NVR can continuously record the same video in parallel as the primary NVR (know as mirroring) or automatically takeover recording if the primary NVR fails. The backup NVRs can be located at a different physical location to the primary NVRs, adding further to the resilience of the system. Sophisticated webs or chains of NVR redundancy can be implemented allowing the user to choose their level of redundancy based on a risk/cost analysis. Robust standalone NVR products can provide a level of built-in resilience with dual redundant network connections and power supplies, RAID configurations and hot-swappable drives.

Oliver Vellacott founded IndigoVision in 1994. He was previously a product manager with a background in intelligent camera products. Oliver studied piano at the Guildhall School of Music before gaining his first degree in Software Engineering from Imperial College London and then a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Edinburgh University.

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