Technology lets casinos win big at THE DIGITAL GAME
Technology lets casinos win big at THE DIGITAL GAME

Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM

The video surveillance industry has been in a hybrid state ! incorporating digital technologies into analog=based systems ! for the past few years. Casinos and gaming facilities have benefited from these developments ! especially from the improved performance these systems provide and their long-term cost savings.

Costs associated with the space required to house VCRs and store tapes vs. the less space it would take to record the same number of cameras on a digital system are significant in most casino environments. Additional gaming space, after all, means higher revenues.

Over the past year, the casino migration to a digital platform has accelerated. New DVRs offer versatile features and sufficient recording capacity for professional security applications. Switching systems have evolved into software-driven management systems, and cameras are now available with digital output for processing signals downstream without the previously required analog-to-digital conversion processes. The industry's focus on networking has heightened interest in the conversion to a totally digital system. Recent introductions deliver improved performance and efficiencies such as a virtual matrix.
New developments to look for

Although the majority of cameras available on the market tout themselves as digital because of their digital signal processing (DSP) features, they output analog signals for conventional systems operations ! even those with on-board unshielded twisted pair (UTP) still have to go through the analog conversion. These are not truly "digital cameras." The new breed of Internet protocol (IP-based) cameras eliminates the digital-to-analog conversion and outputs digital signals for direct networking applications. There is no doubt that analog DSP and IP cameras will co-exist for many years with seamless results. With the deployment of encoders and CODEC, these analog cameras can also be accessed through an IP address. In addition to the transmission mode preferences that will impact the decision to deploy analog or digital IP cameras, performance and features ! such as resolution, light sensitivity, zoom ratios and assorted electronic features ! are inevitably the most important selection criteria.

Although DVRs seem to have become second nature to most security professionals, they really are just coming of age ! and the selection continues to grow with new manufacturers entering the category. Users can select from traditional 4- to 32-input multiplexer-style DVRs ! to capture card type systems ! to enterprise-level digital recording systems that provide performance and reliability commensurate with their design parameters. There are still a number of digital tape-based recorders available that offer format familiarity and inexpensive recording media that can be easily re-recorded or archived.

Enterprise-level DVRs offer a different level of performance as a result of their access and retrieval capabilities, along with superior compression technology that results in low bandwidth and high-quality images. These systems incorporate switching and networking capabilities that allow numerous integration possibilities employing both analog and digital cameras. For large-scale facilities, server and encoder-based enterprise DVR systems present a powerful recording option with multi-user, multi-platform capabilities. DVR capabilities far exceed their analog counterparts for virtually any professional gaming application.

The powerful processing technology afforded by today's PC and network servers has significantly influenced how surveillance systems are controlled and how signals are routed. Matrix switchers feature tremendous processing power to control thousands of cameras with comprehensive control and set-up capabilities. In reality, today's matrix switchers are basically advanced computer systems with expandable card cages that determine camera and monitor capacity. Integration to many existing matrix systems can be achieved through enterprise DVR solutions.

With these enterprise systems, a virtual matrix becomes a possibility ! although the reliability of conventional analog matrix switching systems still cannot be beaten. Software-driven management programs can be applied in a matrix environment to provide advanced control capabilities with extreme ease of operation. The same technology that drives large matrix systems is also available for medium- and small-scale operations that require advanced features like programmable camera tours and "event" activation to trigger sequences of system features. Similar features can also be found in integrated devices such as DVRs for a variety of standalone and system applications.

Of all these individual product developments, the most significant progression for digital video surveillance is networking. The ability to transmit a digital video signal from its source, process the information in a systems environment, record it and have the ability to retrieve recordings on demand provides a high degree of versatility. However, when discussing networking, it is important to make the distinction between deploying video signals over a network vs. the Internet ! an area where there still seems to be some degree of confusion. The Internet is not the best scenario for large-scale video monitoring applications, due to obvious bandwidth and security limitations. To accomplish real-time operations for system-wide applications, users will need to calculate bandwidth and preferably install a dedicated network ! which will provide the necessary transmission requirements.

Before making the transition to a digital networked platform, it is imperative to perform a needs analysis to determine the system performance and features required to fulfill a facility's surveillance needs ! both for today and in the future. This will help determine what systems and products should be evaluated for upgrading capabilities, incorporating existing equipment or re-building a new system from the ground up. Attention should be paid to the level of integration necessary for the new system. This is an increasingly important factor as the security industry becomes networked.

Finally, external help should be sought to evaluate any specific system situations and applications from a professional systems integrator with experience in gaming facilities. Although video surveillance systems installed in a hotel or corporate headquarters may appear similar to that of a casino, the environment is completely different. Casinos are always in operation, which is a factor since storage capacities are based on motion. A qualified security systems integrator will also be able to apprise a user of the latest systems advancements ! information that changes rapidly given the pace of today's technology.

Cyndi Freschi is president of North American Video, a Brick, N.J.,-based integrator of casino surveillance systems

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