Making HD less of a gamble for casinos

Making HD less of a gamble for casinos

Under current economic conditions, figuring out a cost-effective and future-proof technology migration path is not easy for any industry. “Because so many operators are still using analog, it is very difficult to integrate HD into the current infrastructure,” said Scott Paul, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Pelco by Schneider Electric. “A cost-effective means of transporting the existing analog cameras into the digital system and maintaining the existing analog system is essential. Educating and training operators to go digital and understanding the new operation is also essential.”

When converting to a digital system, whether it is HD or not, the first challenge is the infrastructure. “Typically, most analog systems run via coaxial cables, which are incompatible for running technology that is Ethernet based,” said Scott Bartlett, CEO of Southwest Surveillance Systems. “Instead of changing all the wiring, we use baluns that give us the ability to convert the Ethernet signals over the coaxial cable braids. This keeps us from having to replace all the wiring and in addition, enhance our distance limitations.”

Another challenge lies in the monitor room as running both an analog system as well as a digital system can be very problematic. “Some casinos are trying to use their existing monitors or workstations to convert digital to analog (which creates terrible video signals) and then pump the digital signals back through their analog video matrix. Others are running two separate systems and keyboards. Neither situation is a good one,” Bartlett said. “We have used video scalers such as Barco and RGB to perform all the converting and scaling for the video. The video scalers take multiple inputs and convert the signal, whether it is analog or digital to a DVI output thus providing the maximum resolution available without the up or down converting.”

It can be expensive to convert existing analog infrastructure with and/or to establish robust and reliable IP infrastructure. “Even adding a few IP cameras requires a thoughtful, forwarding thinking network design and plan,” said John Katnic, VP of Global Gaming at Synectics. “Even if it costs a bit more upfront, engineer a robust network solution that can scale to the projected system size and will provide the resiliency required by regulators.”

In addition, network based video management requires higher caliber IT-trained technicians to design, configure and maintain. “And because gaming regulators often prohibit IT departments from touching the gaming network, surveillance departments are often underequipped to manage these IP-based solutions and have to play catch up on the fly,” Katnic cautioned.

The use of multicast routing on the network side in casinos is another thorny issue. “Depending on the manufacturer, there is a lot of multicast traffic on the networks. This can create huge bottlenecks and communication errors if the network is not designed properly. The byproduct of this is tearing or choppy videos. Even though most like to blame the networks when things do not work properly, we find that the network is seldom the actual issue,” Bartlett said. “It is also critical to ensure that, in the casino HD video space, that single mode fiber be installed from the intermediate distribution feed (IDF) rooms to the main distribution feed (MDF) room. This will ensure that 10-, 40- and even 100-Gbps backbones will not be an issue. If multi-mode fiber is installed from the IDF to the MDF and you want to install a 10-Gbps backbone, the distance will be limited to 100 meters.”

Network latency can be caused by a multitude of factors from routing to camera settings. “At the end of the day, casinos that are still using an analog system are typically experiencing about a 60 millisecond delay so no matter what, they will experience a greater delay when they go digital,” Bartlett said. “This latency will be exacerbated by poor network design or improper camera settings or even poor quality cameras with inadequateWDR capabilities. “

Cameras that lack adequate WDR capability will inevitably cause a lot of noise on the video signal. The noise equates to motion/high bandwidth and thus creating high network traffic and storage requirements. “High-quality HD cameras are a must in my opinion. I know there are literally thousands of IP cameras on the market but there are not that many that can truly meet stringent gaming requirements,” Bartlett said. “It is the responsibility of system integrators to thoroughly test the cameras and network equipment they want to use in order to ensure that regardless of what the spec sheet says, they can meet the requirements in real life.”

“Latency induced via the encoding and decoding process remains a key issue — not present in analog technologies — and is a reason why some casinos still maintain an analog matrix “front-end” and utilise their SD digital recording systems solely for playback/review,” Paul said. “This is still a major issue for the adoption of HD in gaming areas for PTZ. For this reason, many casinos are beginning the transition by starting to implement HD in areas such as entry and exit locations and static camera locations [more than gambling tables].”

HD cameras recording at 30 fps in HD resolution put huge weights on bandwidth and storage. Different camera manufacturers deal with this issue differently. “Leading IP device manufacturers and their VMS partners offer a variety of ways to efficiently and automatically manage storage, bandwidth and latency by changing camera recording settings (data rate, resolution, frame rate) on the fly based on motion, defined third party alarms or manually initiated VMS macros. However, this is typically up to the selected VMS application to manage. Taking advantage of these types of IP camera functions requires ‘deep' integration between cameras and VMS and should not be considered a given. Some cameras offer dual streaming and when fully integrated with VMS, the camera can send a full HD stream to the recorders for optimum playback quality, and simultaneously multicast a second, less bandwidth intensive SD or CIF stream to the monitor wall or a mobile device to avoid latency or overtaxing available bandwidth,” Katnic said. “In coming years, more IP encoding devices and VMS will support scalable video codec (SVC) which, rather than producing dual or triple streams for varied usage, produces one full-featured, multilayered stream that enables clients to subscribe to the stream quality level appropriate for their bandwidth or application.”

Camera features such as region of interest generally can be of help in terms of bandwidth reduction while event triggering applications save storage space. However, these features are not legally allowed in certain gaming areas. “Most gaming standards require 100 percent motion of video recording in gaming areas so this is typically not an area where value-based configuration or programming is employed,” said Douglas Florence, Business Development Director for Global Gaming, Avigilon.“Depending on the location of the casino in the world, the percentage of gaming versus security/public areas will vary. In a mega resort, 60 percent of the cameras could be managed in this manner, where parameters of pixels per square inch or square foot are set to create an event-based recording mode.”

“We are typically “handcuffed” by gaming regulations and seldom, if ever, can use triggering events, loiter modes, or lower the resolution for gaming specific cameras,” Bartlett added. “These may be acceptable for “back of house” areas but never in money or gaming areas. As drives are getting larger and storage in general is getting cheaper, it does not seem to be an issue as of lately.”

Storage and Redundancy
With technology changing and desire to go from two megapixels to 5, 10 or 20 Megapixel HD, the amount of storage remains to be a challenge. “Storage is expensive (30 to 40 percent of the total surveillance system price), and is directly related to picture quality, which is related to the data rate and retention period for each camera,” Katnic cautioned. “IP HD cameras average 5 to 6 Mbps, which is three to four times more data/storage compared to H.264-encoded analog cameras. HD video requires more servers, software, rack space, electricity, cooling and maintenance. Also, storage servers with high density 2- or 3-TB drives configured in RAID 5 or 6 take much longer to rebuild following a drive failure, which adds vulnerability to retained data and recordings. Just because you can record in HD doesn't necessarily mean you should, especially when you have to justify cost/reliability strategy for the HD cameras.”

The different risks associated with IP systems require careful analysis and resiliency planning. “For instance, traditional analog matrix systems will display live video on the analog wall even if the network and/or DVRs go down. Some analog to digital encoder-based systems will even keep recording when the network fails,” Katnic added. “However, that is not the case with an IP camera-based system. When the network goes down, both recorded and live video will be lost if the cameras do not support edge based storage. All that video will be lost cannot be recovered.”

“Hybrid systems, which involve greater complexity and reliance on network technology, have potential risks too and casinos have expressed concern about being able to meet the mandated regulatory requirements for continuous recording with no gaps in recording. With hybrid solutions, network failures could potentially prevent the operators from accessing playback/reviews, but the analog recording should likely remain unaffected,” Paul said. “Failed DVRs could be easily addressed via a matrix macro to switch the analog inputs to a standby DVR unit if necessary. Solutions such as matrix switching DVR inputs for “fail-over” have now been replicated in digital technology; stand-by technologies, clustering technology and cloud-based storage all pool together to allow for redundancy in recording as well as multicast recording to provide true redundancy. This solution should adequately address these concerns.“


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