Mar 1, 2005 12:00 PM
By MICHAEL FICKES
Roger Norman, owner and manager of the Crystal Bay Club and Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and a self-described technology junky, was looking for better cameras to monitor his casino's gaming tables. Then he heard about HDTV surveillance cameras.
Norman had just installed 129 new Pelco cameras to monitor the casino's 10 gaming tables, 265 slot machines, restaurants, lounges, retail shops, kitchens, private areas and parking garages.
Nevertheless, he wanted to try high definition (HD) cameras at the gaming tables and bars. So he bought 15 HD cameras from CoVi Technologies Inc., Austin, Texas.
Monitoring gaming tables and bars requires sharp and clear video images. Surveillance personnel must be able to read the cards in players' hands, count the chips on the table, and observe the money changing hands at the bar.
To maintain such clear, close-up views with conventional cameras, Norman says the lighting around the gaming tables and bars had to be adjusted constantly. From certain angles, glare prevented surveillance officers from seeing the cards and chips clearly. "We have tried all kinds of cameras, including black and white, to monitor the tables," he says. "The (high-definition) cameras take away those lighting issues. The pictures are so clear that it is like standing next to a player and watching with your own eyes."
HD cameras produce sharper, clearer images because they collect more visual information ¡ª additional lines of resolution resulting in a better picture. Another benefit of HD technology is a wider field- of-view ¡ª 33 percent wider because of their 16:9 aspect ratio (compared to the 4:3 format of conventional cameras).
HD's increased resolution and field-of-view enable the capability of electronic pan-tilt-zoom, or EPTZ. "This feature allows a fixed camera to operate like a speed dome camera," says Chalon Dilber, product manager at CoVi. "Thanks to the resolution of HD images, a fixed camera can carry out a 4-times electronic zoom and still get the video equivalent of a high-resolution standard camera with a zoom lens."
Crystal Bay's surveillance department uses a variation of this feature called Zoom Under Video or ZUV, which CoVi has built into its cameras. With ZUV, individual cameras can send four views to one or more monitors: a full screen shot of the entire area of view and three closeup shots of areas on the sides, bottom and top of the full screen picture. "At the bars and gaming tables, we set the cameras to display a main view and three inset ZUVs that appear along the bottom of the monitoring screen," Norman says. "At the bar, for instance, the monitor shows a wide view plus close-ups of the cash register, where the drinks are being poured, and the door where people enter and leave."
The EPTZ feature helps equalize the cost difference of HD and standard definition cameras, because the EPTZ feature works with fixed cameras and does not require motorized PTZ mechanics.
The HD cameras also offer high dynamic range (to capture brightly lighted or shadowy scenes); and removable infrared (IR) filters for low-light, black-and-white imaging.
Matching up the surveillance system
All 144 of Crystal Bay's standard-definition and HD cameras operate over the casino's IT network and can be called up on an Internet browser. The casino has installed monitoring stations in a security center and a number of executive offices.
Unfortunately, decoding and displaying HDTV signals as HDTV is not realistic today. Most switchers and digital video recorders (DVRs) have not yet moved into the HD world and continue to be designed for conventional analog signals. While HDTV monitors are available, they tend to cost too much.
To overcome this problem, CoVi converts HD camera signals to analog signals. While running HD camera signals into conventional monitoring systems sacrifices some resolution, the video is still sharper than that produced by standard-definition cameras, Dilber says.
At Crystal Bay, the central surveillance station records video with a DVR supplied by General Solutions, Houston. Pelco provided the switcher, which can control up to 2,000 cameras. "We wanted a big switcher because we are planning to build a hotel to add onto the system," Norman says.
The DVR and the switcher provide two different monitoring systems. The surveillance center and some offices have joysticks, keypads and dedicated NEC and Pelco monitors to enable people to monitor video through the Pelco switcher. In some offices, personnel use computer screens and monitor video by using a browser to access cameras through the DVR.
"We've set it up this way to put surveillance in the hands of people that know the business," Norman says.
That idea and the HD cameras have already begun to pay off. Not long ago, for example, Norman was observing a craps game on a monitor in his office. While counting the chips in the payout, Norman noticed that the dealer was paying triple the odds allowed by the casino. "He denied it until we showed him the video," Norman says.