Retail SecurityDigital video system eases the burdens of surveillance
Retail SecurityDigital video system eases the burdens of surveillance

Jun 1, 1999 12:00 PM
George Partington

More and more, companies are turning to digital video surveillance as an effective and efficient means of deterring crime and gathering evidence for criminal prosecution and for defense against insurance claims. Digital storage systems - including hard drives, disks, CDs and high-capacity tapes - offer advantages over analog tape. Storage capacity is higher, and to review recorded images, users simply type into a PC keyboard the time and date the images were recorded; the computer calls them up instantly. For example, Kallix Corp., Westford, Mass., provides the PC-based, turn-key video system that digitizes the NTSC signals from up to four analog CCTV cameras and compresses them for storage on an internal hard disk. Introduced at the International Security Conference in Las Vegas last March, Kallix's Digital Security Monitoring and Storage System (DSMS-100) has been installed in more than 20 beta sites worldwide, including Filene's Basement, BioGen Corp., Avid Technology, Chadwicks and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Richard Peck, corporate investigations manager for the 50-store Filene's Basement, is using the system to combat refund, credit card and check fraud. The soft goods retailer, similar to T.J. Maxx and Marshall's, began using the machine in February. Peck is especially concerned about refund fraud, a common scam in which a person "returns" an unpaid-for item for store credit. "We find that people often misrepresent their identity when returning something without a receipt," he notes. "Therefore, someone can come in as a different person and perpetrate the fraud again.

"Peck reviews refund slips to see who returned merchandise without a receipt. In the past, Peck would have to rely on information the customer provides - "we would not know who he was," he says. Now, he can enter into the PC the date and the time that corresponds to the receipt from the register and call up an image of the person making the return at the service desk.

In this way, Peck can identify who is attempting to take advantage of the store's refund policy. Presently, Peck is reviewing images from the previous day, discarding the unimportant material and saving the rest to a disk. He says eventually Filene's Basement hopes to use the system in all stores, and he expects they will hold recorded data for 30 days. The system automatically rotates out old images, so when the 31st day is recorded, the first drops out. For archiving, a proprietary Wavelet compression chip achieves a compression ratio of 100:1 on a frame-by-frame - rather than pixel-by-pixel - basis. Compression deals in low frequency and high frequency image components. "The low-frequency part looks like real pictures," explains H. Edmund Wu, vice president of product development and chief technical officer for Kallix. "The high-frequency part is numbers. When you do a search you see a low-frequency, compressed picture, which is smaller and not as clear as decompressed. When you decompress, it adapts low- and high-frequency components to regenerate the pictures. "Using a combination of internal and removable hard disk drive options, the system is able to store more than 40 days of recording. Users can record and store video on the built-in 2.2 gigabyte hard drive. For external storage, a 20.4 gigabyte, removable hard disk drive is available. Both drives are rewritable. Users also have the option of storing information on a network. The beta test at Filene's Basement has enabled Peck to see how the unit works and how it might be used in the future. "We could put a covert camera in a receiving area and program it for motion," he says. "There would be no changing of VCR tapes or hiding VCRs up in the ceiling." The system has built-in motion detection software with user-selected thresholds to trigger system response, which eliminates "dead air" recording time.

Peck finds the system's ability to find and retrieve images useful. "If you've recorded 30 days worth and you want to see April 20-21, those are the parameters you set. It picks out that data and puts in on your screen, and you review it by dragging the mouse. "The pertinent images can be used for prosecution - and they will stand up in a court of law, unlike JPEG images. Why? Wavelet technology compresses the entire frame. If someone wanted to tamper with an image, he or she would have to alter it after it was decompressed. But the tampered image could not be "re-entered" into the compressed, saved-video file. Therefore, in a courtroom situation, video is viewed from its original compressed state with a time-date stamp embedded in each image.Due to its authentication value, wavelet technology was chosen by the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) for its automated fingerprint identification system. For review of recorded video, when the desired image is selected, expansion software enlarges the frame. De-noising software filters out noise due to dirt on the camera lens, and de-blurring and edge-enhancement software provide further image sharpening. The system features four video inputs with pass-through capability, meaning the NTSC signal from the camera can bypass the computer to connect to other devices like a monitor or a VCR - the computer could be down or turned off. All functions are controlled by the graphical-user-interface control panel. DSMS-100 is engineered with features to allow "hands off" operation after the parameters have been set. In the case of power outage or system shut-down, an automatic power resumption feature restores the previous settings and continues to monitor and record. Use of passwords can limit access to the controls. The recorded images are processed using the View Lab feature, and the Instant Visual Search feature allows the user to visually scan the period of time by moving the cursor along the bottom of the timebar on the screen.

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