Sydney’s iconic night spot, The Bourbon, has been fitted with a Milestone VMS and Sony cameras supplied by Video Security Products and installed by integrator, PRV. It’s part of a major re-fit that has elevated The Bourbon from its seedy roots and brought some much needed mid-upper class to Kings Cross.
Opened back in 1967, the old Bourbon was a flypaper that caught Sydney’s nocturnal insects, its interior a shemozzle of everything that passed for authentic in a town then chronically unsure of its own identity. American owner Bernie Houghton filled the place with flotsam from the American South and the Vietnam War. The city provided the rest. A strange amalgam of toughs, drunks, cops drowning in moral relativism and punters bored senseless by a 1970s and 80s entertainment menu that featured suburban leagues clubs as the best of bad options.
Nostalgia gilt-edges the past, filming our history in the late afternoon sun like a Jane Austen movie – our skin ever unwrinkled, our age always 30. But time is an arrow. Sydney is not the city it used to be. Historic venues are being redeveloped in what arty critics who retreat to the safety of Darlinghurst overnight archly call gentrification. But anyone familiar with the ‘Cross knows what’s really unfolding here is civilisation.
Chris Cheung’s The Bourbon is such a venue. A cool, new development that brings a slice of Chapel St to inner Sydney’s rough edge, with a classy street presence and a pleasing interior whose bandstand retains the ghost of loud times past. Cheung bought The Bourbon and the building next door and his development plans include a basement night club, a second level bar and a third level restaurant, among other things.
These development plans are important in the context of our story, given the surveillance system installed on the ground floor of The Bourbon will expand to support these other venues as they are completed. Given the need for temporal flexibility, it goes without saying the system is IP, supported by off-the-shelf network switchers and storage servers.
This is how good the Sony cameras are – great performance throughout this challenging side-lit glass foyer scene. Backlight is blasted into oblivion.
The cockpit for Milestone’s XProtect VMS at The Bourbon is Milestone’s thoroughly proven XProtect Professional. The smart client (gui) interface allows operators easy management of live and recorded video, as well as control of cameras and integrated security devices.
Key features of Milestone include things like a multi-layered map function allowing users to manage cameras and security devices, and overlay buttons that intuitively control cameras, camera integrated devices and connected systems via camera views. There’s also a virtual joystick allowing easy PTZ control.
Other neat Milestone features include a single-point alarm management function, the ability to bookmark video sequences with attached notes, independent playback while viewing live video and multi-screen handling incorporating floating windows across multiple screens. Something else the system will do is email authorised users if it’s running out of recording space or there are critical failures.
Especially useful at The Bourbon is sequence explorer, which shows previews of recorded video sequences as time-based groups of drag-and-throw thumbnails that allow management to easily locate specific events during investigations. Useful for police are advanced export options with digital signature, as well as the XProtect Smart Client Player, which includes room for commentary.
I met Brett Bradbury, general manager of integrator PRV security, out front of The Bourbon. PRV looks after this site, along with Cheung’s Coogee Bay Hotel, which also has a Milestone solution supporting 90 cameras. As well as installing the solution here, PRV is also responsible for maintaining it.
Bradbury is a Brit who worked his way up from the test bench and it’s a background that stands him in good stead working with a growing integrator like PRV. Bradbury spent time doing CCTV, alarms and IT, as well putting in several years of contracting, before joining PRV as head of the service department.
“As general manager I’ve got my finger in all the pies such as sales, estimating, drafting, technical support, helping the guys on the road, customer service – the business has gone from strength to strength in recent years,” Bradbury tells me as I look around the slick, new site.
The Bourbon has definitely gone high end – it’s a nice space. There’s an industrial feel, a simple bar, an open kitchen. To my mind The Bourbon is more internally focused than it was in the past which allows easier crowd management. There’s quality food, the feel is good, the décor is pleasing, the Friday luncheon guests are grown-ups but there are other aspects of the development that will cater for youngsters.
As we sit down and check out the menu, Bradbury tells me the key aspects of the surveillance system were image quality allowing face recognition at entry points, rear laneways and the street, simplicity of operation and easy investigation, as well as the ability to be expanded and upgraded in the future.
“Especially useful at The Bourbon is sequence explorer, which shows previews of recorded video sequences as time-based groups of drag-and-throw thumbnails that allow management to easily locate specific events during investigations”
Simplicity is probably the defining characteristic of the surveillance system at this early point in its development. According to Bradbury, the system runs on a dedicated subnet, though it does jump across to the data network to allow external views.
“Primary management of the system is on a dedicated workstation running the latest version of a single Milestone Smart Client,” Bradbury explains.
“The cameras are Sony 720p fixed dome cameras, which are dual stream – one for live viewing, one for archiving. The models we’ve used here are the SNC-DH120 day/night and the SNC-DH160 with 15m IR illumination. They are all fixed vandalproof domes with varifocal lenses, some with IR, and there are a couple of full-body cameras outside in the rear laneway.
“Some of the internal and external domes are spray painted black in some areas in order to blend aesthetically into the ceilings or under the awnings,” Bradbury says. “Zaki Wazir at Video Security Products stripped the cameras down and sprayed them to suit the decor and rebuilt them.”
In all, there are 42 cameras at the site but given only one level has been developed of a 5-level building, there’s plenty of room for expansion. These Sony cameras are all PoE – no runs are greater than 100m. Vision is focused around entrances, stairwells, and POS, with general views inside and outside The Bourbon.
On the network side, things are relatively simple. The system is running on 3 Cisco switchers and there’s a pair of Maxtron Servers handling archiving. The servers are all in the one spot in a comms room, the location of which is set to change as the development of the site continues. Obviously, the nature of IP solutions means it’s comparatively easy to move the head end to a new server room.
No integration with access control? I ask.
“There’s a Challenger v8 access control system managed by SQL-based Commander software which covers an adjacent building as well as multiple floors here,” Bradbury says. “We utilised this system and upgraded the readers to HID Gold Class I Class R10 Reader 6100 as well as adding 5 new doors but as yet there’s no integration between the video surveillance system and this access control system.”
So basically what you have put in at The Bourbon is a future-proof system that can grow as the client requires – add additional cameras, switchers, another server?
“Exactly – this system is designed to grow in whichever ways the customer requires it to in the future,” Bradbury says. “The system is simple and there’s plenty of potential for growth.
“Milestone’s Video Management System (VMS) is infinite really – the only limitation is bandwidth. There are currently 2 servers but there can be 6 servers on a Pro license. With continued SMAs, The Bourbon can upgrade to Milestone Enterprise or Corporate solutions if that’s ever required.
“There’s also a plan for a basement in this development – a nightclub – that’s the next stage – another 30 cameras – and then there will be more growth after that over the next 2-3 years.”
Typically, installations like this one which involve a full site re-development have a relatively long lead time. The Bourbon was no exception. According to Bradbury, Paul Villegas PRV’s director was in discussions regarding the design from the middle of 2012 and the installation team got on-site late last year.
Given the site was largely gutted during the renovation, PRV worked with other specialist installation outfits handling electrical, air conditioning, fire, PA and data, as well as builders, during the installation.
“This was a typical construction site,” Bradbury explains. “Even though it was an existing building, it was pulled back completely. We had about 3 techs on site during the installation, with 2 full-time during the labour intensive parts of the installation. It wasn’t a huge job being only 50 cameras but it’s quite an open application given the need for expansion in the future.”
So you started out spending time with the customer working out what camera views they wanted?
“We used the plans to establish which areas needed to be viewed – we had 4 or 5 different drafts last year,” says Bradbury. “We worked through ideas – things obviously change during this planning process.
“By the end of the year the cables were in, the cameras had been decided on, Council’s requests for facial recognition at entrances had been met. We needed to calculate the pixels per square inch so we would get facial recognition at the main entry.”
Cabling at The Bourbon is a Cat-6 1GB backbone and Bradbury says this part of the installation was relatively simple though because there’s not one straight riser and there are a couple of buildings involved, the cables take a circuitous route.
“We’ve done much more complex installations – this was straightforward,” says Bradbury. “There’s no integration between video and access control. The management system and the cameras work together well.
“Once the planning was done it was easy enough – just choosing the gear, planning the design, pulling the cable and installing the cameras and workstation. There were some things we did not take into account during the design and it was just a matter of addressing them as they came up.”
There was no close team-up with the Bourbon’s IT department – the only involvement there was facilitating outside links between external devices and the system for remote monitoring/maintenance.
We tour the site. The spaces are nicely done, with a grand staircase leading to the bathrooms and fancy light fittings. From a surveillance perspective, it’s not the easiest site lighting-wise. Light in The Bourbon is patchy which is typical of sites lit by architectural spot-lighting or mood lighting, as this one is.
The low-light ability of the Sony cameras is certainly tested here with some passages and halls between 10-30 lux. Cameras installed on the ceilings are also challenged by pendant style lights intruding into camera views. As I take shots of some of the cameras I notice my Panasonic Lumix has dropped its shutter speed right down which it only does under 15 lux.
The Bourbon is unfinished away from the ground floor and when we go down into the basement to check out the server room we pass through the space where the new nightclub will be. It’s raw concrete and brick down here in the roots of the building. In the server room things are very simple. There are 3 tidily installed network switches supported by 2 Maxtron storage servers.
Driving the system
Next we go to the control room. A single workstation handles management of the Milestone system. It’s a pleasing interface that makes the most of the performance of these Sony cameras. The way Smart Client works is that live view is set up in any layout the client wants configured – which might vary on weekends, with more emphasis on the perimeter.
Bradbury shows me the sequence explorer which is a feature of corporate client player. It allows users to select a group of cameras and jump through camera views so as to track a suspect much quickly during an investigation.
“Sequence explorer is a really useful tool that speeds up investigations,” Bradbury explains. “If you are looking for a person with a red jumper – you can see those related clips at a glance and track movements quickly.
“As part of an investigation you select which cameras you want to populate sequence explorer with from your live views. These might be entry cameras or bar cameras, the system will then present these cameras together for the times you are searching.
“There are also quick tools for scanning once that process has been completed. You can just jump between camera views from the same moment in time – it’s very easy.”
According to Bradbury, police often request footage from The Bourbon – they may simply want to establish the direction a person is travelling as evidence relating to an incident.
“The police also come in and operate the software themselves when they need to and it helps that it’s a very easy interface to manage,” he explains.
As Bradbury is running through the system’s functionality, I’m looking at camera performance. The light is patchy with some bright areas around bars and some much darker spots in corridors and corners. While this challenge is handled with the use of infrared in locations like the fire stairs and perimeter, looking at the internal images it’s quickly evident that even the non-IR cameras are having no trouble with the light levels in typical Sony fashion.
“The colour representation from the Sony cameras is really, really good,” Bradbury tells me. “We’ve only just started using Sony. We’re very pleased with their performance – and we got a great price. The Sony camera housings themselves are also properly built – some external cameras we’ve seen lately have left a lot to be desired.”
Next, we take a look at the performance in low light areas like gaming – and the cameras are doing very well at what looks to me to be sub-25 lux. The colour rendition is good and there’s no flare. We can see every detail of the organic carpet design.
I notice in bar areas there’s easy face recognition and the depth of field is good too. Bradbury pulls one of the entry cameras up to full screen and yep, it’s a great image. When we were looking at the small tiles on the viewer earlier I wasn’t really getting a sense of the image quality and colour rendition Bradbury was talking about but I get it now. It’s a great image.
The most important aspect of a surveillance system is ease of use for the end user and the Milestone VMS kicks a goal here, according to The Bourbon’s duty manager, Matthew.
“Yes – it’s very easy to use,” Matthew tells me. “I’m not the best on computers but I have no problems with it. Every morning when I come in I can check whether cameras are live and are recording properly.
“We’ve got a separate incident report here so when a manager comes into the control room they can check all the cameras and log that so we’re covered on top of what we need to be to ensure the system is in working order.
“There have been a few small incidents with fruity characters in the gaming room – the police have also come and requested footage from us of the backlane. A car was broken into. At all times the system has worked exactly as it should have and as you can see the images are great.”
The surveillance system at The Bourbon is capable and flexible. Milestone’s Smart Client offers users and police easy management and extremely easy investigations using sequence explorer. Best of all, the system’s inherent flexibility gives The Bourbon a malleable solution that will grow with an expanding business.
By John Adams