Sep 102014

Military and Security CommunicationsThis project was a communications system for military and security markets. The military, coastguard and security services around the world are making increasing use of Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) equipment, where it is available and meets the operational and environmental requirements. In this case available equipment did not meet all our clients’ requirements, and the application did not need secure procedures for its development. The environmental specifications were challenging, but we were able to develop a bespoke architecture, custom circuit boards, firmware and software, using “off the shelf” semiconductors and materials.

Challenges included the combination of extreme environmental specifications and a cost sensitive market.

Achievements were summed up by the client’s observation that the main selling point was not the feature set that they had foreseen and specified but the flexibility of the system to implement those that they had not foreseen.

Westwood Rock - engineering your success

Sep 102014

Video compression - DiracIn 2009, Westwood Rock announced that it was releasing the first of a series of video codec cores compliant with the BBC-developed Dirac Pro compression system [SMPTE ST 2042]. Westwood Rock’s VC-2 Dirac core set provides a rapid and cost effective method for deploying VC-2 Dirac compression.

Shipping in equipment since 2015


A Background to VC-2 Dirac

In 2002, the BBC identified a set of video codec requirements that it recognised as important for both a quality broadcast infrastructure and for video film production. Despite there being a wide range of compression systems and equipment on the market, the BBC was unable to source a system that addressed all its requirements.

The problem was significant enough for the BBC to embark on a programme at its internationally-respected Kingswood Warren Research Department to conceive a compression system that fulfilled all of its requirements for quality broadcasting and film production. The outcome of this extensive R&D is the compression system known as Dirac.

As the BBC is a public broadcaster, it chose that the Dirac specification should be an open technology, free from royalties. The BBC is a world-renowned broadcaster and video film originator of high quality productions. In Dirac they had designed a complementary quality compression system which is very practical, flexible and elegant.

Westwood Rock

The engineers at Westwood Rock had been designing video hardware and core IP for over 20 years. Besides the prevalence of Westwood Rock’s designs in the broadcast and film industries, they had also taken their video expertise into aircraft, medical imaging, industrial vision and surveillance. Westwood Rock has extensive experience of FPGA design and works closely with all the major FPGA vendors. Additionally, the team includes some of the most respected ASIC designers in the industry.

The development of this exciting set of cores was a natural fit for Westwood Rock’s skillset and expertise.

The VC-2 Dirac Core Set

Small Form Factor

The core is the smallest video codec available and has been designed to fit into FPGA vendors’ cost-effective families.


A small form factor has not resulted in a reduction in quality. As you would expect of the BBC, quality has been key to the development of Dirac technology. The main profile implementation of VC-2 Dirac Pro rivals JPEG2000 and yet has a latency as low as a single frame and a very hardware-efficient form factor.

Low Delay – only a few lines of latency

Uniquely, in the low latency profile a compression factor of 8 times can be achieved with only a few lines of delay. This means that multistandard HD-SDI (1.5Gbit/s) can comfortably be carried over an SDI (270Mbit/s) link. Alternatively, 3Gbit/s HD-SDI can be compressed to a 1.5Gbit/s HD-SDI link with very little delay and, again, in a small hardware form factor. Of course this means that signals such as 1080P60, stereoscopic 3D production, Digital Cinema or other new formats can be transported over an existing studio infrastructure.

Visible picture information over a compressed link:

Yet another unique feature is that a real time low-level picture is visible on a standard monitor over the ‘compressed’ SDI link.

Low power, low cost

The small hardware form factor means that the power consumption of the hardware is lower and, as fewer logic cells are used, the cores can fit into smaller FPGAs. The pricing structure is competitive at all volumes and particular attention has been given to allowing low quantity usage access to the technology. At the high volume end of the market, the core will be available for ASIC designs with Westwood Rock able to offer a full turnkey solution.

VC-2 Dirac Pro over SDI, ASI and IP plus open source software

As already stated, the Dirac Pro core set will provide transport over SDI, but it can also be used over ASI and IP links. An open source software codec is available, as are over 6000 conformance test sequences


All the above is covered by SMPTE and relevant standards. Westwood Rock fully supports the BBC’s philosophy of making Dirac an open standard.

High compression

Initial core releases concentrate on the low delay and main profiles. Later Westwood Rock intends to release long GOP Dirac cores that will yield considerably higher compression ratios. In comparison, the long GOP Dirac core will be a simpler alternative to H.264 and X.264, suitable for video distribution and mobile applications.

Flexibility – any picture format

The VC-2 Dirac compression system and core set is not locked to a given picture format as it is wavelet based, which makes it very flexible. This means that VC-2 Dirac can compress pictures from a QCIF format right through to UHDTV, and also has customisable picture formatting to accommodate any new picture standards. Parameters such as frame rate, chroma subsampling and bit depth are flexible. Scan formats can be progressive or interlaced.

Design Services

As an established design consultancy with a great deal of experience in broadcast, communications and FPGA/ASIC design, Westwood Rock will be able to support end users of the core from concept through to finished system design or final silicon. Westwood Rock’s codec experience is extensive and includes contribution quality codec design, digital cinema and set-top box design. Reference designs will be made available as cores are released.

Westwood Rock is able to offer support in both hardware and software design.

In summary…

The BBC has designed Dirac so that it provides flexible, high quality, low latency, low form factor compression.

The BBC developed Dirac to be a truly standardised, non proprietary, royalty free and open technology.

Dirac has been developed by the BBC for its own use, concentrating on the broadcast chain and video film production.

The emphasis on high picture quality, low delay and low hardware complexity makes Dirac compression suitable for a wide range of imaging applications.

Westwood Rock is excited about this technology and will champion ease and breadth of access to the full set of VC-2 Dirac cores for all interested companies, using a pricing structure that encourages adoption of Dirac regardless of usage volume.


Westwood Rock - engineering your success

Sep 102014

Ciphra PadlockCiphra makes selling IP just like selling semiconductor devices. Using Ciphra, IP can now be shipped in small quantities, broadening the target market for your IP, and allowing it to be instantiated in FPGAs during the development or prototyping stage at a low cost to your customer without compromising your IP’s security.

The instantiated IP is fully functional and your customer can adjust their purchasing to the demand for their product. This allows your customer to make smooth transitions from prototype to pre-production and through to the marketplace. Whether your customer is buying small quantities or is already in volume manufacture, Ciphra neatly scales to fit the demand. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that your IP is protected by another layer of security.

Ciphra also gives you the opportunity to offer a sliding-scale price structure to your customers. By shifting some of the IP revenue to the manufacturing stage you can reduce the resistance to design-in from front line engineers. If your design-in overheads are small, this could become as easy as the decision to design-in a standard part, and makes it less cost-effective for potential customers to design the IP themselves. Meanwhile, your customer recognises that you are accommodating them during the costly development stage, because Ciphra moves costs from the design and development budget to the manufacturing bill of materials.

Ciphra’s technology works with all the main FPGA vendors, and customers can safely switch FPGA vendors or port the IP to different FPGAs or to different products. Ciphra can also be ported to work with ASICs.

An extra benefit to your customer is that, when they use IP protected by Ciphra, additional copy protection is created as a by-product. This is very useful when products are manufactured offshore or have a high intrinsic value. Using Ciphra’s technology also gives the end user greater confidence that that they have not purchased a clone. So Ciphra not only helps to protect and control your IP, but helps to protect the complete supply chain.

Ciphra has built-in inventory control so that quantities can be tracked simply. This provides an accurate and simple method for recovering royalties or determining price breaks. The Ciphra inventory control also permits circuit boards or end products to be uniquely identified, traced and/or validated during manufacturing, sales or in the field.

So, as you can see, Ciphra is more than just a secure and flexible method of selling IP … it is also an inventory control system, copy protection system and audit trail system.

How it works

When used with FPGAs Ciphra requires your IP to be in an encrypted form (all the main FPGA vendors provide this facility).

We provide you with a small footprint HDL module that you incorporate into your IP module prior to encryption. Alternatively, we can incorporate the IP module for you.

You then agree the terms of sale or a pricing structure with us or directly with your customer. You may want us to supply the encrypted IP core to the end customer or you can supply the encrypted IP core directly.

According to the agreement, we supply you or your customer with a tiny device which they must mount onto the PCB next to the FPGA containing your IP. This device can be as small as a 1206 surface mount resistor and is called the Signetum. One Signetum can authenticate multiple IP cores from different IP vendors and each Signetum is unique. The Signetum can be updated in situ should your customer’s IP requirement change.

We continue to supply your customer with Signetum devices and we record each individual Signetum’s unique identity, the date it was programmed and the IP that was authenticated. The signatures do not contain any encryption information and the encryption keys are different for all IP cores.

Multiple manufacturers IP cores might be authenticated with one Signetum but we would maintain strict confidentiality at all times.

Ciphra Design Flow Chart


1. How does using Ciphra differ from the sale of encrypted IP directly from an FPGA vendor’s website?
Ciphra enhances the vending process by which encrypted IP is offered for sale on an FPGA vendor’s website. When an end user purchases IP from an FPGA vendor, the number of units that can be manufactured containing the IP is only constrained by the contractual restrictions associated with that IP. If the vendor implements the Ciphra technology, the end customer will be required to fit a Signetum device in each unit in which the IP is used. Revenue can then be raised from the direct sale of the Signetum devices.

2. I’ve heard that the IP in FPGAs can be copied by capturing the stream sent via the programming link to configure the FPGA. Will my IP be vulnerable in this way?
When you sell an IP license the end user can already copy the programming file as many times as he chooses, subject only to contractual terms. Without Ciphra, if the programming stream is captured by a third party then a conventional FPGA design (i.e. your customer’s design incorporating your IP) could be copied. When Ciphra is used, the third party attempting to copy your design will have to purchase the Signetum device associated with your IP. This means another significant layer of security will need to be breached to make a copy, thus making piracy even less viable.

3. Supporting an end customer’s design costs me a lot of money, so I can’t afford to sell my IP in small quantities. Does Ciphra have anything to offer me?
Ciphra allows you to structure your commercial agreement to give you the best return for your investment. You can still recover the cost of supporting a design-in by charging non-recurring fees at the start of a contract and then charging per Signetum device used per unit. Alternatively you could simply stipulate a minimum order quantity for the first batch of Signetum devices or load the pricing for smaller quantities.

4. I prefer to charge customers a royalty or commission in proportion to the number of units shipped, so I already have a method for tracking the number of shipped units. What does Ciphra offer me?
Ciphra can enhance a royalty/commission agreement in a number of ways. For example, the sale of individual Signetum devices removes the need to audit the number of units manufactured. Your customer will purchase Signetum devices before the units are manufactured, which will improve your cash flow when compared to a conventional royalty/commission agreement where sales might only be associated with shipped units. You will also remove the intrusiveness often associated with auditing shipped units. Finally, during purchasing, your customer is more likely to treat your IP as they would any other electronic components as the IP is associated with a physical device, the Signetum.

 5. Does the Signetum add to the cost of my IP?
Obviously you are in control of the end user price for each IP block enabled by a Signetum, and this will reflect the value of your IP and other costs. You are at liberty to apply additional non-recurring up front charges. The Signetum is designed to be manufactured in high volume at low cost.



Signet n. a seal used instead of or with a signature as authentication. 2. the royal seal formerly used for special purpose in England and Scotland and later as the seal of the Court of Session in Scotland. Compound; signet-ring a ring with a seal set in it. Latin. Signetum
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press.

Cipher also Cypher n. (14c from medieval latin ciphra) 1. A secret way of writing. 2. the interlace initials of a person or company etc.; a monogram.
The Oxford English Reference Dictionary, Oxford University Press.


Westwood Rock - engineering your success