SmartLCD makes video for microcontrollers easy

[Rossum] developed a host board that makes it easy to drive a TFT screen using an inexpensive microcontroller. He’s looked around at a bunch of LCD’s that are easy to get your hands on and decided that the iPod Nano 2G screens are the right balance of performance (176×132 TFT) and low cost ($1-$5). They’re not particularly difficult to talk to, but with 22 pins they’re a bit hardware hungry.

He takes us through the signal sniffing he used to figure out the communications process. From there he harness the power of an ARM Cortex M0 processor, which he’s worked with in the past, to drive the screen. His implementation results in a driver board called the SmartLCD that takes care of the screen’s parallel protocol, power, and backlight. From there it’s just four connections and you can use a small microcontroller like the Arduino seen above with ease. See what it can do after the break.

Comments

  1. Solderguy says:

    Mini XBMC here we come!

  2. Roberto says:

    Why would you want the arduino for, if you get one of these beauties?

  3. A lot of people use arduinos, and almost anyone use arm’s, and a lot of people want fancy lcd’s.. so maybe sell then(the smartlcd’s) for a little profit?

  4. Will says:

    If anyone notices this is a similar setup to a normal PC. also make it a little stronger (Arm cortex M4) and u get a full microcontroller

  5. Javajunkie says:

    @roberto

    It looks more cool to the un-initiated if it has an arduino.

  6. BiOzZ says:

    @Roberto
    have what? … this is the arduino

  7. macw says:

    @roberto what he’s created is just the driver board. It takes an input signal and draws it on the LCD…you still need a way of sending inputs to the driver itself. That’s what the arduino is doing here.

  8. Greg says:

    No, he’s created a stand alone device that happens to accept serial/SPI input from arduinos/low powered micros. in the video he separated it from the arduino board and showed it running with the battery stand alone.

  9. nes says:

    Sweet project! Good to learn the source of the cheapest TFTs in the world too.

  10. Lupin says:

    What Roberto wanted to say is that the driver board has more power than the arduino board and could do all the tasks of the arduino while handling the display.

    In the post it sounds as if he’d have interfaced an iPod display, but I think he interfaced a display of another, less expensive MP3 player.

  11. M4CGYV3R says:

    I love how that demonstration proves the Arduino useless. When he completely detaches the screen and driver, it keeps running.

    This means that aside from sending data to the device, the arduino does NOTHING.

    Love it.

  12. fartface says:

    And they are not wide temperature range so they are useless.

  13. Andreas says:

    Does anyone know where one can buy cheap TFTs without relying on ebay deals and such? I’m thinking about making and selling a little project with displays, and need a place where I can come back and buy some more of the same screen if I decide to make another batch, for example.

  14. Gdogg says:

    I’m with robert here. I like the arduino, but here he has everything he needs in the cortex itself. Seems ridiculous to buy one of these then hook it up to a little microcontroller to drive it.

  15. JB says:

    @M4CGYV3R & fartface

    Well, he did mention that you can use it with USB or any other controller, and that the display controller could “reprogram the Arduino”.

    From the looks of it, it seems that he wants to sell these boards and displays to be used by hobbyists, and mentions Arduino because so many people use them. The built in controller seems powerful enough to handle the display and some application without external help.

    Now we need a reliable “non-ebay” source of the displays. A place where we can go back and be able to get the same display every time.

  16. andfred says:

    How does a display driver board supersede some random microcontroller X? Sure, the Cortex can probably do everything the arduino can do, unless you need to use an arduino. =)

    There are an awful lot of plug-and-play hardware modules and software libraries you’d have to abandon if you were an arduino programmer who wanted to migrate to this ARM board. And how many I/O lines are left on the Cortex after it’s been mated to the TFT panel? What if you already have a system built using architecture X, and you just need a display with a simple interface?

  17. hexmonkey says:

    @Andreas: get LCDs here:

    http://www.sparkfun.com/categories/76

  18. knox says:

    Could this be used with LCD Smartie?

  19. Andreas says:

    @hexmonkey

    None of those even come close to the price/value ratio of the $1-$5 ebay prices he mentions, or the “$2 in china”-displays. Getting down to those prices is obviously unrealistic in small quantities, but I’m hoping it’s possible to do a little better than the sparkfun prices.

  20. BitMage says:

    “he harness the power” should be “he harnessES the power”

  21. RandomCommentor says:

    Why don’t we just create an integrated, open source, fully integrated, low cost microcontroller that acts, in effect, as a small computer?

    A beefier arduino with a built in LCD screen, ethernet, wifi, buttons, ram, sd card capability, and the like? For $50. You can get entire atom based computers for $100.

    Is there any compelling reason why this can’t happen with today’s technology?

  22. ColinB says:

    Rossum is bursting with awesome! Every time I see an amazing hack from him, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

  23. Whatnot says:

    I wonder if we can thank apple for the current broad interest in hacking things.
    Because apple made it so that people felt that you HAD to have an iphone and such and the problem is that that iphone (and other such devices) is so limited until you hack it, thereby making hacking stuff more broadly popular.

  24. @RandomCommentor
    Well, thats called a bealgeboard, but it costs 150$

  25. heh says:

    The ARM MCU makes the arduino pointless indeed. Anything the aduino does the ARM Cortex could handle anyway.

    And this way, you don’t have to bother routing 2 PCBs, dealing with communications between 2 MCUs and everything.

    Not using an arduino would also cut costs. I mean, having to add a fancy driver board already drives up the cost of the cheapo LCD (a nicer LCD might have been easier to use for not much more anyway), and now you add a 2nd MCU and another PCB…

  26. Daniel says:

    Nice product for the beginners, shame that they will never really get to know the LCD’s though

  27. T.C. says:

    Would be great if I could hook up the controller to a 5″ intec LCD screen. Have one from a Gamecube screen that the composite controller fried. screen and backlight still good. Would love to find a vga adaptor for this.

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