Controlling Alphanumeric LCDs With Two Wires


The Hitachi HD44780 LCD controller is the most common interface to all those alphanumeric LCDs out there, and there are a million and one tutorials for connecting these displays to any microcontroller imaginable. This still doesn’t mean hooking up these displays is necessarily simple, though: you still need at least four wires for the data, at least two for control signals, and power and ground lines for connecting the LCD the traditional way.

Here’s a neat trick for connecting HD44780 displays that only needs two wires. In this setup there’s only a ground and power+data wire. The interesting part of this build is using the power pin to transmit serial data with an RS-232-like format. The only difference is keeping the data line at +5 V when idle; a reasonable-sized cap keeps the display and controller alive when the master microcontroller is transmitting.

This technique does require a bit of logic on the receiving end, which a small 8-pin PIC can handle with ease. Communication between a microcontroller and this “smart” LCD is done at 2400 bps, which even the wimpiest micro can handle. All the software to make this setup work are available here, and we expect an Atmel-based version to hit the Hackaday tip line shortly.

Adding a display to a USB digital scale


[Oleg] found himself in possession of a Model 510 5lb digital scale.  It’s a great scale, but only works as a USB HID device. In other words, it’s a digital scale without a digital display. He decided he wanted it to be more standalone, so he added a Toshiba HD44780 (compatible) display. An Arduino UNO and USB Host shield were used to make it happen. His sketch simply polls the scale and outputs the weight on the display.

In this case, he used the USB Host Shield from Circuits at Home, but a brief look shows they use the same MAX3421 controller chip as Sparkfun and other versions of the board. You might also be able to pull off the same functionality with an AVR running V-USB, though admittedly it wouldn’t be so easy.

We haven’t found a great way to add USB host mode to projects other than shields like the one [Oleg] used. If you know of a better way, share your ideas in the comments.

Of course, if this isn’t hardcore enough for you, forget using a consumer scale – make your own from scratch!

A Video Game with custom LCD characters


[Nakul] wanted to build a video game, and with a few projects worth of Arduino experience decided he could finally attain his goal. He used a character LCD display to make his game, and instead of a text-based adventure, he went with a graphical side scroller.

The display for this space-based side scroller isn’t a graphical display like a CRT or a graphic LCD. Instead, [Nakul] is using the ubiquitous Hitachi HD44780 character LCD display. Normally these are used to display text, but they all have the ability to display custom 5 by 8 pixel characters. The code puts these custom characters – a spaceship, missile, and barrier – into the display’s memory and uses them as the sprites for the video game.

You can grab [Nakul]’s code over on his git or check out the action videos below.

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LED array uses ridiculous amount of 14-segment displays

What do you do if you see a bunch of 14-segment LED displays for sale for a penny a piece? [Fritzler], when faced with that conundrum did what any of us would do – he bought 64 14-segment displays and built a huge 16×4 alphanumeric display (German, here’s the translation).

[Fritzler] found a cache of old East German 14-segment displays for €0.01 at (don’t bother, they’re out of stock), and the only thing he could think of was building a gigantic display. He used ULN2803 Darlington drivers for each LED module, but there was still the issue of controlling the entire display.

For that, [Fritzler] decided to make his 16×4 use the same protocol as the Hitachi HD44780 LCD controller. This meant [Fritzler] could wire up his gigantic, power-hungry display to a microcontroller as if it were a simple LCD display.

An amazing amount of work went in to the creation of this display, as evidenced by a pair of pictures showing what [Fritzler] had to solder.

Thanks [freax] for sending this one in.

Using an HD44780 character LCD with the Raspberry Pi

[Tech2077] is one of the lucky ones who already got his hands on a Raspberry Pi. He’s been looking into different interface options with the GPIO header and just posted a guide to using an HD44780 character display with the RPi. We like this approach because instead of doing some hard-core LCD work he’s using prototyping equipment you probably already have on hand.

Getting a character LCD running should be really simple. The gotcha is the logic level gap between the devices. If you’ve been working with Arduino, your add-ons are probably meant for a 5V power rail  and logic levels. The RPi outputs 3.3V logic. You could use a level converter (you’d need at least 7 pins to be converted in this case) or you can be a bit more clever. [Tech2077] grabbed an I2C port expander that uses just 2 of the RPi lines to address even lines of the display (four data bits plus three control bits). This is a bit of a hack, as the 3.3V logic is 0.2V below the recommended minimum for a digital 1 on the port expander. But it seems to work just fine! If it didn’t, a couple of NPN transistors would do the trick as well.

Addressing the new peripheral is just a matter of loading the i2c module and writing some Python.

Character LCD spectrum analyzer made simple with a dedicated IC

[El Artis] just finished building an audio spectrum analyzer that uses a character LCD. The uses an Arduino to drive the display, but unlike other meters that use the microcontroller for analysis, [El Artis] is using a discrete IC for that task.

This project uses the MSGEQ7 graphic equilizer display filter chip to grab frequency data from the audio source. The chip connects to your microcontroller of choice using two digital pins and one analog pin. [El Artis] points us to [J Skoba’s] post about how to use it with an Arduino, then adds his own custom character routines for an HD44780 display. You’ll notice that there are sixteen bars in the image above, which conflicts with the 7 outputs the chip offers. [El Artis] averages neighboring values in order to add the extra outputs.

Don’t miss the demo video after the break. If you’re looking to use this part in one of your projects, we noticed they’re a little hard to find (octopart doesn’t return any suppliers) but SparkFun has them.

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Spectrum analyzer users custom characters on an HD44780 display

[Camilo] built a spectrum analyzer to use with his audio system (translate). The hardware is quite simple, using an op-amp, microcontroller and LCD display. He chose an LMV324M low-voltage op-amp which connects to the incoming audio signal and feeds its output to the microcontroller’s ADC. In this case, he chose a Freescale microcontroller from the HCS08 family which is running at 20 MHz. This gives the project enough speed to properly analyze the incoming audio. He mentions that he’s following the guidelines set forth in the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem and using the Fast Fourier Transform when processing the samples.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a character LCD used as a display for a frequency analyzer. This other ATmega8-based rendition supported several different screen layouts. These displays have enough RAM to store eight custom characters. Each character is 5×8 pixels, lending eight levels to each character for a total of 16 for each column seen above. We love the simplicity of the hardware in the project but we wouldn’t mind seeing an additional potentiometer to fine-tune how the data is displayed on the screen to take advantage of its full range. See the project in action in the clip after the break.

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