Ever notice that the ESP32-S3 doesn’t have a digital-to-analog converter? [Chris] did and asserts that he doesn’t care because he can just use the PDM system to get the same result. PDM — pulse density modulation — is similar to PWM and, like PWM, requires a filter that could range from a simple RC network to an active filter. You can see the result in the video below.

There are several ways [Chris] could produce the output he wanted. PWM was one choice, and some example code uses a timer to do PDM. However, that is not very efficient. The other alternative is to use the I2S output. However, this does require a few workarounds.

In particular, the I2S output is always stereo and incorporates a clock output that isn’t needed for this application. [Chris] simply output the same value on both channels and routed the clock to some pins that are normally used for startup options. That means they can’t easily be used for your own inputs, but it’s OK to use them for unimportant outputs.

We always enjoy seeing solutions like this because it can give you ideas for use in your own projects. Of course, this won’t apply to every project where you need a DAC, but it still might give you some ideas.

We have looked at PDM before. You could, too, build your own DAC hardware.

Continue reading “No DAC? Try PDM”

Monochrome LCD Video Hacks Galore!

[Wenting Zhang] is clearly a fan of old school STN LCD displays, and was wondering how various older portable devices managed to drive monochrome LCDs panels with multiple grey levels. If the display controller supports multiple bits per pixel, it can use various techniques, such as PWM, in order to produce a pseudo-grayscale image. But, what if you have a monochrome-only display controller? With a sufficiently high pixel clock, can you use software on the application side of things to flip those pixels in such a manner as to give a reasonable looking grayscale image?

Simple dithering – don’t look too close!
PDM greyscale approximation in a 1-bit display

[Wenting] goes through multiple techniques, showing the resulting image quality in a clear, systematic manner. The first idea is to use a traditional dithering technique. For each pixel, it is set to black if the grey value is below some threshold. The resulting error value, is then propagated to neighbouring pixels. This error diffusion process smears the error out over the whole display, so spatially speaking, on average the pixel values correspond roughly to the original gray values. But, the pixels themselves are still either on or off. This isn’t quite enough. The next idea is to PWM the individual pixels over multiple frames, to approximate different grey levels. But, that gives a worst case effective refresh rate of 8 Hz with a PWM period of 15 frames, at 120 fps, and that flickers. Badly. One way to mitigate that is to switch to PDM (pulse density modulation) which selects different length sequences to give the same duty cycle but at higher frequency, at least for some grey values. Slightly better, but there’s more that can be done. Continue reading “Monochrome LCD Video Hacks Galore!”