Using an undocumented display with an FPGA

By | September 19, 2012

When [Mike] ran across a display on Deal Extreme with 8 seven-segment displays, 8 red/green LEDs, and 8 buttons, he knew it would find a good home in a future project. There was only one problem, though: except for an Arduino library, there was absolutely no documentation available for this display. Wanting to use this display with an FPGA board, [Mike] decided against bit-banging a protocol and ported the C++ code into a hardware implementation.

This Deal Extreme display, the TM1638, features enough seven-segment displays, LEDs and buttons to build something really cool, and surprisingly isn’t terribly hard to interface with a microcontroller. The TM1638 library communicates with the outside world via only three pins and a simple serial connection.

After figuring out what commands are sent to make the display turn LEDs on or off, [Mike] wrote a hardware implementation for his Digilent Nexys2 and Digilent Basys2. Now the display operates on an FPGA just like it does with an Arduino, and is a great tool for debugging HDL code for [Mike]‘s FPGA.

Filed under: led hacks

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