Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's EVE & EVITA

Last Post of 2015.

Tonight, a bit later, I will be celebrating the New Year, but for the next few hours I am working hard on a new 50x50 pcb design - more on this later.

This week, as readers might know,  I have been involved in a Trans-Atlantic collaboration to develop a new prototype board for an Embedded Video Engine or EVE chip - manufactured by Glaswegian firm FTDI.

In a hectic week, a team working in the UK and also in Northern California - have got the hardware running - and are now able to produce a big bright graphics display on a large screen monitor - using virtually any "Arduino -like" microcontroller development board.  For only a few dollars - you can now add high quality 24 bit video and audio to your latest project - and there is not a Rapberry Pi in sight.

Here's an example of what James and Felix (pictured) achieved in California on Tuesday.
Felix solders whilst James writes code...
Meanwhile in the UK I was successfully creating an image of a big red blob....

The EVE chip is normally used to produce a video interface for LCD touchscreens - but with a bit of tweaking and a few precision value resistors we have got it producing reasonable quality 24-bit RGB video for displaying on monitors or TVs that have the usual VGA (15way Sub D) connector.

This allows virtually any small microcontroller to produce good quality graphics - and in the case of the prototype - any board that supports the Arduino expansion headers.

With a few clever tweaks to the timing, James in California has succeeded in obtaining a 1024 x 768 60Hz resolution - sometimes known as XGA.  This exceeds the published specification of the chip, only by a small margin - but as James is expert on these matters, he assures me that there is no cause for concern.

Just in Time for the Party - Meet EVITA

Whilst the prototype was a quick design just to prove things are working - and so far they have exceeded all expectations, I am currently working on an upgraded  new board, that is most likely to be a commercial product.

The EVITA board uses the same FT812 EVE chip, but adds a microSD card socket, audio output from a 3.5mm jack and unlike the prototype is now 5V tolerant - so you will be able to use this on a 5V Arduino - without "Fear of Frying".  EVITA offers a better overall layout, more signals are available for the experimenter, and better still, it is compatible with GameDuino 2.

If you add EVITA to a humble Arduino, you have essentially the basis of a full computer system, with connectors for Keyboard, Mouse, Audio and glorious XGA video output.

Right from the start, EVITA is open source hardware and open soft software.  If you are good at fine, surface mount soldering, you could purchase a bare board cheaply, stock up on the components and build your own in a couple of hours. All of the information is available online, including datasheets, code libraries and a vibrant community forum.

In the next few weeks there will be some more pcbs released in the 50x50 format. These will allow you to add a custom ARM processor to EVITA and make up exciting new projects.

More of this in 2016


No comments: