dsPIC33 VDC with GLCD or PAL TV output

Sunday, 4th July 2010

I have currently been using some terminal emulation software on my PC to see the output of the Z80 computer. It seems a little silly to rely on a large multi-gigahertz, multi-megabyte machine just to display the output from a machine at the megahertz and kilobyte end of the scale. I had previously done some work with a dsPIC33 to drive a 320×240 pixel graphical LCD so dug out its breadboard and dusted off the code to try to make something of it.

Inspired by John Burton's recent experiments with PAL TV output I decided that the first thing I should do is add support for TV output. The graphical LCD is nice but a little small and responds to pixel changes rather slowly, making animation very blurry.

dsPIC33 VDC demo

I think the results are reasonably good. A lot of the code is shared with the old LCD driving code, which means that the LCD demos work fine with the TV too. Fortunately, retracing the TV is a much less CPU-intensive job than retracing the LCD. The PIC has an SPI peripheral that allows you to clock out eight or sixteen bits a bit at a time at a selected speed by writing to a single register, which is great for clocking out the pixel data on each scanline. Even better are the PIC's DMA channels, which allow you to output a selected number of bytes or words to a selected peripheral from a specified location in RAM with no CPU involvement; all I need to do on each line is to copy a complete scanline to the DMA memory, initiate a transfer from this memory to the SPI peripheral and the job is as good as done. Using the DMA hardware as opposed to writing to the SPI registers directly reduced the rendering time of the Mandelbrot fractal part of the demo from 33 seconds to 18 seconds.

One problem I haven't been able to resolve is that the PIC inserts a small delay between every DMA/SPI transfer, which results in every sixteenth pixel being a bit wider than the fifteen before it. This is especially noticed on dithered regions. If I write to the SPI registers directly this delay vanishes. I'm not sure if the picture quality increase is worth the loss of performance, so I'd rather find a proper fix for this! For the time being, here's a video of the demo as it currently runs:

The TV contains a 75Ω resistor to ground on its composite video input. Two resistors are used on two PIC pins to form a voltage divider to produce the required output voltages (0V for sync, 0.3V for black and 1V for white). When the TV is disconnected the output of the circuit is 3.3V (the supply voltage, equivalent to a logic "high") as there's no load resistance to pull it to the correct 0.3V (a logic "low"). This can be used to periodically check whether a TV is connected and to switch between the LCD and TV output modes.

The above is rather vague, and I would recommend Rickard Gunée's article entitled How to generate video signals in software using PIC for more detailed information! The code for the demo can be downloaded from my website for those who are interested.

Update: I've updated my code to use the SPI peripheral in slave mode and use a timer and output compare unit to generate the clock signal. This regular clock signal produces pixels of identical sizes — the new code can be downloaded here.

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