Kit Review – akafugu TWILCD Display Controller Backpacks

Introduction

Working with LCD displays is always useful, for debugging hardware by showing various data or part of a final design. Furthermore, using them can be rather wasteful of I/O pins, especially when trying to squeeze in other functionality. Plus there’s the external contrast adjustment, general wiring and the time taken to get it working. (Don’t believe me? See here).

However, using the subjects of this kit review – you can convert standard HD44780 LCD modules to use the I2C bus using a small backpack-style board – bringing total I/O down to four wires – 5V/3.3V, GND, SDA and SCL. If you’re using an Arduino – don’t panic if you’re not up on I2C – a software library takes care of the translation leaving you to use the LiquidCrystal functions as normal. Furthermore you can control the brightness and contrast (and colour for RGB modules) – this feature alone is just magic and will make building these features into projects much, much easier.

In this review we examine both of the backpacks available from akafugu. There are two available:

  • the TWILCD: Supports 1×16 and 2×7 connectors. It covers 16×1, 20×1, 16×2, 20×2 and 20×4 displays with and without backlight, and the
  • TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB: Supports 1×18 connector (for Newhaven RGB backlit displays), 2×8 connector (used for some 20×4 displays) and 2×9 connector (used for 40×4 displays)
If unsure about your LCD, see the list and explanation here. The LCDs used in this article were supplied with the mono and colour LCD bundles available from akafugu. So let’s see how easy they really are, and put them through their paces.

Assembly

The backpacks arrive in the usual anti-static bags:

First we’ll examine the TWILCD board:

Very small indeed. There are three distinct areas of interface – including the single horizontal or dual vertical connectors for various LCDs, and I2C bus lines as well as ICSP connectors for the onboard ATTINY4313 microcontroller. The firmware can be updated and is available on the akafugu github repository. If you look at the horizontal row along the top – there are eighteen holes. This allows for displays that have pins ordered 1~16 and also those with 15,16,1~16 order (15 and 16 are for the LCD backlight).

The next step is to solder in the connectors for power and I2C if so desired, and then the LCD to the backpack. Double-check that you have the pin numbering and alignment correct before soldering, for example:

and then you’re finished:

Simple. Now apply power and after a moment the the backpack firmware will display the I2C bus address:

Success! Now let’s repeat this with the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. The backpack itself is still quite small:

… and has various pin alignments for different types of LCD module. Note the extra pins allowing use of RGB-backlit modules and 40×4 character modules. Again,  make sure you have the pins lined up against your LCD module before soldering the backpack in:

 Notice how the I2C connector is between the LCD and the backpack – there is enough space for it to sit in there, and also acts as a perfect spacer when soldering the backpack to the display module.  Once finished soldering, apply 5/3.3V and GND to check your display:

Using the TWILCDs

Using the backpacks is very easy. If you aren’t using an Arduino, libraries for AVR-GCC are available. If you are using the Arduino system, it is very simple. Just download and install the library from here. Don’t forget to connect the SDA and SCL connectors to your Arduino. If you’re unsure about LCD and Arduino – see here.

Programming for the TWILCD is dead simple – just use your existing Arduino sketch, but replace

with

and that’s it. Even creating custom characters. No new functions to learn or tricks to take note of – they just work. Total win. The only new functions you will need are to control the brightness and contrast… to set the brightness, use:

You can also set the brightness level to EEPROM as a default using:

Contrast is equally simple, using:


and

You can see these in action using the example sketches with the Arduino library, and in the following video:

Now for the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. You have one more function to set the colour of the text:

where red, green and blue are values between 0 and 254. Easily done. You can see this in action using the test_RGB example sketch included with the library, and shown in the following video:

Conclusion

The TWILCD backpacks are simple, easy to setup and easy to use. They make using LCD displays a lot easier and faster for rapid prototyping, experimenting or making final products easier to use and program. A well-deserved addition to every experimenter’s toolkit. For more information, visit the akafugu product website. Full-size images available on flickr.

Note – the products used in this article were a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Translated version in Serbo-Croatian language.

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John Boxall

Founder, owner and managing editor of tronixstuff.com.

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