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Review – Nextion TFT Human Machine Interface

Introduction

Using a large TFT LCD with various development boards can often be a trial – from dedicating eight or more GPIO pins to working with a flaky software library or memory limitations. Personally I have thought “there must be a better way”, and thus usually results in shifting the concept over to a single-board computer such as a Raspberry Pi to get the job done.

However this is no longer necessary – thanks to the team at Itead Studio and now available from Tronixlabs. They have developed a series of TFT LCDs which include enough onboard hardware, a graphic processor unit and memory to be a self-contained display solution whose output can be created with a WYSIWYG editor and be controlled using simple serial text commands.

For a quick demonstration, check out the following video:

As you can see the display can be quite complex, and with some imagination you can create a neat interface for your project. And once the interface has been uploaded to the display, all your development board needs to do is communicate with the Nextion displays via a TTL-level USART  (serial port).

Hardware

Nextion displays are available in a wide range from 2.4″ through to 7″ at varying resolutions – with all having a resistive touch screen:

Itead Nextion displays

On the rear of an example 4.3″ unit we can see the brains behind the Nextion – an STM32F microcontroller, 16MB of flash memory and a meaty Altera MAXII FPGA. :

Itead Nextion large rear

… and the 2.4″ version which has 4MB of flash memory:

Itead Nextion small rear

And as shown above you can see from the images there is a microSD card socket on each display, and the only external connections are 5V and GND plus TX/RX for serial data to your system. For testing purposes with a Windows-based PC you can use a simple USB-TTL serial cable. This could also be used for a more permanent solution between a Raspberry Pi, or any USB-enabled PC.

Software

The display interface is created used an IDE (integrated development environment) which is currently available for Windows. Using the IDE, you can import images for use in the interface, determine touch areas, add  buttons, progress bars, gauges and much more.

Nextioneditor

Furthermore there is a simulator and debugger tool which allows you to test your interface on the PC or directly to the Nextion unit. The simulator also allows for sending and receiving commands with the display so you can quickly test your code.

The simulator is also a demonstration of how the Nextion can be controlled via USB-TTL serial cable from a PC, thus great for secondary displays via processing, python etc – or from any software that can communicate via the PC’s serial port. And much cheaper than a secondary display if you only want to display certain types of data.

To create an interface is easy, you first start with a background image or a solid colour. Then you can add objects such as buttons for user-input, or define an area of the screen to a “touch-zone” – which, when pressed, will send a value out to the connected device. You can also add text zones, which will display incoming text from the connected device – along with progress bars and gauges.

For an ideal example of all this together, watch the following video:

 

Conclusion

Although the units I had for test were prototype review units supplied by Itead, they worked as expected and really do solve the problem of creating a contemporary user-interface without typing up microcontroller resources. Nextion displays are now available from our Tronixlabs store.

And finally a plug for my own store – tronixlabs.com – offering a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from adafruit, DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeed Studio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

As always, 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, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in Itead, Nextion, tronixlabs

Review – Iteaduino Lite “nearly 100% Arduino-compatible” board

Introduction

Over the last year there have been a few crowd-funded projects that offered very inexpensive Arduino-compatible boards. Frankly most of them weren’t anything out of the ordinary, however one of them is quite interesting due to the particular design of the board, and is the subject of this review.

An established company Iteadstudio ran a successful Indiegogo campaign last December to fund their Iteaduino Lite – Most inexpensive full-sized Arduino derivative board”. Having a spare US$5 we placed an order and patiently waited for the board. Being such a low price it was guaranteed to raise the funding – but was it worth the money? Or the effort? Possibly.

The board

In typical fashion the board arrived in bare packaging:

Iteaduino Lite arrived

 The Iteaduino Lite isn’t that surprising at first glance:

Iteaduino Lite bare top

To the new observer, it looks like an Arduino board of some sort. Nice to see all those GPIO pins with double breakouts. No surprises underneath:

Iteaduino Lite bottom

The URL on the bottom is incorrect, instead visit http://imall.iteadstudio.com/iteaduino-lite.html. Looking at the board in more detail, there are some interesting points of difference with the usual Arduino Uno and compatibles.

The USB interface is handled with the Silabs CP2102 USB to UART bridge IC:

Iteaduino Lite CP2102 USB

The next difference is the power circuitry – instead of using a linear voltage regulator, Itead have used a contemporary DC-DC converter circuit which can accept between 7 and 24V DC:

Iteaduino lite power supply

Furthermore, the entire board can operate at either 5V or 3.3V, which is selected with the slide switch in the above image. Finally – the microcontroller. Instead of an Atmel product, Itead have chosen the LogicGreen LGT8F88 microcontroller, a domestic Chinese product:

Iteaduino Lite LGT8F88A MCU

And there are only two LEDs on the Iteaduino Lite, for power and D13. The LED on D13 ins’t controlled via a MOSFET like other Arduino-compatibles, instead it’s simply connected to GND via a 1kΩ resistor.

Getting started with the Iteaduino Lite

The stacking header sockets will need to be soldered in – the easiest way is to insert them into the board, use an shield to hold them in and flip the lot upside down:

Iteaduino lite stacking headers

Which should give you neatly-installed headers:

Iteaduino Lite ready to use

Watch out for the corners of the board, they’re quite sharp. Next, you need to install the USB driver for the CP2102. My Windows 7 machine picked it up without any issues, however the drivers can be downloaded if necessary.

Finally a new board profile is required for the Arduino IDE. At the time of writing you’ll need Arduino IDE v1.0.5 r2. Download this zip file, and extract the contents into your ..\Arduino-1.0.5-r2\hardware folder. The option should now be available in the Tools > Board menu in the IDE, for example:

Iteaduino Lite Arduino IDE

From this point you can run the blink example to check all is well. At this point you will realise one of the limitations of the Iteaduino Lite – memory. For example:

Iteaduino Lite Arduino IDE memory

You only have 7168 bytes of memory for your sketches – compared to 32, 256 for an Arduino Uno or compatible. The reason for this is the small capacity of  …

The LogicGreen LGT8F88 microcontroller

This MCU is a Chinese company’s answer to the Atmel ATmega88A. You can find more details here, and Itead also sells them separately. The LGT8F88 offers us 8Kbyte of flash memory of which 0.7KB is used by bootloader, 1 KB of SRAM and 504 bytes (count ’em) of EEPROM. Apparently it can run at speeds of up to 32 MHz, however the LGT8F88 is set to 16 MHz for the Iteaduino Lite.

According to Logic Green, their LGT8F88 “introduce a smart instruction cache, which can fetch more instructions one time, effectively decrease memory accessing operations“. So to see if there’s a speed bump, we uploaded the following sketch – written by Steve Curd from the Arduino forum. It calculates Newton Approximation for pi using an infinite series:

For a baseline comparison, an Arduno Uno R3 completes the calculations in 5563 ms:

Iteaduino Lite Uno speed test

… and the Iteaduino Lite completed it in 5052 ms:

Iteaduino Lite speed test

So that’s around a 10% speed increase. Not bad at all. The LGT8F88 also has the requisite GPIO, SPI, and I2C available as per normal Arduino Uno boards. You can download the data sheet with more technical details from here. Frankly the LGT8F88 is an interesting contender in the marketplace, and if Logic Green can offer a DIP version at a good price, the ATtiny fans will have a field day. Time will tell.

Power Circuit

The DC-DC circuit promises 5V output, with up to 24V DC input – so we cranked the input to 24V,  put a 1A load on the 5V output – and put the DSO over 5V to measure the variations – with a neat result:

Iteaduino lite PSU test

So no surprises there at all, the Iteaduino Lite gives you more flexible power supply options than the usual Arduino board. However an eagle-eyed reader notes that a few of the capacitors are only rated at 25V – especially the two right after the DC socket/Vin. You can see this in the schematic (.pdf). So take that into account, or drop your Vin to something more regular such as below 12V.

Conclusion

The Iteaduino Lite is an interesting experiment in bargain Arduino-compatible boards. However we say “why bother?” and just get a Uno R3-compatible board.

At the end of the day – why bother with this board? For a little extra you can get boards with the ATmega328P or 32U4 which gives you 100% compatibility. Nevertheless, this was an interesting experiment. Full-sized images are available on flickr. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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, or join our forum – 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.

Posted in arduino, iteaduino, LGT8F88, review, tronixstuffComments (0)


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