Redefining Intelligent Display Implementation

The way in which human beings interface with electronic systems has changed a great deal in recent times. Widespread proliferation of touch screen technology in consumer devices has enhanced levels of usability significantly, enabling exciting new applications to be utilised and more fulfilling experiences to be derived. The touch-based user interfaces now found in items such as smartphones and tablet computers have set high expectations for various other types of electronic hardware. Increasingly industrial control systems, domestic appliances, vending machines, point-of-sales units, security alarms and thermostats will start to rely on touch interaction. Manufacturers of such items of equipment need to find the most effective way of adding this functionality without causing a ramp up in unit cost, a major increase in the engineering resources that need to be allocated to the project, or a substantial extension of the associated development time.   An example of a conventional intelligent display system is shown here. It has a high performance microcontroller – which is used to create and manipulate the graphic images pixel-by-pixel, a high capacity NAND Flash memory – for storing the graphics library, a large frame buffer – for driving the display, along with separate touch controller and an audio DAC. Wide parallel bus lines must be included to connect all of these devices together. This set up can prove to be totally impractical in many cases – presenting a sizeable bill of materials cost and a hefty power budget, as well as taking up a considerable amount of valuable board real estate. In addition, the system’s high complexity means that a considerable amount of technical know-how is called for.   In response, FTDI has pioneered an innovative new solution that enables incorporation of intelligent displays into electronic systems in a far more streamlined manner, through employment of its highly-integrated proprietary semiconductor technology. The company’s award-winning FT800 Embedded Video Engine (EVE) is optimised for implementing high quality user interfaces on to QVGA and WQVGA displays. It follows a less complex object-oriented approach, where objects can be user-defined images, fonts, widgets, primitives, sounds, bitmaps, etc. By enabling the design to work at a higher level of abstraction, the user interface can be created faster – resulting in reductions in development time and expense. With this object approach, there is no need for either a frame buffer or a large Flash memory. The FT800’s memory consists of a small ROM memory for sounds and fonts and an embedded 256kByte RAM which is utilized for users’ images as well as execution of display list commands. The display is rendered in a line-by-line fashion at one-sixteenth pixel resolution, but high output quality is maintained. The system only needs the specification of a low-end 8-bit microcontroller, rather than a 32-bit one which would normally be required. An example of an intelligent display system based on this radical methodology is shown here.   Dispensing with the need from supporting components, the FT800 has a built-in 4-wire touch controller and a single channel audio controller (which allows various chirps, beeps, taps and midi-like sounds to be assigned to specific areas of the display). As much less transfer of information is required, low bandwidth SPI or I2C interconnects can be specified as opposed to wide data buses.   Implementations of this kind, thanks to the novel arrangement utilised, will equate to greater levels of cost-effectiveness and power efficiency, in addition to a markedly reduced design overhead.

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