Adafruit 16×32 LED matrix on Arduino Due (4)

I’m finally making some progress with introducing a higher color depth. Using BCM I’m now more or less on a 12-bit color depth. In the Adafruit driver I found parts of code that first were not very clear to me. There are methods like Color888(uint8_t r, uint8_t g, uint8_t b) and Color333(uint8_t r, uint8_t g, uint8_t b) but than I found that these are actually related to how colors are kept in memory bit wise. You see, with 333 colors you’re using 3 bits for the red value, 3 for green and 3 for blue. So this means there is a total bit depth of 0…7 for each RGB value resulting in a total 9-bit color depth which gives us 512 colors. 8/8/8 colors are 24-bit large in total and are the so called True Colors. They’re often used on PC’s in results in different colors. The 5/6/5 colors, also called High Colors, are 5+6+5 = 16 bits wide and result in 65536 different colors. This is also often used on computers. The awkwardness here is that the green portion has one bit extra compared to the red and blue portion. This is done because there was otherwise one bit unused (better to use it right!) and because of our perception is green is different that for red/blue one bit extra for green would be best suited (don’t ask me the exact scientifical reason, look for it on wikipedia). This 16-bit color depth is also used for storing images in the Adafruit driver. But so far it’s used only for storing, to display these images the driver falls back to a 12-bit color depth in 4/4/4 format and this because of two reasons. More colors would be kind of hard to do because it would dramatically reduce refresh rate and this you certainly don’t want. Although LEDs are used, refresh rates in between 25 and 50MHz are still not high enough for the human eye to experience the display as smooth. So it’s better to stuck at 12-bits deep. Also, in the 5/6/5 setup, if you use BCM modulation, there is one moment where you’ll be displaying only the green portion because red and blue are not equally in bit size.

But BCM, what is this exactly. BCM is a modulation technique like PWM is. With PWM you define the percentage of on and off time. Say you’re having a pulse of 70% on and 30% off during the total period, if you have a LED connected to that pulse you’ll experience it as slightly dimmed. With BCM you’re not giving any percentages, you’re using the bit value instead. Let’s say you’re using 2-bit BCM, for this the 2 bits are divided over the total period and so the more ‘1’s you have in your binary BCM value the more the LED will be pulsed on during the period, and the brighter it will look. Let’s say you’ve the value 11, the LED will be set on for the total period of time and will look very bright. 00 means it will be off all the time. But what about 01 and 10? Well, here the bit-value comes into play otherwise both codes would result in 50% on and 50% off. Using the bit-value the ‘1’ in ’10’ has a higher bit value than the ‘1’ in ’01’ and so it will stay on longer depending on the weight of the bit. There is a nice introduction to BCM found here.

And so the Adafruit driver uses 4-bit BCM, using only the 4 most significant bits of their 16-bit (5/6/5) representation in memory. I’ve gone the same direction and got it more or less functional:


This lowres picture doesn’t exactly show you a lot, I’ll have to look for better photo footage. The higher color depth is now possible using BCM but it’s still not finished yet. Resetting the timer each time kind of screws up the refresh rates so instead of using the due timer library I talked of before I’ll have to write the timer code myself and cut off an overhead. Also I noticed that I’m doing a lot of digital writes (6) to set just the RGB pins, where in the Adafruit driver they can set all 6 pins altogether. If a could do this it would also greatly reduce the timer interrupt time and allow me to bump up the refresh rate. So, more work ahead…


2 thoughts on “Adafruit 16×32 LED matrix on Arduino Due (4)

  1. I just randomly found this site after battling with my matrix on the arduino due as well, maybe we can help each other out? I’ve put a question on the adafruit forum asking them if a proper port of the library is coming at some point (, but it looks like nothing much is happening on that front for now.

    The code that’s linked in the forum post works reasonably well, though also just with 4/4/4 colors. My troubles start when I try to send frames to the matrix via serial.

  2. hey Robert,

    I noticed your logic is more or less on par with what I have. Try measuring your interrupt time, also I think it is probable better to first reset your timer before writing to the outputs. Timing is very important. Furthermore I have no idea what happens when Serial code is send or received, is it working okay when you hardcode your images? Can you try a different pin arrangement?

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