Monthly Archives: January 2015

Arduino and the TM1637 4-digit seven-segment display

In one of my Arduino projects I needed to show some numbers. Luckily, a 4 digit display lain around on my desk. Because it had a built-in driver which would save me from all the hassle with shift registers it looked like a perfect fit. I checked the chip the display was using and it was labeled “TM1637”. I was already familiar with the TM1638 (for more details see my recent post about using a TM1638 based board with Arduino) chip so I thought making the TM1637 work should be easy. Unfortunately, while there are some similarities between the chips getting the TM1637 to work took me longer than I had expected. When I finally aligned all the moving pieces I decided to create a standalone sample which will hopefully be helpful to other people playing with TM1637 based displays. To make the sample a good demo I just took my Nokia LCD clock sample, replaced the Nokia LCD display with the TM1637 display and updated the code accordingly and ended up with a TM1637 clock:

TM1637 clock

TM1637 clock


Let’s get started from taking a closer look at the TM1637 display. The TM1637 display has four pins VCC, GND, DIO, CLK. Similarly to the TM1638 the TM1637 uses a protocol to communicate with the display. While commands themselves are very similar to the ones used by the TM1638 board sending the data is a little different. The display does not have the STB pin the TM1638 board had so separating commands and arguments works differently. A start signal needs to be sent before sending a command to the display. Once the command has been sent a stop signal needs to be used. If a command has arguments another start signal needs to be sent and then after all arguments have been sent the stop signal needs to be used. The start signal is just setting the CLK and DIO pins to HIGH and then setting them to LOW. The stop signal is setting the CLK and DIO pins to LOW and then to HIGH. The CLK pin should not change the state more frequently than 250kHz so I added a little delay between state changes. Here is how my corresponding start and stop functions look like:

void start(void) 
{ 
    digitalWrite(clock,HIGH);//send start signal to TM1637 
    digitalWrite(data,HIGH); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 
 
    digitalWrite(data,LOW); 
    digitalWrite(clock,LOW); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 
} 
 
void stop(void) 
{ 
    digitalWrite(clock,LOW); 
    digitalWrite(data,LOW); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 

    digitalWrite(clock,HIGH); 
    digitalWrite(data,HIGH); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 
} 

The display has three commands:

  • initialize the display and set brightness
  • display value at a given position
  • display values starting from a given position

The first command just initializes the display and sets the brightness. This is done by sending the %1000abbb value where the a bit activates (if set to 1) or deactivates (if set to 0) the display and the bbb bits control the brightness (with 000 being the darkest and 111 being the brightest).
The second command allows controlling a single digit of the display. It requires sending 3 bytes to the display: 0x44 %110000aa X where the aa bits in the second byte are used to select the position of the digit to control while X is the value to be displayed encoded in the standard 7 segment coding (as explained here).
Finally, the last command is used to control multiple digits and can consists of up to 6 bytes. Typically you want use all the digits in which case you send the following bytes to the display – 0x40 0xC0 W X Y Z. The first byte is the command identifier the second byte tells the display to start at the first position and W X Y Z are the values to be displayed on subsequent positions (again in the standard 7 segment encoding).
Here are is a short summary of commands:

START (0x88|%00000aaa) STOP initialize and set the brightness
START 0x44 STOP START (0xC0|%000000aa) X STOP display value X at position %000000aa
START 0x40 STOP START 0xC0 W X Y Z STOP display values W X Y Z starting from position 0

When sending data to the display timing is the tricky part. Apparently (if I understood the machine translation of the data sheet which is in Chinese correctly), the CLK pin should not change the state more frequently than 250kHz. This means that I could not use the Arduino shiftOut function because it does not allow to provide the delay after setting the DIO pin. Instead I had to come up with my own function (I called it writeValue) that emulates the shiftOut function but which uses a delay after setting the DIO pin. (Yes, it did made me think that my other projects may have some kind of issue due to writing data too fast but, hey, they worked!). Another thing is that the chip is acknowledging it received data successfully by setting the DIO pin to HIGH after each byte of data has been written. I have never seen it fail and am not even sure what I would be supposed to do if it did. Probably in my little projects this does not matter too much – I am constantly writing to the display so I hope that a subsequent write will succeed and therefore even though the writeValue function returns a result I am ignoring it. The writeValue function looks as follows:

bool writeValue(uint8_t value) 
{ 
    for(uint8_t i = 0; i < 8; i++) 
    { 
        digitalWrite(clock, LOW); 
        delayMicroseconds(5); 
        digitalWrite(data, (value & (1 << i)) >> i); 
        delayMicroseconds(5); 
        digitalWrite(clock, HIGH); 
        delayMicroseconds(5); 
    } 
 
    // wait for ACK 
    digitalWrite(clock,LOW); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 
 
    pinMode(data,INPUT); 
 
    digitalWrite(clock,HIGH); 
    delayMicroseconds(5); 
 
    bool ack = digitalRead(data) == 0; 
    
    pinMode(data,OUTPUT); 

    return ack; 
}

Based on this information I created a TM1637 clock as shown on the photo above. I connected a TM1637 display to Arduino as follows:

Arduino              TM1637 display
PIN #7 ------------------ CLK
PIN #8 ------------------ DIO
3.3V   ------------------ VCC
GND    ------------------ GND

The code is on github - clone it and try for yourself.

Using a TM1638 based board with Arduino

At long last I set out to work on one of my Arduino projects when I realized that I didn’t have any 4-digit 7 segment LED display at home. Since it was quite important part of the project I went to ebay and started looking for something when I found this:
TM1638 module
This is an “8-Bit LED 8-Bit Digital Tube 8-Bit Key TM1638”. It seemed to be a very good fit for my project since it not only had the display but it also had some buttons – something I needed too. In addition it had only three control lines which would simplify things a lot by sparing me from dealing with shift registers on my own – something I would have to do had I used the cheapest 7 segment LED display. When I got the board I got baffled a little bit. It was just a piece of hardware without any documentation. I deciphered the symbol on the chip and went for a quest to find some information about how it worked. I found a data sheet but it was mostly in Chinese. Unfortunately 我的中文不好, so I only skimmed it and continued looking. I quickly found that there is a library I could use. However I did want to learn how the thing I bought actually worked, so I spent some time more time looking for more information about the board. Finally, I found this page which turned out to be the most helpful and allowed me to start experimenting.
As I already mentioned the board has just 3 control pins plus power and ground. The control pins are strobe, clock and data. The strobe and clock pins are only OUTPUT while the data pin can be both OUTPUT and INPUT. The strobe pin is used when sending data to the board – you set the strobe pin to LOW before you start sending data – one or more bytes – and then set the strobe pin back to HIGH. Note that there is just one data pin which means the data is being sent 1 bit at a time. This is where the clock pin comes into play. When sending data you set the clock pin to LOW then you set the data pin and set the clock pin back to HIGH to commit the bit value. You are probably already familiar with this pattern (if not take a look at this post) – it is the standard way of sending data with shift registers and therefore we can just use the standard shiftOut function to send 8 bits of data with just one line of code.
The data sent to the board follow a protocol where the first byte tells the board what we want to do (I call it ‘command’) and is followed by zero or more bytes that are arguments for the selected function. Arguments are sent separately (i.e. the strobe pin needs to be set to HIGH after sending the command and again to LOW before sending arguments). The board has 4 functions:

  • activate/deactivate board and initialize display
  • write a byte at specific address
  • write bytes starting from specific address
  • read buttons

To activate the board and set the display brightness we use the 1000abbb (0x8?) command where the bit marked as a is used to activate/deactivate the board and bits marked as bbb are used to set the brightness of the display. For example to activate the board and set the brightness of the display to the maximum value we need to send 0x8f. This function does not have any arguments.
To write a byte at specific address we send the 010000100 (0x44) command followed by the address in the form of 1100aaaa (aaaa bits denote the location we want to write to) followed by the value. For example to write the value 0x45 at address 0x0a we would have to send the following sequence of bytes: 0x44 0xca 0x45.
If we want to write values at consecutive addresses (very helpful to reset the board) we would send 01000000 (0x40) followed by the starting address (again in the form of 1100aaaa) followed by the values we want to write. For instance if we send 0x40 0xc0 0x00 0x01 0x02 0 would be written at address 0, 1 would be written at address 1 and 2 would be written at address 2. Note that we have 4 bits to select the address which means there are sixteen locations that can be written to. If you continue writing after reaching the address 0x0f it will wrap and you will start again from address 0x00.
To read buttons we send the 010000010 (0x42) command, set the data pin as INPUT and read 4 bytes containing button status.

Command Arguments Description
0x8? (1000abbb) (none) activate board (bit a), set brightness (bits b)
0x44 (01000100) 0xc? 0x?? write value 0x?? at location 0xc? (single address mode)
0x40 (01000000) 0xc? 0x?? 0x?? 0x?? write values 0x?? starting from location 0xc? (address auto increment mode)
0x42 (01000010) N/A read buttons

Now we know we can write values to one of the 16 locations. This is the way we turn LEDs on and control the display. The board has two 4 digit 7 segment LEDs displays and 8 LEDs. Each of them has a dedicated address to which a value needs to be written to control the corresponding item. For instance if to turn on the first LED we would write 1 at address 0x01. Below is a list of locations with short explanations.

Address Description
0x00 (0000) display #1
0x01 (0001) LED #1 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x02 (0010) display #2
0x03 (0011) LED #2 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x04 (0100) display #3
0x05 (0101) LED #3 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x06 (0110) display #4
0x07 (0111) LED #4 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x08 (1000) display #5
0x09 (2001) LED #5 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x0a (1010) display #6
0x0b (1011) LED #6 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x0c (1100) display #7
0x0d (1101) LED #7 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green
0x0e (1110) display #8
0x0f (1111) LED #8 00000001 – red, 00000010 – green

(You might have noticed that according to the chart LEDs can be either red or green. I am cheap so I got the cheapest board I could find on ebay and it turned out it had only red LEDs so I was not able to test the green color.)

We now have all the information needed to breathe some life into the board. First we need to connect the TM1638 based board to our Arduino board. This is how I did it:

Arduino              TM1638 based board
3.3V   ------------------ VCC
GND    ------------------ GND
PIN #7 ------------------ STB
PIN #8 ------------------ DIO
PIN #9 ------------------ CLK

The setup function needs to activate and reset the board. For readability I created a helper function for sending commands and a separate function for setup. Here is how the code to setup the board looks like:

const int strobe = 7;
const int clock = 9;
const int data = 8;

void sendCommand(uint8_t value)
{
  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, value);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);
}

void reset()
{
  sendCommand(0x40); // set auto increment mode
  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xc0);   // set starting address to 0
  for(uint8_t i = 0; i < 16; i++)
  {
    shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0x00);
  }
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);
}

void setup()
{
  pinMode(strobe, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(clock, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(data, OUTPUT);

  sendCommand(0x8f);  // activate and set brightness to max
  reset();
}

Here is how this works. The code starts executing from the setup function. First we set pins 7, 8, 9 as output pins. Next we activate the board and set the brightness to the maximum value by sending 0x8f. Finally we reset the board by clearing all the memory locations. We do it by setting the board to the address auto increment mode (0x40), selecting 0 as the starting address (0xc0) and sending 0 sixteen times. Now that the board is ready to work with let’s display something. An easy thing to display will be 8. in the first and last digit position on the display and light the 3rd and 6th LED. To do that we will use the single address mode since the locations we are going to write to are not consecutive. Our loop function that does this looks as follows:

void loop()
{
  sendCommand(0x44);  // set single address

  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xc0); // 1st digit
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xff);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);

  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xc5); // 3rd LED
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0x01);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);

  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xcb); // 3rd LED
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0x01);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);

  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xce); // last digit
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xff);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);
}

You can find the entire sample in the repo on github.
Displaying 8. is cool but it would be even cooler if we knew the relation between the value sent to the board and what will be shown. The board is using the standard 7 segment coding, so the value sent to the board is a byte with bits coded as follows: [DP]GFEDCBA. Each bit will light one segment as per the image below:
7Seg
So, for instance if you wanted to display A you would have to write 0x77 at the corresponding location.

Now we know how to control LEDs and the display. But there is one more thing the board offers – buttons. Reading what buttons are depressed works a little bit different from what we have seen so far. First we need to send the 0x42 command, then we set the data pin as an input pin. Finally we need to read 4 bytes from the board (bit by bit). The first byte contains status for buttons S1 (bit 1) and S5 (bit 4), the second byte contains status for buttons S2 (bit 2) and S6 (bit 5) and so on. If we | (i.e. logical `or`) all the bytes we will end up having a byte where each bit corresponds to one button – if a bit set to one means that the corresponding button is depressed. Here is a little program (I omitted the setup – it is identical as in the first sample) where the board will light an LED over a button that is pressed.

uint8_t readButtons(void)
{
  uint8_t buttons = 0;
  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0x42);

  pinMode(data, INPUT);

  for (uint8_t i = 0; i < 4; i++)
  {
    uint8_t v = shiftIn(data, clock, LSBFIRST) << i;
    buttons |= v;
  }

  pinMode(data, OUTPUT);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);
  return buttons;
}

void setLed(uint8_t value, uint8_t position)
{
  pinMode(data, OUTPUT);

  sendCommand(0x44);
  digitalWrite(strobe, LOW);
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, 0xC1 + (position << 1));
  shiftOut(data, clock, LSBFIRST, value);
  digitalWrite(strobe, HIGH);
}

void loop()
{
  uint8_t buttons = readButtons();

  for(uint8_t position = 0; position < 8; position++)
  {
    uint8_t mask = 0x1 << position;

    setLed(buttons & mask ? 1 : 0, position);
  }
}

Again, you can find the entire example in my github repo.

These are the basic building blocks and you use them to build something more useful. Here is a video of a little demo project I built:

The code for this demo is also on github.

Enjoy.