Video on the JackAl system

Jack W8TEE and Al AC8GY have been working on a display replacement for the µBITX for quite some time. They now have a preview video that gives an overview of the JackAl system.

There are some software hiccups in the preview that should be fixed soon. We just sent Rev 4.0 of the JackAl board off to the PCB fabricator.  They hope that this will be the final version of the board. All SMD’s will be included on the board.

JackAl makes use of either 5″ or 7″ 800×480 displays (US$34-$44) using the Teensy 3.6 microcontroller (US$30) and its companion audio board (US$14) for the DSP.

The Teensy has 1Mb of flash memory and 256K of SRAM, or which they are using less than 20% and 15%, respectively.  Jack and Al have also brought out a dozen “empty” pins for experimentation, so along with the I/O pins, there plenty of resources left to play with.

Pay particular attention to the ALS Tuning it uses. It really makes it so much easier to zero in on a station. Details are all in the video.

https://vimeo.com/290318066

W0EB TSW release forthcoming for 5″ touch screen

W0EB’s uBITX is built with a 5″ RA8875 type Color TFT display connected to a BITeensio Card.  This gives an “uncluttered” display.

This version of the BITeensio TSW firmware is almost ready for release.  It is just awaiting completion of the accompanying instruction manuals  and the arrival of a small  adapter board for connection to the display.  The adapter boards will be supplied in the BITeensio kits upon request.

This display, like the previous 2.8″ Colour touch panel display and the 4 Line I2C display (2004) are capable of utilising an optional external USB Keyboard for rig control and CW. The W2CTX RCP (Remote Control Program) works with this as well.

For information and updates see the TSW website.

Biteensio with LCD touch screen coming

Jim W0EB is working on a 2.8″ touch panel for the triumverate’s BITeensio.  That will make four different alternative touch screen options for constructors:  VU2SPF Mega2560 attached 2,4″ LCD (first up way back in January),  KD8CEC Nextion screen (in a range of sizes from 2.4″ to 7″) , BiTeensio 2.8″, and the long awaited JackAl (in 5″ and 7″ sizes).

Getting prepared for the JackAl

Some of you are waiting with baited breath for the JackAl Board, announced by Jack W8TEE.   You can get yourself geared up for the JackAl by pre-purchasing some of the kit required, as it is due to be released shortly.  You will need a colour touch display panel, a Teensy 3.6 processor and associated Teensy audio board.

Display panel

There are two display options for the JackAl board: 5″ or 7″.  Neither is likely to fit in your existing µBITx enclosure, so you may also want to purchase a new enclosure.

The panels can be purchased from BuyDisplay.com. Their order numbers are:

ER-TFTM050-3 (5″)
ER-TFTM070-5 (7″)

Both displays use the following options:

4-wire SPI interface
3.3V
Resistive touch
No font (the library is being used for fonts)

Both are 800×480 displays using the RA8875 chip. If you run the samples using a touch screen, make sure you run the Calibration sample program first.

Teensy 3.6 and audio board

The Teensy 3.6 and its associated audio board can be purchased from the manufacturer’s website or from other sources.

Reference

Dimming your Nextion display

Ian KD8CEC has been looking at power consumption on the Nextion display and how to effectively dim the screen for portable µBITx work, where you want low current drain.

The following picture show’s Ian’s display (2.8″ TJC Chinese version) at Full Power:

And the screen fed with a series 50 ohm resistor (1/2 watt rated or more):

The slightly dimmer display halves the current consumption from 89mA to 44mA with a series 50 ohm resistor (made up of two 100 ohm resistors in parallel (or 3 x 150 ohm resistors in parallel).  The Nextion screen has a built in software dimming function, and this can be adjusted in Ian’s Nextion display firmware.   However, the feature generates noise in the µBITx and is not recommended.

Resistor installation

Installing a series resistor (with a value between 20 ohms and 100 ohms) in the +5V power lead will cause the display to be dimmed, but function normally (except for use of the micro-SD card reader).  The resistor could be installed across a slide switch or toggle switch (with one pole shorted and the other going through the resistor) to allow for two settings (normal, dimmed).   This could be handy for night time or portable use.  The circuit diagram for this is as below:

For further details see Ian’s website.

Nextion Displays – Hints for loading display firmware

 

Michael VE3WMB brings us some hints when installing Nextion displays:

1) The Display wants the microSD card to be formatted as FAT32.   Make sure your microSD card is no larger than 32GB

The default in  Windows is to format cards > 32 GB as exFAT, which the Nextion will not accept. In fact Windows 10 probably won’t even let your reformat a card this big as FAT32.  (I am sure if you dig deep enough there might be a way to do this. I am not a Windows GURU).

Currently you only need a 2 GB card,  so if you need to buy one for this purpose try an 8GB card.  It is also worthwhile buyong a brand name card (like Sandisk).
Some no-name cards are slower than cold molasses to read from and write to.

2) If you have a problematic microSD card, when you power up the rig you might not see anything on the display, not even a backlight !  

I spent considerable time trying to solve what I thought was a wiring/power problem to the display when it was a bad SD card. When the I removed the card and power-cycled the rig the Nextion display came up fine with a demo program that was already loaded.  So my recommendation is for the initial power up of the display don’t insert the SD card. That way you can be sure that you have it wired up ok before you start messing with SD cards.

3) Beware, ground and +5V connections on the Raduino going to the Nextion Display are adjacent to each other. 
I recommend that you check and recheck your wiring several times before applying power.  It is very easy to accidentally swap these and you won’t be happy if you do.  As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. One group member has already found this out the hard way.

Mark AA7TA adds:

4) Duplicate .tft files (including hidden files) will cause grief on the Nextion

You may get a message on the display that the load failed because there is more than one .tft file on the SD card.  This can happen even when you look and you see only one file.

You need to be sure to enable viewing of hidden files in file explorer (Windows) or finder (on a Mac)… There’s probably one hiding there with the .tft suffix that you need to delete.  I don’t think either operating system will show hidden files by default. The same goes for Linux.

Mark notes that a 1G SD card is plenty big enough for the current tft file.

Keven adds, “Linux doesn’t show hidden files by default.  But you can see them by typing:

ls -al

in a terminal window when you’re in the directory you want to examine.  To hide a file, rename it with a dot (‘.’) as the first character.”

Mike ZL1AXG adds:

5) Make sure you install the screen the right way around

Power up the display before you start making holes and check the orientation of the display and that the screen is functioning correctly.   As with the 16×2 display, it is possible to install the display upside down by mistake!  Given it is not symmetric (there is a wider bar to the right hand side of the display) care is needed!  The inner silver line on the screen defines the touch sensitive boundary.  Cut your hole so that the screen fits so the line is just visible around the outside edge.

Dimensions of Nextion displays can be found for this zone on the itead website. Click on your display and near the bottom of the page you will find a link to the screen dimensions.

6) For most people the 3.2″ screen or larger will be best

A 3.2″ screen is only just big enough to feel comfortable for us fat-fingered chaps.   It is also just wider enough to reuse the width of the 16×2 screen.  Smaller screens inserted in the space where the 16×2 screen currently lives will require an additional aluminium or plastic plate to be added to the front panel to cover the existing width of the 16×2 screen.

Reference

New graphic for uBITx.net

Some of you will have been sufficiently observant to notice that the graphic at the top of the www.ubitx.net webpage has been updated.  This is because Mike ZL1AXG has installed a Nextion 3.5″ touch screen on his own µBITx.    Careful work with a drill and file will yield satisfying results.

He also installed the latest pop fix from the v4 board (see the separate article).

Nextion Displays – Current draw

Lowell has tested current draw on a 2.4″ and a 3.2″ Nextion display following questions from constructors over the likelihood of cooking the existing 5V regulator.  With a supply voltage of 5.04 VDC, the 2.4″ display drew 125 ma. and the 3.2″ display drew 110 ma. Both  displays were at full brightness.   While the figures are slightly above those listed on manufacturer’s website, this suggests the 5V regulator should be fine.   If in doubt, add a heatsink!

Reference

KD8CEC releases CEC Beta firmware to support Nextion display

Ian Lee KD8CEC has released Beta firmware for the µBITx that supports Nextion colour touch screens .  He has also released matching files for installing firmware in the Nextion displays for 2.4″ and 2.8″ screen sizes.   No programming is required to use these displays.

The photo above shows the touch panel display.  Pressing on the screen will perform functions like changing band (up/down), changing frequency, adjusting the Attentuator (ATT), IF Shift and RIT, and going into Split mode.

See Ian’s webpage for details about downloading the various firmware options along with detailed instructions.

Buy your Nextion display now!

If this display looks like it is from a commercial rig, then you are wrong!  It is  the Nextion display mounted on a µBITx!

Ian KD8CEC will shortly release his newest enhancement to CEC firmware.  His latest modification to the CEC firmware supports Nextion screens. This was foreshadowed recently on the BITX20 list.


THIS WILL BE THE MOST AMAZING ENHANCEMENT YET FOR UBITX!

If you want further proof, check out Ian’s recently prepared youtube video of the Nextion screen in operation.  His release is imminent.

Get your order in for a Nextion display immediately, as they are likely to sell out when 6000 µBITx owners twig that they really do NEED a Nextion display.  [Note that ubitx.net has no relationship with ITEAD – who make the Nextion!]


Why Nextion?

There are some very good reasons why the Nextion display is the way to go:

  • Nextion screens make it quicker for developers to provide a user-friendly interface to their product:  a separate processor controls graphics on the screen, and a Windows WSYWIG emulator can be developed for free to whip up a User Interface for the Nextion display.   The processor in the Nextion has its own control language and coding that is similar to C++
  • Users can easily hack their own display’s look and feel, by plugging into a standardised protocol between the screen processor and main processor that are connected via a standard serial port.
  • Screens come in a variety of sizes from 2.4″ to 7″.  Resizing of images and buttons is all that is required to make firmware work on a different screen size. No coding is required.  Software required is simply the Nextion Windows software and a graphics programme (MS Paint is adequate).
  • The screens come in two varieties:  a BASIC model and an ENHANCED model.  The ENHANCED model has GPIO lines controlled by the display processor and a Real Time Clock (RTC).

Nextion display units cost more than other displays for a reason.  The independent processor removes most of the burden for screen manipulation from the main processor, and it is much quicker and easier to develop the user interface and to customise it for different sized screens and to add/subtract features.   Nextion displays also include a microSD card reader.  They run on +5v DC and include a serial port.   Note that the Enhanced Model contains a battery mount for the RTC, but does not include the battery (CR1220) itself.  This is not required until you want to use the RTC.

How easy will it be to use the Nextion Display?

It will be VERY EASY to add a Nextion display to your µBITx.  Watch the video!

No hardware modifications are required to your µBITx, but you will of course  need enough front panel space to install your colour touch display of choice.  You may even need a bigger case if you want to install the 7″ Nextion display!

You will also need to download two new files:

  1. an updated version of KD8CEC’s firmware, that incorporates the interfacing protocol to the Nextion for installation in your Raduino.
  2. an image file (firmware) for insertion in the Nextion display unit.

The downloaded firmware for the Nextion needs to match with your screen size.  There are two variants for each screen size:  a BASIC or ENHANCED version of the Nextion display unit (see the discussion on which version to buy below).

This firmware needs to be saved to a microSD card (a 2GB or larger card is required).  Insert the card in the Nextion display and in powering up the Nextion display will automatically load the firmware from the microSD card into the Nextion flash storage.   Remove the microSD card when the upload is complete.

Four wires connect the Nextion display to the Raduino.  Two lines are for power, and the other two are serial RX and TX that connect to standard IO ports on the µBITx that were used for the 16×2 standard display.

Reboot your µBITx and your Nextion display should be working!

What to look out for when buying a Nextion Display

There are two versions of the Nextion Display – one developed for the Chinese market and an English language version that supports the Nextion Windows development environment.  Make sure you don’t get the cheaper, but incompatible Chinese version.  Look out for “English Version” in the marketing blurb.  This won’t be an issue if you buy from the developer (ITEAD).

 I understand a downloadable hex file will be available that works the same as the English version, for those of us who purchased the wrong model in error!  Thanks to Ian, who did it blind (also not being able to read Chinese)!

Any size will work with the CEC firmware on the Raduino end.  However, Nextion firmware is specific to  either the BASIC or ENHANCED version of the screen and to the resolution of the screen.   That said, any version can be modified to work with any other screen size with just a little bit of work on the part of the user.   You can also fully customise your screen to meet your own requirements.  Change the colours, or change the entire look and feel.  No coding is required to do this, just cut and paste the code from the supplied CEC version for each tool.

Purchase the ENHANCED model of the Nextion (for a few more dollars) if you think you will use the GPIO or RTC features in future.  The RTC could be useful for digital modes that require precise timing, or for satellite work, etc.  Additional GPIO lines could solve one of the problems with the Raduino:  a lack of spare digital ports to support customised add-ons.  For example, if you want to add 160m and switch in an additional LPF, or  if you are worried about potential spurs, you will be able to pull in bandpass filters for the high bands. In these instances you may want to spend a little more to get the ENHANCED version.

If you don’t want to wait until firmware is available for your screen size, then purchase a 2.4″ or 2.8″ BASIC or ENHANCED Nextion Display now.   These two screens have the exact same resolution, and the default version of the Nextion Firmware from Ian KD8CEC will work on both screen sizes without modification.

If you already have a different sized screen, or want to buy a bigger screen, right from the outset, don’t panic.  You may need to make some adjustments to the firmware yourself.  This is not difficult – but involves resizing graphics and moving around objects to suit the larger screen area/resolution.  Some of us are working on modifications to the Nextion firmware to accommodate 3.2″ and 3.5″ screens. Firmware for these screens is likely to be available quickly.

Screen sizes and resolutions for the BASIC models available on ITEAD’s website are as follows:

The ENHANCED versions available from ITEAD are as follows:

Most of us will choose to buy our Nextion displays from Aliexpress or eBay.

They are available in all sizes and in either BASIC or ENHANCED versions.  It is unclear which are OEM versions and which are clones.  It probably doesn’t matter.

Look for highly rated suppliers and those with higher shipping volumes.  The biggest risks are that your screen arrives cracked, or simply never arrives.  You will need some form of redress when goods arrive in a damaged state or simply never arrive, and this is where the intermediaries in eBAY, Aliexpress or Paypal can assist.