Displays Fit Diverse Embedded System Needs

Many Sizes and Solutions

The types of displays available for embedded applications are as diverse as embedded applications themselves. Whether your requirement is for small, smart, rugged or rain-proof, there’s probably a display solution that suits your system design needs.

By Jeff Child, Editor-in-Chief

Long gone are the days when the Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) market was filled with many semiconductor vendors jockeying for position. A combination of chip integration: graphics function moving inside microprocessors—and business consolidation: graphics chip vendors getting acquired, has narrowed the technology space down to mostly Intel, AMD and NVIDIA. And while these vendors tailor their products for high-volume markets, embedded applications must adapt those same GPUs to their needs.

With that in mind, makers of displays for embedded applications are constantly evolving their products to keep pace with the latest GPU technologies and both new and legacy display interface standards. Technologies range from small e-paper displays to rugged sunlight readable displays for the outdoors to complete Panel PC solutions that embed PC functionality as part of the display.

Mobile Dominates GPU Market

Although this article is focused on displays in embedded systems, it’s helpful to first understand the larger markets that are driving GPU technology. For its part, Jon Peddie Research (JPR), a market research and consulting firm focused on graphics and multimedia saw mobile devices as the dominate market when they did their annual review of GPU developments for 2017. In spite of the slow decline of the PC market overall, PC-based GPU sales (which include workstations) have been increasing, according to the review. In the mobile market, integrated GPUs have risen at the same rate as mobile devices and the SoCs in them. The same is true for the console market where integrated graphics are in every console and they too have increased in sales over the year.

Nearly 28% of the world’s population bought a GPU device in 2017, and that’s in addition to the systems already in use. And yet, probably less than half of them even know what the term GPU stands for, or what it does. To them the technology is invisible, and that means it’s working—they don’t have to know about it.

The market for, and use of, GPUs stretches from supercomputers and medical devices to gaming machines, mobile devices, automobiles and wearables. Just about everyone in the industrialized world has at least a half-dozen products with a GPU, and technophiles can easily count a dozen or more. The manufacturing of GPUs approaches science fiction with features that will move below 10 nm next year and have a glide-path to 3 nm—and some think even 1 nm.

Innovative Adaptations

Throughout 2017 JPR saw a few new, and some clever adaptations of GPUs that show the path for future developments and subsequent applications. 2017 was an amazing year for GPU development driven by games, eSports, AI, crypto currency mining and simulations. Autonomous vehicles started to become a reality, as did augmented reality. The over-hyped, consumer-based PC VR market explosion didn’t happen—and had little to no impact on GPU developments or sales. Most of the participants in VR already had a high-end system and the head-mounted display (HMD) was just another display to them.

Mobile GPUs, exemplified by products from Qualcomm, ARM and Imagination Technologies, are key to amazing devices with long battery life and screens at or approaching 4K. And in 2017 people started talking about and showing High dynamic range (HDR). JPR’s review says that many, if not all, the developments we will see in 2018 were started as early as 2015, and that three to four-year lead time will continue.

Lead times could get longer as semiconductor engineers learn how to deal with chips constructed with billions of transistors manufactured at feature sizes smaller than X-rays. Ironically, buying cycles are also accelerating ensuring strong competition as players try to leap-frog each other in innovation. According to JPR, we’ll see considerable innovation in 2018, with AI being the leading application that will permeate every sector of our lives. The JPR GPU Developments in 2017 Report is free to all subscribers of JPR. Individual copies of the report can be purchased for $100.

Photo 1.
The Internet of Displays is a range of miniature displays that offer small color displays with integrated Wi-Fi and a microSD/HDC slot.

Internet of Displays

Focusing on the small side of the display spectrum, in November 4D Systems announced the latest addition to its Internet-of-Display module family with its smallest LCD display yet. At 0.9-inch and powered by the Wi-Fi enabled ESP8266, it is well suited for miniature IoT projects. The Internet of Displays is the company’s range of miniature feature rich displays that offer small color displays with integrated Wi-Fi and a microSD/HDC slot (Photo 1). …

Read the full article in the April 333 issue of Circuit Cellar

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Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Analyst 2017 Review: Mobile Devices Dominated GPU Market

Jon Peddie Research (JPR), a market research and consulting firm focused on graphics and multimedia offers its annual review of GPU developments for 2017. In spite of the slow decline of the PC market overall, PC-based GPU sales, which include workstations, have been increasing, according to the review. In the mobile market, integrated GPUs have risen at the same rate as mobile devices and the SoCs in them. The same is true for the console market where integrated graphics are in every console and they too have increased in sales over the year.

Nearly 28% of the world’s population bought a GPU device in 2017, and that’s in addition to the systems already in use. And yet, probably less than half of them even know what the term GPU stands for, or what it does. To them the technology is invisible, and that means it’s working—they don’t have to know about it.

The market for, and use of, GPUs stretches from supercomputers and medical devices to gaming machines, mobile devices, automobiles, and wearables. Just about everyone in the industrialized world has at least a half dozen products with one a GPU, and technophiles can easily count a dozen or more. The manufacturing of GPUs approaches science fiction with features that will move below 10 nm next year and have a glide-path to 3 nm, and some think even 1 nm—Moore’s law is far from dead, but is getting trickier to coax out of the genie’s bottle as we drive into subatomic realms that can only be modeled and not seen.

Over the past 12 months JPR has a seen a few new, and some clever adaptations of GPUs that show the path for future developments and subsequent applications. 2017 was an amazing year for GPU development driven by games, eSports, AI, crypto currency mining, and simulations. Autonomous vehicles started to become a reality, as did augmented reality. The over-hyped consumer-based PC VR market explosion didn’t happen, and had little to no impact on GPU developments or sales. Most of the participants in VR already had a high-end system and the HMD was just another display to them.

Mobile GPUs, exemplified by products from Qualcomm, ARM and Imagination Technologies are key to amazing devices with long battery life, screens at or approaching 4K, and in 2017 people started talking about and showing HDR.

JPR’s review says that many, if not all, the developments we will see in 2018 were started as early as 2015, and that three to four-year lead time will continue. Lead times could get longer as we learn how to deal with chips constructed with billions of transistor manufactured at feature sizes smaller than X-rays. Ironically, buying cycles are also accelerating ensuring strong competition as players try to leap-frog each other in innovation. According to JPR, we’ll see considerable innovation in 2018, with AI being the leading application that will permeate every sector of our lives.

The JPR GPU Developments in 2017 Report is free to all subscribers of JPR. Individual copies of the report can be purchased for $100.

Jon Peddie Research | www.jonpeddie.com

Designing High Performance GUIs

329 Brumby Lead Image for Web

UIs for the Multicore Era

For embedded developers, it’s critical to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter and the performance metrics relevant to user
interface (UI) design. Phil examines these and other important UI design challenges.

By Phil Brumby
Mentor, Embedded Systems Division

The widespread proliferation of portable media devices has changed the way we interact with each other on a daily basis. In fact, there is now a generation of users who grew up with some type of touchscreen device. These users no longer see the UI as new or revolutionary, but rather as a standard piece of mobile device functionality. This phenomenon has created a new set of expectations. It means any device with an LCD must offer a fluid and intuitive user experience. It’s also expected that the touchscreen has to be “smartphone-like” whenever the device is powered on. Embedded system developers are now under pressure across multiple markets and device types to replicate the smartphone UI interactive experience.

The importance of getting the UI right is absolutely critical to the success of the device. Underpinning documented UI design methodologies is a need for the device to operate in a way that it will not impinge or be detrimental to the user experience. For developers, it’s necessary to understand the types of performance problems a typical end-user might encounter, and through an understanding of performance metrics employ various analyses to highlight the bottlenecks and performance degradation issues.

A key advantage to system start-up is analyzing selected input events.

A key advantage to system start-up is
analyzing selected input events.

TYPICAL PERFORMANCE ISSUES

To understand how to best analyze performance, it’s important to look at typical performance issues from the end-user’s perspective. In identifying these issues, developers can begin to identify the first data points or metrics needed for feedback on system performance.

Responsiveness: Responsiveness can be thought of as the time it takes for the user to receive feedback from the UI as a result of an input action made. Typically, this consists of a touchscreen input, but also includes hard key presses. Responsiveness is important as the user must feel the device performs within a certain timeframe to avoid the feeling a UI is “laggy” or slow to respond. Delays in updating the UI in response to input can result in frustration and mistakes made by the user.

Animation smoothness: Animation smoothness relates to the visible motion or change in appearance of elements displayed within the UI. As an element transitions from one point in 3D space to another, does it do so in a smooth manner that is pleasing to the eye? Animation smoothness is important because if the user perceives jagged or staggered motion in a transition, it will degrade the overall interactive experience.   …

Read the full article in the December 329 issue of Circuit Cellar

Don’t miss out on upcoming issues of Circuit Cellar. Subscribe today!
Note: We’ve made the October 2017 issue of Circuit Cellar available as a free sample issue. In it, you’ll find a rich variety of the kinds of articles and information that exemplify a typical issue of the current magazine.

Buck Converter Extends Battery Life of USB Type-C Gear

Maxim Integrated Products has announced the MAX77756, a 24 V, 500 mA, low quiescent current (IQ) buck converter. The product targets developers of multi-cell, USB Type-C products in need high current, dual inputs and I2C support. USB Type-C products must generate an always-on 3.3 V rail to detect USB insertions. Products utilizing the Power Delivery (PD) voltage range (5 V to 20 V) can generate an always-on (1.8 V /3.3 V /5.0 V) digital supply MAX77756_EVKit_imagerail for the port controller using the MAX77756 step-down converter. In addition, the MAX77756 has a 2 0 μA quiescent current that extends battery life by reducing idle power consumption. To simplify the system design, the MAX77756 has a dual input ideal diode ORing circuit that allows the chip to power from the external USB source if the battery is empty.

Multi-cell battery-operated devices—such as ultrabooks, laptops, tablets, drones and home automation appliances—can easily evolve to Type-C with PD using the flexible MAX77756 power supply. The MAX77756 has a unique combination of wide input voltage range, low quiescent current, higher current load, dual input, and I2C for flexibility and programmability. There is also a default power mode if customers do not want to use the I2C bus. The MAX77756 is a robust IC with short-circuit and thermal protection, 8ms internal soft-start to minimize inrush current, proven current-mode control architecture, and up to 26V input voltage standoff.

Key Advantages

  • Low quiescent current: 1.5 μA Buck and 20 μA MUX for always-on operation
  • High efficiency: Up to 92% with integrated power MUX
  • Small solution size: 2.33mm x 1.42mm 15-bump WLP; no external Schottky array needed
  • Wide input voltage: Operates on full VBUS range (5 V – 20 V) and VBATT (2S, 3S, 4S Li+)

MAX77756 is available from stock and priced at $0.65 (10,000+)..An evaluation board MAX77756EVKIT# (see photo) is available from stock and priced at $70

Maxim Integrated Products | www.maximintegrated.com