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Date: 30-12-16

Embedded Systems Course- module 17: Basics of LCD and it's Interface to a microcontroller

Basics of LCD and it's Interface to a microcontroller:

Introduction to LCD:

Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) consists of rod-shaped tiny molecules sandwiched between a flat piece of glass and an opaque substrate. These rod-shaped molecules in between the plates align into two different physical positions based on the electric charge applied to them. When electric charge is applied they align to block the light entering through them, where as when no-charge is applied they become transparent.

Light passing through makes the desired images appear. This is the basic concept behind LCD displays.  

LCDs are most commonly used because of their advantages over other display technologies. They are thin and flat and consume very small amount of power compared to LED displays and cathode ray tubes (CRTs).


LCD Technologies and types:

Some of the LCD technologies are,

Blue Mode STN - This is the basic LCD, which needs lot of improvement on contrast ratio and viewing angle.

FSTN (Film STN) - Comes with an additional linearization film to offer better contrast.
CSTN (colour STN) - Layers of color filters are added to create up to 65,000 colors.
DSTN (Double STN) - Improves contrast and eliminates any other colors appearing on the screen.


Types based on displayed data:

1. Segment LCD: Displays numbers, letters and fixed symbols and were used in old style industrial panel display and such standard where we need to display fixed number of characters.

2. Graphical LCD: Instead of segments it has pixels in rows and columns. By energizing set of pixels any character can be displayed.

3. Color LCD displays: Are of type passive matrix and Thin film transistor/ active matrix.

Two types of color displays:

Passive Matrix

· Row & Column approach
· Apply small bias to perpendicular lines of electrodes
· Bias strong enough to darken bit at line intersection
· Multiplexed addressing scheme

Advantages: Simple to implement

Disadvantages: Can cause distortion

Active Matrix

· Each cell has its own thin-film transistor (TFT)
· Addressed independently from behind LCD
· Direct addressing scheme

Advantages: Sharp display, better viewing angle, 40:1 contrast

Disadvantages: Need better backlight, complex hardware

Recent passive-matrix displays using new CSTN and DSTN technologies produce sharp colors rivaling active-matrix displays.


LCD Module Backlighting:

LCDs unlike LEDS do not produce light, they need some external light source to view. So most the latest LCD screens used in notebook computers use a light source. They use CFT or EL Panel or in recent times white LED as source of light fixed in the background of LCD.

LED lamp is a better choice over CFT and EL due to its ability to offer variety of colors, intensity, long life (>100K Hrs), wide temperature range, and low voltage operation.

Electroluminescent/EL Panel: The EL backlight consumes less power but require high voltage (120VAC @ 400Hz Typically). EL panel is also not long lasting and is sensitive to wider operating temperature range.
Cold Cathode Florescent Lamp: This backlight is most popular and is suitable for large sized LCD displays. CFT has same drawbacks of EL panel i.e. short life span and limited temperature range, and need high voltage to operate (>300VAC @ 30-80KHz) and is also prone to vibrations.



Different viewing modes:

Reflective: In the reflective mode LCDs use ambient light to illuminate the display making them more suitable for outdoor use.

Transmissive: Transmissive mode will depend on internal backlight and is only viewable in indoors.
Transflective: Transflective mode LCDs employ both Reflective and Transmissive types and switch based on the availability of ambient light.

Special characteristics of LCDs:

Liquid Crystals are very sensitive to constant electric fields. Only AC-voltages should be applied as DC voltages can cause an electrochemical reaction, which destroys the liquid crystals irreversibly.

Temperature dependent and in a very cold or hot environment LCD may not work correctly. This is a reversible effect. Some displays need temperature compensation circuits to automatically adjust the applied LC voltage.

Key specifications of LCD display:

Important factors to consider when evaluating an LCD monitor:

1. Resolution: The horizontal and vertical size measured by number of pixels (e.g., 1024x768).
2. Dot pitch: The distance between the centers of two adjacent pixels. Smaller dot pitch indicate sharper      image.
3. Viewable size: The diagonal size of the LCD display panel
4. Response time: The minimum time LCD takes to change a pixel's color or brightness.
5. Refresh rate: The rate at which the data is loaded in the monitor measured with the unit of number of      times per second. Higher the refresh rate lesser is the flickering.
6. Matrix type: Active TFT or Passive.
7. Viewing angle: The angle from which the user can view the image on the display clearly.
8. Color support: The types and number of colors supported by the LCD (known as color gamut).
9. Brightness: The amount of light emitted from the display (known as luminance).
10. Contrast ratio: The ratio of the intensity of the brightest bright to the darkest dark.
11. Aspect ratio: The ratio of the width to the height (for example, 4:3, 5:4, 16:9 or 16:10).
12. Gamma correction: It is the name of a nonlinear operation used to code and decode luminance or        tristimulus values in video or still image systems



Advantages of LCDs:
· Consumes less power and generates less heat.
· Saves lot of space compared picture tubes due to LCD's flatness.
· Due to less weight and flatness LCDs are highly portable.
· No flicker and less screen glare in LCDs to reduce eyestrain.


The disadvantages of LCD displays are,

· LCDs cannot form multiple resolution images.
· The contrast ratio for LCD images is lesser than CRT and plasma displays.
· Due to their longer response time, LCDs show ghost images and mixing when images change   rapidly.
· The narrow viewing angle of an LCD weakens the image quality in wider viewing angles.

Further links to learn LCD operation and basics

http://www.dragonlcd.com/Technical_Info.htm (Nice pictorial presentation)


LCD interfacing:

LCD are connected to microcontroller through a LCD interface IC or directly to it's address and databus and few control pins, Few of the today's latest microcontrollers have built-in LCD driver.
Also some of the LCDs support serial interface.
Here are few nice articles on LCD interface from the internet and our own module, you can choose based on your interest from the below list of LCD interface articles.

LCD interface to ARM Cortex M0 based STM32F0 discovery embedded board: Here is exclusive module explaining both hardware connection (wiring) and sample program/code in C langauge to display alphnumerc text on a simple LCD display panel. The url is,

Parallel LCD Interfacing - 16 Character x 2 Line LCD

LCD interfacing with serial RS-232

LCD interfacing with FPGA

LCD interface to a 8051 MCU

EDE702 Serial LCD Interface IC

Character LCD interface code and general information

1. http://ouwehand.net/~peter/lcd/lcd0.shtml#hd44780b
2. http://www.alessioviti.com/lcdprojects/drivedisplay_ita.htm

Interfacing serial LCD interface to Microchip PIC microcontroller

For LCD datasheets follow the below URLs


Projects based on LCDs:


LCD design guide:


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