What's better than a single LED? Lots of LEDs! A fun way to make a small display is to use an 8x8 matrix or a 4-digit 7-segment display. Matrices like these are 'multiplexed' - so to control 64 LEDs you need 16 pins. That's a lot of pins, and there are driver chips like the MAX7219 that can control a matrix for you but there's a lot of wiring to set up and they take up a ton of space. That's where these lovely LED matrix backpacks come in.
The matrices use a driver chip that does all the heavy lifting for you: They have a built in clock so they multiplex the display. They use constant-current drivers for ultra-bright, consistent color (the images above are photographed at the dimmest setting to avoid overloading our camera!), 1/16 step display dimming, all via a simple I2C interface. The backpacks come with three address-selection jumpers so you can connect up to four mini 8x8's or eight 7-segments together (or a combination, such as four mini 8x8's and four 7-segments, etc) on a single I2C bus.
The product kit comes with:
- A fully tested and assembled LED backpack
- Ultra-bright 4-digit 0.56" tall red seven-segment display
- 4-pin header
A bit of soldering is required to attach the matrix onto the backpack but its very easy to do and only takes about 5 minutes.
Adafruit has also created a detailed tutorial showing you how to solder, wire and control the display. They even wrote a very nice library for the backpacks so you can get running in under half an hour, displaying images on the matrix or numbers on the 7-segment. If you've been eying matrix displays but hesitated because of the complexity, this is the solution you've been looking for!
- This board/chip uses I2C 7-bit addresses between 0x70-0x77, selectable with jumpers.