Review of Microchip Multimedia Expansion Board

Table of contents

RoadTest: Microchip Multimedia Expansion Board

Author: mindthomas

Creation date:

Evaluation Type: Evaluation Boards

Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True

What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?:

What were the biggest problems encountered?: It requires some time to find the sufficient examples, and unfortunately most of the examples are pre-compiled HEX-files, so it's impossible to change something in the demos. Though it's possible to find the same demos in the Microchip Application Library, it's difficult to get theese working together with the Multimedia Expansion Board.

Detailed Review:

Notice: The youtube video in here isn't shown correctly? I can't make spaces in the text - why?

 


In this review I will be demonstrating and reviewing the PIC32 Multimedia Expansion board. This is a expansion product from Microchip, which extends the capabilities of their PIC32 Starter Kits. In the end you will find my conclusion, whether you should buy this board or not.

 

 

In the following review, the Multimedia Expansion board will be called MEB board. To start with please watch my Video Review where some of the available demonstration applications are shown.

 

 

If you can't see the video here, please follow this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vf2dAW3Uc4

 

 

 

 

 

 

The board is nice looking and well-layout. There is minimal of components on the top/front of the board as the 3.2" color TFT (QVGA = 320x240) requires a lot of space.

But I like having a joystick for menu navigation, so you don't have to make everything using touch, so it is great that the MEB board has got one. Unfortunately I think it's bad that they didn't include any thumb stick to put on-top of the joystick pin, as it's more comfortable and easy to use if that was included.

 

 

 

 

The bottom of the board includes all different kind of periphirals, sensors and chips. The MEB board has got everything from Flash, EEProm, Accelerometer, WiFi, Sound and a big display, I think Microchip did a great job fitting all this into this pretty small and handy board.

I've got the PIC32 USB Starter Kit II, and it mounts perfectly fine on the board, which makes it an ideal development board.

 

 

 

 

The attaching of the PIC32 Starter Kit was very easy, as it just "snapped" right into place. A great thing is that the board can be screwn and hold into place so it doesn't "break" off/loose.

 

 

 

 

As you can see here the PIC32 Starter Kit fits perfectly into the MEB board, with the USB ports to the right. When turning it over you don't notice it is attached, and the board feets (in the corners) makes the board stand nice and firmly.

 

 

Though it could have been nice if Microchip had attached some rubber to the bottom of the feet, as the board moves around if it's used on smooth surfaces.

 

 

 

 

The MEB board extends the posibilities with the PIC32 Starter Kit to a totally new level, making it a lot easier, and funnier, to get started with the PIC32.

This isn't a PIC32 Starter Kit review, but with the PIC32 Starter Kit you can't do much without an extension board for the special connector.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The PIC32 Starter Kit only contains 3 LEDs and 3 buttons, so you can't do much. WIth this extension kit you have far more opportunities.

 

 

 

The software


Unfortunately it requires a lot of time to download the different demo applications, and most of them are prebuilt HEX files. This makes it difficult to get used to the enviroment, and to make your own projects, as the demo applications with included source code are limited.

 


I think Microchip should update their Application Library to include Project and Workspace files for the MEB board. The prebuild HEX files are just projects from the Application Library, but there isn't any Project and Workspace files to use with the PIC32 and MEB board.

 


I tried making one of the Graphics demonstrations in the Application Library to work with the MEB board - unfortunately I didn't succeed. Fx the "Graphics Multi Application Demo" (Graphics MultiApp Demo) the Icons was missing.

 

 

Actually I noticed that the MEB board is already integrated in the Application Library, and the included libraries are decided from the selected processor. Though again I hadn't much luck getting the icons in the "Graphics Multi Application Demo" showing up, though they are showing up fine if I program the prebuilt HEX file.

 

 

 

Anyways... Microchip did a very good job with the source code they provide. They are well written and well commented, so it is easy to understand what is happening, and to use it in your own projects. The Application Library almost include everything needed to get started with programming for the MEB board. Other examples for the MEB board can be downloaded in the bottom of the product page: http://www.microchip.com/stellent/idcplg?IdcService=SS_GET_PAGE&nodeId=2615&dDocName=en548037

 

 

With the MPLAB IDE and the debugger, on the PIC32 Starter Kit, everything from programming to testing/debugging goes smooth.

 

 

Conclusion


So my conclusion is that this is a great kit for people who wants to get started using the PIC32 microprocessor, which is a processor with a lot of speed and power. If you haven't worked with the PIC32 series before this expansion board is a "must have" if you are going to buy one of the PIC32 Starter Kits.

 

 

It requires some time to download the different specifications and examples, but when you get hold of that and the different examples, you are good to go.Then it's just a matter of time before you have made your own GUI interface with internet connection, accelerometer controlled menu navigation and voice controlled MP3 playback.

 

 

The possibilites are endless!

Anonymous
  • Yeah exactly - as you say, even though it doesn't include the latest versions, it does everything a lot easier to get started, because you don't have to download things first (like user manual etc.)

    But fair enough, as long as the files are easy to access, it doesn't bother me much.

     

    Thomas

  • Great review.  Yeah, I don't like the current trend - companies not including the software and source code with their development boards (forcing you to spend a lot of time finding and downloading files - just to get started).  I hope Microchip is not going that direction ... how much more expensive would it be to include a DVD (or two) of all the necessary files you need???  Even if the discs didn't include the most current versions, at least you could get 'started' much easier ....

  • Dear Microchip.
    Thank you for your response.
    First I want to say that my intention isn't to play a spoilsport. This product is indeed a very handsome and nice product, but as I was a beginner to your PIC32 series, it required some time to get used to the enviroment - which it always does when you have to learn a new enviroment.
    But I had some problems finding the proper source code for the prebuilt Graphics MultiApp Demo. When I found it, as I said, it didn't show me the icons.
    I still haven't figured out how to load the images into the external Flash though. I've read both the "Getting Started - Programming Memory on Graphics PICtail Daughter and Demo Boards.htm" and tried running the “Graphics External Memory Programmer and Demo”, but it didn't show up as a COM-port, as I had expected. So I think there is missing some documentation on exactly how to program the flash on the MEB board, as it is explained for both "PIC24FJ256DA210 Development Board" and "Explorer 16".
    But I love your demos - especially because they use a kind of RTOS, which makes everything more fluid. The great thing about Microchip is the sources they provide. It's not just quickly made, "oh we have to make some demonstrations", applications.
    It's well made and well documented applications, which makes it easy to get started.
    I'm sorry if you've felt that my review was making some bad points, and it might do so. But after having played even more with the board, I find it very easy to use - so maybe I should have waited a little longer, before writing the review.
    By the way, I am a software engineer, but I haven't worked with your PIC32 series before. For the most I'm using ARM-cored processors, so it's also 32-bit. Recently I've used STM32 and LPC17xx series, but in my decisions and selections, I also include the PIC32 for now.
    Please visit our website and blog for more information: http://www.tkjelectronics.dk
    Best Regards
    Thomas Jespersen

    Dear Microchip.

    Thank you for your response.

    First I want to say that my intention isn't to play a spoilsport. This product is indeed a very handsome and nice product, but as I was a beginner to your PIC32 series, it required some time to get used to the enviroment - which it always does when you have to learn a new enviroment.

    But I had some problems finding the proper source code for the prebuilt Graphics MultiApp Demo. When I found it, as I said, it didn't show me the icons.

    I still haven't figured out how to load the images into the external Flash though. I've read both the "Getting Started - Programming Memory on Graphics PICtail Daughter and Demo Boards.htm" and tried running the “Graphics External Memory Programmer and Demo”, but it didn't show up as a COM-port, as I had expected. So I think there is missing some documentation on exactly how to program the flash on the MEB board, as it is explained for both "PIC24FJ256DA210 Development Board" and "Explorer 16".

     

    But I love your demos - especially because they use a kind of RTOS, which makes everything more fluid. The great thing about Microchip is the sources they provide. It's not just quickly made, "oh we have to make some demonstrations", applications.

    It's well made and well documented applications, which makes it easy to get started.

    I'm sorry if you've felt that my review was making some bad points, and it might do so. But after having played even more with the board, I find it very easy to use - so maybe I should have waited a little longer, before writing the review.

     

    By the way, I am a software engineer, but I haven't worked with your PIC32 series before. For the most I'm using ARM-cored processors, so it's also 32-bit. Recently I've used STM32 and LPC17xx series, but in my decisions and selections, I also include the PIC32 for now.

    Please visit our website and blog for more information: http://www.tkjelectronics.dk

     

    Best Regards

    Thomas Jespersen

  • Dear Microchip.

    Thank you for your response.

    First I want to say that my intention isn't to play a spoilsport. This product is indeed a very handsome and nice product, but as I was a beginner to your PIC32 series, it required some time to get used to the enviroment - which it always does when you have to learn a new enviroment.

    But I had some problems finding the proper source code for the prebuilt Graphics MultiApp Demo. When I found it, as I said, it didn't show me the icons.

    I still haven't figured out how to load the images into the external Flash though. I've read both the "Getting Started - Programming Memory on Graphics PICtail Daughter and Demo Boards.htm" and tried running the “Graphics External Memory Programmer and Demo”, but it didn't show up as a COM-port, as I had expected. So I think there is missing some documentation on exactly how to program the flash on the MEB board, as it is explained for both "PIC24FJ256DA210 Development Board" and "Explorer 16".

     

    But I love your demos - especially because they use a kind of RTOS, which makes everything more fluid. The great thing about Microchip is the sources they provide. It's not just quickly made, "oh we have to make some demonstrations", applications.

    It's well made and well documented applications, which makes it easy to get started.

    I'm sorry if you've felt that my review was making some bad points, and it might do so. But after having played even more with the board, I find it very easy to use - so maybe I should have waited a little longer, before writing the review.

     

    By the way, I am a software engineer, but I haven't worked with your PIC32 series before. For the most I'm using ARM-cored processors, so it's also 32-bit. Recently I've used STM32 and LPC17xx series, but in my decisions and selections, I also include the PIC32 for now.

    Please visit our website and blog for more information: http://www.tkjelectronics.dk

     

    Best Regards

    Thomas Jespersen

  • Hi,

     

    I would like to correct some points in above review :

    ===================================================================================================

    • What were the biggest problems encountered?: It requires  some time to find the sufficient examples, and unfortunately most of the  examples are pre-compiled HEX-files, so it's impossible to change  something in the demos. Though it's possible to find the same demos in  the Microchip Application Library, it's difficult to get theese working  together with the Multimedia Expansion Board.

    ===================================================================================================

    It is ALWAYS possible to get ALL the source code of the precompiled demos by downloading Microchip Application Libraries


    In the box containing the each Microchip demoboard it is mentioned that Microchip website should be consulted to get updated SW demonstration code.

    Precompiled code is always supplied to fasten the process of using demo SW (no need to compile project).

     

    ==================================================================================================

    The software

    Unfortunately it requires a lot of time to download the different  demo applications, and most of them are prebuilt HEX files.

    ===================================================================================================

    Yes it does require time to download because you have the SOURCE CODE more than 100 various projects for many Microchip demoboards. If there only were HEX files it would be very small

     

    ====================================================================================================

    This makes  it difficult to get used to the enviroment, and to make  your own  projects, as the demo applications with included source code  are  limited.

    ====================================================================================================

    The available MEB projects are quite sophisticated (some use FreeRTOS + software stacks on top like USB, FAT, MP3 decoding,graphics libraries. This platform is aimed to give an advance platform with high level building blocks to experienced SW engineers who are looking for advanced application.

     

    ====================================================================================================

    I think Microchip should update their Application Library to  include Project and Workspace files for the MEB board.

    ====================================================================================================

    The Application libraries (MAL) DO include several projects and there are also application notes for this board

     

     

    ====================================================================================================

    I tried making one of the Graphics demonstrations in the  Application Library to work with the MEB board - unfortunately I didn't  succeed. Fx the "Graphics Multi Application Demo" (Graphics MultiApp  Demo) the Icons was missing.

    ====================================================================================================

    In this project, one document DOES describes clearly the process to download the icons on the board.

     

    To make the best of this board :

    • Make sure to download the latest Microchip Applications libraries ( MAL ) which contains several projects for this platform. This libraries are updated 2 or 3 times per year and add new projects
    • Look also in application notes to find additional projects
    • By using the PIC32 ethernet starter kit together with the MEB board rather than the PIC32 USB starter kit, additional projects can be found like the Googlemaps application

     

    A new pictail board called the M2M board (GPS, GPRS and GSM) will be shortly available (Q2 or Q3, CY2011) and will enable geolocalisation applications

     

    Regards

  • Very good review.

    I had been eyeing the PIC32 as a possible component for a project I am working on and you have provided some useful feedback on the chip and the expansion board.

    Have you gotten any data on current draw, data rates, refresh rates or any operational data yet?

    It would be nice if you or one of the other testers could get some parametric verification for this kit.  I never trust company specifications, I am not saying they lie, but some of them forget to mention some little things during the marketing effort.

    Thanks

    DAB