RoadTest: Microchip Multimedia Expansion Board
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 was really hard to find documentation and examples for beginners.
You just slot your PIC processor straight in
Great graphics and networking libraries
The IDE is pretty good once you get the hang of it.
Bad documentation with errors
Really hard to find samples and documentation
Not for high speed graphics
When I first opened up the box to my Microchip Multimedia Expansion Board (MEB) I immediately noticed the logical layout of all the components. It can sit in your hands with the joystick and fire button positioned under your thumb just like a gaming console. It great just to be able to plug my PIC32MX starter board straight in and not have it sticking out on right angle or hanging off the bottom.
I immediately plugged the board into my computer after installing the IDE it came with in the box and started playing with it. I was completely lost to begin with, the IDE layout is a bit archaic and I couldn’t work out how to select the debugger. I worked out in a short while that you shouldn’t select a debugger, instead you select PIC32MX Starter Kit from the tools menu. With that out of the way I read over the user manual and decided to get started.
First I had to hunt for samples just to get the initialization code for the PIC32MX, and I had to hunt through a pile of folders in the IDE’s program directory to find a simple port I/O example to get the initialization code. After I found that code I played around with flashing a few lights and decided to move onto the ‘pièce de résistance’ of the board, the graphics.
OK this is where I wasted a lot of time searching for the graphics examples. The Microchip website gives you some demos but they are all pre-compiled hex files. I spent ages running around in circles until I worked out that the ‘Microchip Graphics Library’ which is linked to ambiguously from the MEB page is for all the different graphics solutions they offer. This is good in that it provides a single layer to interface with multiple devices, and is a great solution but the MEB documentation just needs a simple explanation about these things.
After I got the graphics working I created a rudimentary event driven operating system to simplify all the peripherals under a layer. This is when I created a simple game with a moving sprite to test out the graphics capabilities. I didn’t have much trouble now that I had examples to work off. I had a few issues with the user manual for the board having mislabelled CN pin numbers for the joystick. I was disappointed with the speed of the graphics interface, considering the blazing fast speed of the PIC32 processor, it limited the rate that pixels could be updated and really prevented the creation of any real time game. It is perfectly fine for a control panel interface for process control or similar but it doesn’t quite live up to its multimedia name. There is a library for the wireless and TCP/IP features but I couldn’t find any library to drive the resistive touch screen, the audio, the accelerometer or the flash chip. Knowing my previous experience with this board I would assume they have really good libraries for these features, but they are just buried away somewhere. It is good that they provide a guide for MP3 playback though.
When I work out how to program these peripherals without libraries I’ll update my review, but I have a really busy schedule at the moment.
All in all it is a great little board. My review sounds negative but that is just the frustration at the documentation coming through. I would highly recommend this board to someone who wants to play with a plethora of features to see what they could create. I just would not recommend this board to beginners, and people who want to create high frame rate full motion videos and graphics.