Introduction: RGB Matrix Using NovaStar
For Halloween this year we decided to make a horse racing game. I wanted a huge display, and I have always been interested in playing with the Chinese RGB Matrix panels. In the past I played with programmable LEDs, but it is hard to get much resolution with LED Strips.
I made a couple orders of 64x64 panels, and tried a variety of ways to hook them up. At first I was trying to use a raspberry pi, and the fabulous RPI RGB LED Matrix Library. This library works well for small numbers of panels. After looking at a bunch of solutions, I decided to try a dedicated solution from NovaStar. It really wasn't that expensive given the performance, and flexibility.
The NovaStar takes DVI as input, and outputs data on cat5 cabling. The cat5 cabling runs to receiver boards that can each handle a number of RGB Matrix panels. You can build up a big display by using multiple receiver boards, and hooking them together.
At first I purchased 4 panels to try things out, and then I placed another two orders for more panels. The second set of panels didn't have mounting screw holes that matched the first set. I would recommend that you order a bunch of panels in one order, as well as get some extras. Sometimes there is a bad pixel - the vendor I used replaced the bad panels. When I went to install my screen I made the mistake of not protecting the corners, and I popped off some of the LEDs.
Step 1: Designing the Screen
I decided that I wanted a long and narrow screen, so I assembled 8 panels x 2 panels high. This is a strange setup, so it required some custom ribbon cables to be made to attach the panels.
Make sure to order enough panels, and some spares at one time. Different batches had different mounting holes. they can also have different color profiles.
Step 2: Ordering the Parts
Step 3: Assembling the Panels
Step 4: Wiring the Panels
The setup uses one sender box. Use a cat5 cable to connect the first receiver card. Daisy chain the second receiver card to the first one using another cat5 cable.
The panels are wired using a ribbon cable from the first output of the receiver cad to the right most panel, then daisy chained from the top panel to the bottom panel. Repeat this with 8 panels on each receiver card.
We used two power supplies. Half the panels were wired to each power supply with a terminal strip used to connect the cables. The panels came with the correct connectors to plug into the back of each power connector on the panel.
We also created custom ribbon cables that were the right length. We used 16P 1.27mm IDC Flat Ribbon Cable, 16 Wire, 16 Conductors for 2.54mm Connectors ribbon cable. We ordered 2X8 16P 2.54mm Dual Rows IDC Sockets for Flat Ribbon Cable, 16 Pins FC Female Connector ends. We used a Crimp Tool For Flat Ribbon Cable And IDC Connectors to crimp it together.
Step 5: Configuring the Receiver Card and Sender
Use the windows version of the configuration software to configure the receiver cards first. They need to be setup for 256x128 pixels (4x2 panels). After each receiver card is configured make sure hit the save button. Otherwise they will lose the configuration over power cycles. Once they are configured, configure the screen using the two boards, and put them next to each other. This should send the output of the DVI of your computer across the screens.