Text on TV


This article describes the design behind the TellyMate project. TellyMate is a 'terminal display' device that takes serial data and outputs text to a TV screen. We've (primarily) designed it to perform as a display/debug device for other electronics projects. In that respect it performs a similar function to a 'LCD + serial backpack' that we use, but with more characters.

The aim is to keep the hardware as simple as possible - an AVRMega8 and a 16Mhz crystal.
The software should allow the display to be controlled via simple control codes.
The output signal shouldn't be interrupted in any way whilst receiving or processing input.

Generation of video signals from AVRs is not new. Even colour video is not unheard of. Others have managed to coax some truly astonishing results from AVRs (of particlar note is the craft demo). It is not, however, particularly simple to do - the following (often conflicting) constraints apply:

In short, a perfect project for us: Cheap and challenging but previously proven possible.

Note: There is no attempt to explain video signals or VT52 commands in this article. There are already plenty of resources around that cover these. This article is intended to explain the design of the device.

[ This article originally covered the initial (PAL only) design of the TellyMate. Since then, the software has been modified slightly to allow it to output NTSC signals. Any changes to the initial design are covered by comments like this in the article. ]