EE 371, Lab 3 Display Interface


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Lab Objectives
In this lab we will learn how to display images. We will use the DE1-SoC Computer’s video-out port to
display images on a VGA terminal.
Background Information
The DE1-SoC Computer includes a video-out port with a VGA controller that can be connected to a
standard VGA monitor. The VGA controller supports a screen resolution of 640 × 480. The image that is
displayed by the VGA controller is derived from two sources: a pixel buffer, and a character buffer. Only
the pixel buffer will be used in this exercise, hence we will not discuss the character buffer.
Pixel Buffer
The pixel buffer for the video-out port holds the data (color) for each pixel that is displayed by the VGA
controller. As illustrated in Figure 1, the pixel buffer provides an image resolution of 320 × 240 pixels,
with the coordinate 0,0 being at the top-left corner of the image. Since the VGA controller supports the
screen resolution of 640 ×480, each of the pixel values in the pixel buffer is replicated in both the x and y
dimensions when it is being displayed on the VGA screen.
0 1 2 3
. . . 319
Figure 1: Pixel buffer coordinates.
Figure 2a shows that each pixel color is represented as a 16-bit halfword, with five bits for the blue and red
components, and six bits for green. As depicted in part b of Figure 2, pixels are addressed in the pixel
buffer by using the combination of a base address and an x,y offset. In the DE1-SoC Computer the default
address of the pixel buffer is 0xC8000000, which corresponds to the starting address of the FPGA on-chip
memory. Using this scheme, the pixel at location 0,0 has the address 0xC8000000, the pixel 1,0 has the
address base + (00000000 000000001 0)2 = 0xC8000002, the pixel 0,1 has the address base
+ (00000001 000000000 0)2 = 0xC8000400, and the pixel at location 319,239 has the address base +
(11101111 100111111 0)2 = 0xC803BE7E. . . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
Figure 2: Pixel values and addresses.
You can create an image by writing color values into the pixel addresses as described above. A dedicated
pixel buffer controllerreadsthis pixel data from the memory and sendsit to the VGA display. The controller
reads the pixel data in sequential order, starting with the pixel data corresponding to the upper-left corner
of the VGA screen and proceeding to read the whole buffer until it reaches the data for the lower-right
corner. This process is then repeated, continuously. You can modify the pixel data at any time, by writing
to the pixel addresses. Writes to the pixel buffer are automatically interleaved in the hardware with the read
operations that are performed by the pixel buffer controller.
It is also possible to prepare a new image for the VGA display without changing the content of the pixel
buffer, by using the concept of double-buffering. In this scheme two pixel buffers are involved, called the
front and back buffers, as described below.
Double Buffering
As mentioned above, a pixel buffer controller reads data out of the pixel buffer so that it can be displayed
on the VGA screen. This pixel buffer controller includes a programming interface in the form of a set of
registers, as illustrated in Figure 3. The register at address 0xFF203020 is called the Buffer register, and
the register at address 0xFF203024 is the Backbuffer register. Each of these registers stores the starting
address of a pixel buffer. The Buffer register holds the address of the pixel buffer that is displayed on the
VGA screen. As mentioned above, in the default configuration of the DE1-SoC Computer this Buffer
register is set to the address 0xC8000000, which points to the start of the FPGA on-chip memory. The
default value of the Backbuffer register is also 0xC8000000, which means that there is only one pixel
buffer. But software can modify the address stored in the Backbuffer register, thereby creating a second
pixel buffer. An image can be drawn into this second buffer by writing to its pixel addresses. This image is
not displayed on the VGA monitor until a pixel buffer swap is performed, as explained below.
− −
A pixel buffer swap is caused by writing the value 1 to the Buffer register. This write operation does not
directly modify the content of the Buffer register, but instead causes the contents of the Buffer and
Backbuffer registers to be swapped. The swap operation does not happen right away; it occurs at the end
of a VGA screen-drawing cycle, after the last pixel in the bottom-right corner has been displayed. This time
instance is referred to as the vertical synchronization time, and occurs every 1/60 seconds. Software can
poll the value of the S bit in the Status register, at address 0xFF20302C, to see when the vertical
synchronization has happened. Writing the value 1 into the Buffer register causes S to be set to 1. Then,
when the swap of the Buffer and Backbuffer registers has been completed S is reset back to 0. The Status
register contains additional bits of information, shown in Figure 3, but these bits are not needed for this
exercise. Also, the programming interface includes a Resolution register, shown in the figure, that contains
the X and Y resolution of the pixel buffer(s).
Address 31 . . . 24 23 . . . 16 15 . . . 8 7 . . . 4 3 2 1 0
0xFF203020 front buffer address Buffer register
0xFF203024 back buffer address Backbuffer register
0xFF203028 Y X Resolution register
0xFF20302C m n Unused B Unused A S Status register
Figure 3: Pixel buffer controller registers.
In a typical application the pixel buffer controller is used as follows. While the image contained in the pixel
buffer that is pointed to by the Buffer register is being displayed, a new image is drawn into the pixel buffer
pointed to by the Backbuffer register. When this new image is ready to be displayed, a pixel buffer swap is
performed. Then, the pixel buffer that is now pointed to by the Backbuffer register, which was already
displayed, is cleared and the next new image is drawn. In this way, the next image to be displayed is always
drawn into the “back” pixel buffer, and the “front” and “back” buffer pointers are swapped when the new
image is ready to be displayed. Each time a swap is performed software has to synchronize with the VGA
controller by waiting until the S bit in the Status register becomes 0.
In this lab, you will learn how to implement a simple line-drawing algorithm.
Drawing a line on a screen requires coloring pixels between two points (x1, y1) and (x2, y2), such that the
pixels represent the desired line as closely as possible. Consider the example in Figure 4, where we want
to draw a line between points (1,1) and (12,5). The squares in the figure represent the location and size
of pixels on the screen. As indicated in the figure, we cannot draw the line precisely—we can only draw a
shape that is similar to the line by coloring the pixels that fall closest to the line’s ideal location on the
We can use algebra to determine which pixels to color. This is done by using the end points and the slope
of the line. The slope of our example line is slope = (y2 y1)/(x2 x1) = 4/11. Starting at point (1,1) we
move along the x axis and compute the y coordinate for the line asfollows:
11 11
11 11
Figure 4: Drawing a line between points (1, 1) and (12, 5).
y = y1 + slope × (x − x1)
Thus,for column x = 2, the y location ofthe pixel is 1+4 ×(2−1) = 1
. Since pixel locations are defined
by integer values we round the y coordinate to the nearest integer, and determine that in column x = 2 we
should color the pixel at y = 1. For column x = 3 we perform the calculation y = 1+ 4 ×(3−1) = 1
and round the result to y = 2. Similarly, we perform such computations for each column between x1 and
The approach of moving along the x axis has drawbacks when a line is steep. A steep line spans more rows
than it does columns, and hence has a slope with absolute value greater than 1. In this case our calculations
will not produce a smooth-looking line. Also, in the case of a vertical line we cannot use the slope to make
a calculation. To address this problem, we can alter the algorithm to move along the y axis when a line is
steep. With this change, we can implement a line-drawing algorithm known as Bresenham’s algorithm.
Pseudo-code for this algorithm is given in Figure 5. The first 15 lines of the algorithm make the needed
adjustments depending on whether or not the line is steep. Then, in lines 17 to 22 the algorithm increments
the x variable 1 step at a time and computes the y value. The y value is incremented when needed to stay as
close to the ideal location of the line as possible. Bresenham’s algorithm calculates an error variable to
decide whether or not to increment each y value. The version of the algorithm shown in Figure 5 uses only
integers to perform all calculations. To understand how this algorithm works, you can read about
Bresenham’s algorithm in a textbook or by searching for it on the internet.

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1 draw line(x0, x1, y0, y1) 2
3 boolean is steep = abs(y1 y0) > abs(x1 x0)
4 if is steepthen
5 swap(x0, y0)
6 swap(x1, y1)
7 if x0 > x1 then
8 swap(x0, x1)
9 swap(y0, y1)
11 int deltax = x1 x0
12 int deltay = abs(y1 y0)
13 int error = (deltax / 2)
14 int y = y0
15 if y0 < y1 then y step = 1 else y step = 1 16 17 for x from x0 to x1 18 if is steep then draw pixel(y,x) else draw pixel(x,y) 19 error = error + deltay 20 if error 0 then 21 y = y + y step 22 error = error − deltax Figure 5: Pseudo-code for a line-drawing algorithm. Task 1 Your task for lab 3 is to implement Bresenham’s line algorithm in SystemVerilog and compile it onto your FPGA to draw lines on a computer monitor. Some files have been uploaded to Canvas to make this easier. Perform the following: 1. Download the “” file from Canvas. This is a compressed folder containing a full Quartus project with some files that will help you work with the VGA output of the DE1 board. 2. Observe that the project contains three SystemVerilog files: a., a driver for the VGA port of the board. You don’t need to edit or understand this file, but you might notice it uses a 38,400-byte framebuffer register, similar to what was described above. The ternary operator on the last line of this file controls the colors of the lines you’ll be drawing. b., a skeleton file for you to add your code to implement Bresenham’s algorithm. c., a top-level module which instantiates both of the above modules. This should compile and function without any editing on your part, but you are free to do whatever you want with it. 3. Ensure the project compiles and produces an output on the VGA monitor. a. There are several monitors in both EEB 137 and EEB 361 which have VGA-to-HDMI adaptors installed. They look like this: 6 The HDMI cables of the adapters are already connected to the monitors. They also have a 3.5mm audio jack, which you won’t need, and a USB cable, which powers the adapter. Then, the VGA port connects to your board like this: b. With the adapter connected and powered, switch the monitor from displaying mDP to HDMI. c. Compile the project and load it onto your DE1 board. If everything is working correctly, the monitor should be black. If there’s a message on it stating “No HDMI/MHL Cable” then something is not connected properly. Task 2 Implement Bresenham’s line algorithm. Some notes about the file: 1. The file takes inputs x0, y0, x1, y1 corresponding to the coordinate pairs (x0, y0) and (x1, y1) 2. On positive edges of the input clock clk, the outputs x and y are coordinate pairs on the line between (x0, y0) and (x1, y1). On any given clock cycle, x and y should increment at most one pixel. 3. As indicated in the file, you’ll need to create some local registers to keep track of things. Notice that the example is declared as signed and is a bit longer than the x and y inputs/ouputs. Bresenham’s algorithm can get complicated. Ultimately, you’ll want to be able to draw a line between any two arbitrary points on the monitor, regardless of whether you’re drawing to the left or right, up or down, or whether the line is steep or gradual. Instead of doing this all at once, you’ll probably want to work in smaller steps. The following are suggestions on how to approach this problem, but you can complete this task in whatever way makes the most sense to you. 1. Assume x0 = x1 or y0 = y1 and use the file to draw perfectly straight lines 7 2. Assume that (x0, y0) will be (0,0) and x1 = y1. That is, design an algorithm that only draws perfectly diagonal lines from the origin 3. Modify your algorithm to draw perfectly diagonal lines from any arbitrary starting point 4. Modify your algorithm to handle lines with gradual slopes, such as a line from (0,0) to (100, 20) Demonstrate that your line algorithm can generate a line between any two coordinates on the monitor. Task 3 Modify the file to implement the following: 1. Use your line algorithm to draw a line on the monitor and animate it to move around the screen. 2. Implement a reset that, when activated, clears the screen by drawing every pixel to be black. You’ll need to modify the arguments being passed to the VGA_framebuffer module to choose between drawing black or white. Demonstrate that you are able to animate an object moving around the screen and that your reset feature clears the monitor. Lab Demonstration and Submission Requirements • Submit a lab report that includes the procedures and results obtained in the lab. Suggestions on what to include follow: o Abstract: A brief overview of the entire report o Introduction: What the lab is (specifications or background info, etc. o Procedure/Results/Analysis: ▪ Steps to complete the lab ▪ Description of each module (explain how they work, point out code, etc.) ▪ Simulations of each module with comments on important things to notice about them. ▪ Overall description of what the finished product was/how it behaved ▪ Discussions of any problems had while completing the lab, or unsolved errors o Conclusion: A final summary, reflection on the lab or what was learned, etc. • Include any hurdles or challenges (if any) that you faced in finishing this lab and how you overcome them. • Submit the SystemVerilog code for all tasks and include screenshots for the ModelSim waveforms of all modules. • Submit the Flow Summary (produced during compilation) of compiling your system. • In your report, include the number of hours (estimated) it took to complete this lab, including reading, planning, design, coding, debugging, testing, etc. Everything related to the lab (in total). • Submit your report and programs to Canvas. No hard copies. Submit a pdf file as well as a compressed folder of your source files.