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Review: Microchip Multimedia Expansion Board (for PIC32)

Evaluation Type: Evaluation Boards
Application you used the part in: Evaluation of PIC32 USB Starter Kit II
Was everything in the box required?: Yes
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 is impossible to change something in the demos.
Though it is possible to find the same demos in the Microchip Application Library, it’s difficult to get theese working together with the Multimedia Expansion Board.

Product Performed to Expectations: 10
Specifications were sufficient to design with: 8
Demo Software was of good quality: 8
Demo was easy to use: 7
Support materials were available: 8
The price to performance ratio was good: 9
TotalScore: 50

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.

View review/demonstration
To start with please watch my Video Review where some of the available demonstration applications are shown.

The review

The MEB board seen from the top

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 = 320×240) 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 MEB board seen from the bottom

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 MEB board with the PIC32 seen from the bottom

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.

The expansion connector

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 Graphics MultiApp Demo

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 expansion 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.

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!

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