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Monday, 29 November 2021
Sunday, 7 November 2021
The Pi Pico is a powerful microcontroller, it runs at 133 Mhz by default but can be overclocked to 400Mhz. It has two cores and eight state machines. The state machines have their own assembly language and can independently manage i/o or dma tasks.
It is capable of buffering and generating a video signal, VGA or DVI. Using the TinyUSB library it's capable of receiving USB input.
With these features, it's the perfect candidate for this task. With a few supporting components and the software/firmware installed, it's acting as a serial terminal with USB keyboard input and VGA output.
The video output is taken care of by libraries, although the example code certainly did take a while to understand. That part of Textmode PicoTerm largely draws on the text mode example code.
The USB handling uses TinyUSB. The Pico must act as a host (with the keyboard connected via an OTG adaptor).
That leaves the terminal functionality. You need to maintain a buffer to store the characters (because the video functionality makes callbacks, requesting the data for each scanline as it's generated). Scrolling is an important feature of a terminal, so I created a structure to store the character codes for each row of characters, and an array of pointers to those rows. So scrolling is a matter of shuffling 30 pointers rather than 2400 characters.
One of the Pico's cores can handle the scanline generation for the video while the other listens for characters sent from the computer and from the keyboard, buffers and handles those. [update - with the textmode Picoterm, polling was fine and works without dropped characters. With the newer colourmode PicoTerm, because of the increased load of putting characters on the screen, it was necessary to implement interrupts on Rx to receive and buffer each incoming character].
As well as just feeding characters to the screen and scrolling when necessary, it's also important to parse and handle certain escape sequences. These codes can position the cursor on the screen or change the attributes (eg reverse characters). The full list of sequences that we've implemented so far are here on the module's documentation page.