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FFFGfx - Fast Flicker Free Graphics

An Arduino graphics library for colour displays - currently ST7735 and ILI9341 based displays are supported - connected to systems with 16K or more RAM. The library has been tested on ESP8266, ESP32, M0, M4 and ATmega1284 boards.

Wire Cube


Typically Arduino graphics libraries write pixels directly to the display memories of colour ST7735 or ILI9341 based TFT displays. Consequently, when the display is updated, it is necessary to clear the screen before drawing the next one leading to the characteristic flicker.

The classic graphics technique to avoid this flicker is to use a framebuffer in main memory such that pixels are set in this buffer and then the framebuffer is written to the screen in one update operation - thus erasing the old screen and drawing the new one at the same time with no intermediate state of a cleared screen visible - the flicker.

However, each pixel in a colour display is defined by a 16 bit value meaning that a framebuffer for a 160x128 pixel display would require 40960 bytes which is larger than the 32K bytes of RAM available on the M0 based boards.

Colour Map

To reduce the storage required to store the framebuffer, again, the classic graphics technique is to use a colour map such that each pixel in the framebuffer is described by a small number of bits and this value is used to index the colour map which is a table used to translate the framebuffer pixel values to the 16 bit screen values. For example, if we use a four bit value to define the colour of a pixel in memory, then this can be mapped to one of sixteen 16 bit screen colours. This technique is adopted by the Minigfx library from which I have adapted the rotating cube example. However, the framebuffer can still take a large amount of the available memory. A 4 bit framebuffer for the 160x128 screen requires 10240 bytes, a third of the available memory. For a 320x240 ILI9341 display this would be 38400 bytes.


The solution adopted in FFFGfx is to allow multiple smaller framebuffers. Each framebuffer can have a different number of bits per pixel and can have its own colour map or share an existing map. Each framebuffer can be written to a different part of the screen and they can be overlaid. The Canvas class implements this idea. For example the display above has two 144 by 144 Canvases for the rotating cubes and a 320 (screen width) by 30 Canvas for the text. These are declared as shown below:

const int CANVAS_WIDTH = 144;
const int CANVAS_HEIGHT = 144;

fff_TFTSPI screen;
Canvas text(screen.width(),20, PIXELBITS1, palette);

Canvas2 uses 4 bits per pixel for thee colour rendered cube, however both canvas2 for the wire cube and the text canvas use 1 bit per pixel since they only needthe colours black and white. These are the first two colours defined in the shared colour map palette. The RAM required for the three framebuffers is:

(144 * 144)/2 + (144 * 144)/8 +(320 * 20)/8 = 10368 + 2592 + 800
                                            = 13760 bytes                        

This compares with a full 4-bit framebuffer for a 320x240 display which would require 38400 bytes which would exceed the 32K memory of the Adafruit Feather M0'.

The Canvas class includes the usual familiar drawing operations from the Adafruit GFX LIbrary library. The code from the example which draws to the text canvas is shown below:

  // only calculate the fps every <interval> iterations.
  if (counter % interval == 0) {
    long millisSinceUpdate = millis() - startMillis;     
    startMillis = millis();
    text.print(interval * 1000.0 / (millisSinceUpdate),2);
    text.print(" fps ");

Screen update speed

From the code above, note that while the cube drawing canvases are updated every loop iteration, the text canvas is only updated every interval iterations. Canvases thus not only permit different parts of the display to have different colour maps, they also allow different update rates for different elements of the overall display. Consequently, we can achieve fast frame update rates on those parts of the display that need it.

Screen driver efficiency


Fast Flicker Free Graphics library for Arduino M0, esp8266 & esp32 based boards and colour TFT displays



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