They’re also a great upgrade for people who have loved and used NeoPixels for a few years but want something even better. DotStar LEDs use genertic 2-wire SPI, so you can push data much faster than with the NeoPixel 800 KHz protocol and there’s no specific timing required. They also have much higher PWM refresh rates, so you can do Persistence-of-Vision (POV) and have less flickering, particularly at low brightness levels.
Like NeoPixels, DotStar LEDs are 5050-sized LEDs with an embedded microcontroller inside the LED. You can set the color/brightness of each LED to 24-bit color (8 bits each red green and blue). Each LED acts like a shift register, reading incoming color data on the input pins, and then shifting the previous color data out on the output pin. By sending a long string of data, you can control an infinite number of LEDs, just tack on more or cut off unwanted LEDs at the end. The PWM is built into each LED-chip so once you set the color you can stop talking to the strip and it will continue to PWM all the LEDs for you.
Another nice thing about DotStars is their high PWM rate. You only have to set the 24-bit color data for each pixel LED once, and then the LED+built-in-chip will handle the PWMing of the red, green and blue. On NeoPixels, this PWM rate happens 400 Hz, which works well but is noticably at lower brightnesses and if the strip is moving in any way. DotStars have a 20 KHz PWM rate, so even when moving the strip around, you won’t see the pixelation, the color blending is very smooth.
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