For those of us who are maybe a little tired of rainbows, we now have ‘smart LEDs’ in monochrome! Make your own smart Warm White LED or Cool White LED arrangement with the same integrated LED driver that is used in our new fancy DotStar strips. Unlit, the Warm White color resembles an egg yolk, and the Cool White color resembles a yellow Starburst. Lit up these are insanely bright (like ow my eye hurts) and can be controlled with 24 bit high-frequency PWM. The phosphor helps diffuse the 3 white dies inside together for a very bright but consistent light, compared to what you get by trying to mix RGB to make white (which never quite looks right)
They’re also a great upgrade for people who have loved and used NeoPixels for a few years but want to use the same kind of technology for monochromatic lighting. DotStar LEDs use generic 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 brightness of each of 3 individual warm or cool white dies epoxied into the case. Each LED acts like a shift register, reading incoming data on the input pins, and then shifting the previous 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 disconnect unwanted LEDs at the end. The PWM is built into each LED-chip so once you set the brightness 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 brightness data for each pixel LED once, and then the LED+built-in-chip will handle the PWMing. 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 LED around, you won’t see the pixelation, the blending is very smooth.
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Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
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What would interest me would be an APA102 with different whites all in one package. I found a “WW+CW+NW” strip on aliexpress a while back, and while I haven’t put it on a PWM controller yet it looks like it has a decent chance of doing whatever color temperature I want with a high enough CRI to be worthwhile. However, when I tried to order more, they said they weren’t popular enough to warrant selling in less than 100m batches… Of course, being a single strip it’s only bulk controllable. An APA102 strip with the 3 different types of white (if it’s possible based on construction techniques re: phosphors etc) would be very useful….