” I would like to make a big LED scrolling display (like the ones you find in a bank), about 10 “characters” long. Do I have to make a huge array of led’s myself or is there a supplier of premade displays? I suppose I can wire up the logic to drive the display, but again, is there a chip or board that will display and scroll characters? “
No need to wire up individual LEDs. Look in magazines such as Circuit Cellar Ink or Radio Electronics for 5×7 multiplexed LED display modules. They are designed where common cathodes are wired along with the columns and common anodes are wired along the rows. One advertiser (in CCI I believe) sold these at a price of 8 for $15.
Driving these displays takes a little work. Since they are multiplexed only one row/column can be active at a time. I found that lighting up a column at a time is best (less flicker due to only 5 columns per pass as opposed to 7 rows per pass). To get even brightness each column must be left on the same amount of time and each common anode needs a currently limited connection to +5. I accomplished this by connecting the output of a 7407 open collector TTL buffer to the anode along with the current limited +5. When the buffer was on it would sink the current and the LED would not light. If the buffer was off then the current flowed through the LED and it would light up. See diagram below:
Note: 7407 can sink up to 30 mA of current. Current limiting resistors down to 166 ohms can safely be used. Also, remember not to exceed the breakdown current of the LED. LEDs can be pulsed at greater than average current for more brightness.
Now for the cathodes. Remember due to multiplexing only one cathode can be on at a time. Otherwise, all columns with multiple cathodes on will show the same LEDs (due to common anodes). So I chose to use a demultiplexer to select a single cathode line at a time. I chose a 7445 BCD demultiplexer because it can sink 80 mA of current. However, this was just an experiment and I wasn’t looking to send messages to my neighbors down the street. Since the 7445 has 10 outputs it can drive two of these displays. For brighter displays, the cathodes need more sinking current. Sprague makes a BiMOS driver IC that is serially driven and can sink more current. I’ve also seen LED driver chips in various mags. Or you could simply wire a transistor for each cathode that is driven by a TTL output.
I don’t know of any board to control this. I controlled mine from my PC parallel printer port (Just an experiment). But if I was doing this for real I’d probably use one of the nifty microcontrollers on the market. An Intel 8031 can be wired up in 4 or 5 chips plus the LED driver circuitry. Since it has a built-in serial port is could have messages downloaded to it from a PC through an RS-232 link.