PAL Colour

A project log for Z80 Microcomputer System

A small Z80 computer with composite video, serial and a hard drive with CP/M

256byteram256byteram 02/21/2014 at 10:490 Comments

I've taken a break from CP/M Plus for the time being so I don't lose interest in the project. I'm currently looking at implementing a colour graphics overlay board. Presently, the colour is generated by an ATmega164P, a 74HC74 flip flop and a 74HC08 quad AND gate. I'm using another ATmega for the time being to make sure the theory works in practice. The ATmega is clocked with a 17.7MHz crystal. This is a standard frequency that is exactly 4 times the frequency of the PAL subcarrier (4433618.75Hz - notice how the frequency is accurate to a quarter of a Hertz).

The 74HC74 is configured to give four 4.43MHz outputs from the 17.7MHz clock, one each at 0°, 90°, 180° and 270°. To encode the different colours, it's just a matter of enabling any combination of these frequencies into the video output with the AND gates, then through resistors to combine them. A small 'colour burst' must also be present just after the synchronisation pulse. The ATmega controls when any of these phases are enabled onto the video output. There are four phases, so there are four pins used on the ATmega to enable them, giving a total of sixteen colours. There is a fifth pin which puts some grey into the visible video as well. Without it, some of the colours would sit below the black level.

This is a capture of the colours the PAL generator can produce. The dot crawl is made worse by the ATmega's interrupt jitter, which can't be removed because I'm using a hardware interrupt pin to synchronise to. Not a timer. I won't be using an ATmega in the final version, so the jitter will go with it.

The asterisk in the corner is the prompt for the ROM monitor. The 80 column text is mixed resistively with the colour background, and because the dot clock for the text is completely different to the colour carrier (13.5MHz compared to 4.43MHz) there is virtually no colour generated around the characters. The text is a little brighter than the colours and is quite visible. This is why the main ATmega is clocked at 27MHz. It is an exact multiple of the NTSC and PAL line frequencies. To add colour, I just need to mix the colour frequency with the existing signal. I'll make an NTSC implementation later, which shouldn't be difficult (he says...).

PAL is based on the NTSC and adds to it, to try and remove the hue errors that are generated during broadcast. The problem arises when slight phase distortions are present in the signal, and because NTSC has no way to cancel these out, the television receiver displays them as incorrect hues on the screen. This is where NTSC gets the "Never The Same Colour" acronym from (the acronym is actually National Television Standards Committee).

PAL's fix to this problem is to invert the phase of one of the colour components present in the signal every other line, hence the name "Phase Alternating Line". The previous line is stored in a delay line and is combined with the present line. If there are phase errors between lines, they cancel themselves, which results in reduced saturation. This is much less noticeable than the colour changing.

This extra complication needs to be taken into account when designing a PAL encoder. At first when I got colour on the screen it was running in "NTSC4" mode, which is used on some DVD players. This is somewhere between PAL, where the colour frequency is 4.43MHz, and NTSC, where there is no phase swapping between lines. The colours would appear on my newish television which supported the standard, but not on my Commodore monitor which only supports regular PAL.

The ATmega has four bits on a port which controls which colour frequencies are enabled. There is also a register which stores the current number to send to the port for the colour burst frequency. This register has the two bits which control the red component inverted every line, using the XOR function. This introduces the 180° phase shift which the PAL standard uses. Commodore monitor displayed colour with this configuration.

However, there was only blue and yellow. These are the colours generated by the blue component of the signal. The problem was I needed to invert the red component every line as well. If it isn't inverted, the same phase of the red signal between lines gets cancelled by the delay line. That is, the saturation is reduced, to the point where there isn't any. It's not as simple as XORing the numbers being sent to the port. What needs to happen is the two bits which control the red component's output need to be swapped.

I solved this with two lookup tables, for now. The pointer alternates between the two tables every other line. When I make a 'real' hardware implementation it'll be easier to do with discrete logic.

I'm aiming to have a 320x200 pixel display with sixteen colours per pixel. This will require 32kB of static memory. The Z80SBC can address 256kB in total with bank switching, so the extra video memory can be switched in to be written to.

Update: I have made a short video of the board in action.