Raspberry Pi LCD Backlight Issue

One of the cheapest ways of adding a basic display and keys to a Raspberry Pi is using one of the Adafruit clone 16x2 LCD with keypad "hat". This simple board consists of a 16x2 character LCD with 5 buttons all of which is driven through 2 main data lines facilitated with I2C and a MCP23017 (port expander).

16x2 Character LCD Hat with Buttons

Now, I bought one of these hats a while ago to play with and was quite impressed with its simplicity, however I did come across a "bug"/"limitation" in that the Adafruit Library did not cater for Back-light control. I did manage to alter the code to allow this functionality and all was well with the world.

In a recent project however in which I needed to setup 10pi's with display and buttons I found that no matter what I did I was unable to switch the Backlight off. Instead the backlight remained on and bright as long as power was supplied to the hat. After checking and rechecking my code I was forced to break out the soldering iron and start dismantelling the hat to get to the bottom of this mystery.

After probing around with a Multimeter and removing the LCD and the the backlight 1k ohm resister I finally arrived at a discovery:

LCD Issue

Can you spot the issue? Hidden away under the silkscreen of the 1k ohm resistor is a small trace that connects the Blacklight driving resistor to ground causing the LCD Backlight to remain on permanently.

The fix was simple, using a craft knife, slice away and break this connection:

LCD 16x2 Fixed

And viola, you can now control the Backlight again.

The one point to note though is that this must have been added as the adafruit libraries did not support backlight control and the manufacturer just thought it a pain to have people complaining about dimmly lit displays. To resolve this, this "bridge/connection" to ground forced the backlight to maximum brightness at all time. When cutting this away you are able to control the backlight but the "on" state the MCP is only able to sink current such that the backlight is at half the intensity as with the bridge.

Hope someone finds this useful!

Author: Umar Dockrat

Creator, Innovator, Dreamer.