So you want to drive an LED array but don't know where to start? Start here! These LED panels eliminate the work of making a big matrix display.
Each panel has six 8x8 red matrix modules, for a 16x24 matrix. The panel has a HT1632C chip on the back that does all of the de-multiplexing work for you. It has a 3-pin SPI-like serial interface to talk to it to allow you to set LEDs on or off. Please note, you cannot set the LED to be individually dimmed, as in 'grayscale', on or off are the only settings.
There are a few extras as well, such as being able to change the brightness of the entire display, or blink the entire display at 1 Hz.
Tutorial and How to Use these Displays
One really nice thing about this particular LED matrix module is that it is designed to be 'chainable' - you can connect to 8 panels together to make an extra long display. It comes with one, fully-assembled and ready to go panel, and a 10-pin IDC cable.
You will need a microcontroller to control the display, Adafruit's tutorial uses an Arduino, but nearly any microcontroller with 3 digital output pins can be used. If you want to chain two displays, you can use the two IDC cables in the packages to connect them. But for 3+ chained displays you will need more cables - check the tutorial, search for "How many Cables do I need?" to get the explanation.
And of course, Adafruit has written a full tutorial and Arduino library that not only takes care of controlling the display, it also intelligently handles chained displays, so that they appear to be one long matrix. The library has functions for drawing pixels, lines, rectangles, circles and text. You'll be making it light up in 15 minutes! Find the libraries at the Adafruit web site!
Information for Newbies and Beginners
The information in this description may seem daunting for some. We apologize for talking "over your head".
The first thing you might find confusing is the part about the HT1632C chip "doing the de-multiplexing for you". Ok, let's help you understand this. When you wire-up a bunch of LEDs, each LED must be individually controllable. That means, a microprocessor provides a command that gets converted to a voltage to tell the LED to turn on or off. Think about it for a second, our matrix is 8x8. How many LEDs does it have? 8x8 or 64! Can you imagine connecting 64 wires to your microprocessor or to 64 different switches?? Right, we didn't think you wanted to do that, but without some de-multiplexing, that's what you would have to do.
"De-Multiplexing" means decoding the commands from numbers sent over a serial (3-wire) link to individual wires that control each LED. That way, the connection to the microprocessor or switch bank is only 3 wires, instead of 64 or a multiple of 64 if multiple panels are chained together.
You might also find the term "IDC Cable" confusing. IDC cables and connectors are the gray ribbon cables you see in computers. IDC stands for "Insulation Displacement Connector". That's just a fancy way of saying the insulation of the cable gets moved when the connector is crimped to it. IDC cables and connectors are very common. We generally don't stock them, but we may change our policy in the future. For now, you can see Adafruit's 6-pin IDC Cable with Connectors here.