Get VGA from your Raspberry Pi

Those of you who use the single board computer, the Raspberry Pi or RBPi, know that it has two video outputs. It offers high definition video via the HDMI port and a composite video via the RCA port. For viewing the output of the RBPi on a VGA monitor, one must use an HDMI to VGA adapter or similar. However, there is a simpler and cheaper method now available – the Gert VGA 666.

The Gert VGA 666 is a breakout/add-on board, useful only for the RBPi Model B+. The board does not work on other RBPi Models such as A and B, as it requires the additional GPIO pins that are only available on the Model B+. Gert van Loo has designed this Gert VGA 666 board and has released it as an open source hardware design. Incidentally, Gert van Loo was associated with the initial design of the original RBPi and is one of the architects of the BCM2835 chip that forms the heart of the RBPi.

The Gert VGA 666 is a useful and neat solution for attaching a VGA monitor/screen to your RBPi. Additionally, this works out much cheaper than buying a converter or adapter for converting HDMI to VGA. A parallel interface from the GPIO pins drives the hardware natively for the VGA connection, using the same CPU load as the HDMI connection does. Users have the added advantage of setting up a dual screen, one for HDMI and the other for VGA. This is possible as the RBPi can drive both interfaces at the same time. With no CPU load, you can expect a VGA video display with resolution of 1080p60 or 640×480.

You can buy this adapter in the form of a kit, comprising the PCB for Gert VGA 666, a 40-pin header connector for the GPIO, a 15-pin female VGA connector, 20 through-hole resistors and two Pi supply stickers. When assembled and fitted on the RBPi, the board uses up nearly all the GPIO pins on the Model B+. Therefore, it will not be possible to use any other add-on boards at the same time when using the VGA adapter.

The decision to offer the adapter as a kit stems from the requirement of meeting EMC compatibility regulations. A fully assembled board would be required to meet most EMC regulations. However, these regulations do not cover the kit, as it is a homemade electronic product.

After soldering the board, plug it into the RBPi and power up the combination. However, the adapter does not work directly and you will need an intermediate solution for video output. You can use either an HDMI or a DVI-D monitor. If that is not available, use a composite monitor or TV via the RCA port. However, using the composite video means you will need to program the NOOBS on the RBPi.

After booting, you must install the necessary drivers for the Gert VGA 666 adapter. This requires an Internet connection, preferably via an Ethernet connection. If you simply plug in the Ethernet cable, Raspbian will automatically start to use it.