Alpha 220 LED Sign

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I am using my Kuro Pro to drive an Alpha 215/220 LED Display I happened to have one of these signs lying around.
220 Full Matrix, (Case 37.7" x 3.8" x 2.9 ") Tricolor[1]


Install a Serial Port Interface

First you are going to have to install a serial port interface. I ended up installing mine to the serial port on the bottom, but the serial port on the front is easier and the same.

I used a board from futurelec, they are dirt cheap, but take forever to get to you

ET-MINI RS232 3V.jpg

I used a Quick port RJ-12 jack to interface the sign to the serial port converter


Then I shoved the whole thing in a 2 port Quick port surface mount housing


Interface Sign to Serial Port Interface

I used a standard 6 wire telephone cable meant for a two line phone (a 4 wire one will not work) Plug one end into the sign. And one end into the Quick port RJ-12 Jack Wire the jack into the serial port board as such[2]

  • Pin 4 of the RJ12 to RS-232 RX.
  • Pin 3 of the RJ12 to RS-232 TX
  • Pin 6 of the RJ12 to RS-232 GND

Setup the serial port

You will have to adjust the serial port settings. I use a script to do this. My information came from a FAQ on using the Alpha sign with Linux[3].


# /usr/local/bin/setledsign

rm /dev/alpha
ln -s /dev/ttyS0 /dev/alpha
chmod a+rw /dev/alpha
stty 9600 -opost -ocrnl -onlcr cs7 parenb -parodd < /dev/alpha

Wake up the sign and display something on it

I use a script that I stole from the above site.

# Script will display the contents of /tmp/textfile to the ALPHA 220C LED
# Display
# Usage

# Get the attention of the sign
print "\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0\0";

# Tell the sign to print the message
$message = `cat /tmp/textfile` ;

print "\001" . "Z" . "00" . "\002" . "AA" . "\x1B" . " $ARGV[0]" . "\x1C" . "$ARGV[1]" . $message . "\004";

Alpha Sign Syntax

"\001" . "Z" . "00" . "\002" . "AA" . "\x1B" . "t". "\x1C" . "1". Hello World . "\004"
Value Meaning Code Type
\001 SOH Start of Header
Z Direct at all Signs Type Code
“00” All Signs Should Listen Sign Address
\002 Start of Text Character Start Type
A Text File Write File Type
A A File Label
\x1B ESC Start of Mode Field
t compressed text MODE TAG (see below)
\x1C color control code Control Code
1 red COLORTAG (see below)
Text Hello World Text Message
\004 EOT End of Transmission


The key parts of this are the MODE TAG and COLORTAG, there is full documentation available for this[4] but here are the pertinant parts.

  • a - Regular smooth scroll, right to left
  • b - Appear. Centers as much of message on screen, waits, and displays rest of message in similar manner
  • c - Appear with flashing.
  • d - Auto. Randomly picks an effect for each part of the message, as opposed to the message as a whole.
  • e - Scroll up.
  • f - Scroll down from top.
  • g - Jerky scroll from right to left.
  • h - Jerky scroll from left to right.
  • i - Wipe up from bottom, covering text.
  • j - Wipe down from top, covering text.
  • k - Wipe over from right to left, character by character, not by pixels.
  • l - Wipe over from left to right, character by character.
  • m - Scroll up. Same as 'e'?
  • n - This is doing something weird based on message itself. Will have to investigate.
  • o - Auto/Random (same as 'd'?)
  • p - --> CENTER <-- Text appears at sides and squishes content in.
  • q - <-- CENTER --> Text splits in center and pushed content out.
  • r - --> COVER <-- New text covers old out to in.
  • s - <-- UNCOVER --> New text uncovers in to out.
  • t - Compressed text! Using this mode the sign tricks your eyes into seeing more characters than it is capable of physically producing. Scrolls right to left.
  • u - Fast Appear.
  • v - Medium Appear.
  • w - Maybe medium-slow appear.
  • x - Same as 'p'?
  • y - Same as 'q'?
  • z - Same as 'r'?
  • @ - The sign went blank.
  • 1 - Red
  • 2 - Green
  • 3 - Amber
  • 4 - Dim red
  • 5 - Dim green
  • 6 - Brown
  • 7 - Orange
  • 8 - Yellow
  • 9 - Rainbow 1
  • A - Rainbow 2
  • B - Color mix
  • C - Autocolor

Stock Ticker

I do use the sign for a number of other purposes, to display RSS feeds and weather forecasts. But the most complicated script is to display a live stock ticker that gets it's data from yahoo. It then colors the prices green if they are positive/up and red if they are negative/down for the day.

First you should install perl and make

apt-get install perl make

Then install the quote package [5]

tar -xvzf quote-0.05.tar.gz
cd quote-0.05
./make install

you may as well install curl and lynx so that you can use them to get content from the web later

apt-get install curl lynx

Lastly here is a shell script to display the ticker


# /usr/local/bin/leddisplay
# Stock ticker symbols

stocks="  ^DJI ^IXIC ^GSPC "

        quote $stocks | cut -d"(" -f1 |sed 's/^/\x1C9 \x7F \x1C3 /' | sed '/ -/s/:/\x1C1/g' | sed '/ +/s/:/\x1C2/g' > /tmp/textfile
        $PTE/ t A  > /dev/alpha


  1. 220 brochure (Pdf)
  2. Building a Data Cable for Alpha LED Scrolling Signs
  3. Using the Alpha 215C with Linux
  4. Alpha Sign Communications Protocol (pn 9708-8061)
  5. quote -- command-line stock quote display