Better to know some
... than all
DIGITAL- ANALOG CONVERSION
Connecting digital circuitry to sensor devices is simple if the sensor devices are inherently digital themselves. Switches, relays, and encoders are easily interfaced with gate circuits due to the on/off nature of their signals. However, when analog devices are involved, interfacing becomes much more complex. What is needed is a way to electronically translate analog signals into digital (binary) quantities, and visa-versa. An analog-to-digital converter, or ADC, performs the former task while a digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, performs the latter.
An ADC inputs an analog electrical signal such as voltage or current and outputs a binary number. In block diagram form, it can be represented as such:
A DAC, on the other hand, inputs a binary number and outputs an analog voltage or current signal. In block diagram form, it looks like this:
Together, they are often used in digital systems to provide complete interface with analog sensors and output devices for control systems such as those used in automotive engine controls:
It is much easier to convert a digital signal into an analog signal than it is to do the reverse. Therefore, we will begin with DAC circuitry and then move to ADC circuitry.
Also called the parallel A/D converter, this circuit is the simplest to understand. It is formed of a series of comparators, each one comparing the input signal to a unique reference voltage. The comparator outputs connect to the inputs of a priority encoder circuit, which then produces a binary output. The following illustration shows a 3-bit flash ADC circuit:
Vref is a stable reference voltage provided by a precision voltage regulator as part of the converter circuit, not shown in the schematic. As the analog input voltage exceeds the reference voltage at each comparator, the comparator outputs will sequentially saturate to a high state. The priority encoder generates a binary number based on the highest-order active input, ignoring all other active inputs.
The R/2nR DAC
This DAC circuit, otherwise known as the binary-weighted-input DAC, is a variation on the inverting summer op-amp circuit. If you recall, the classic inverting summer circuit is an operational amplifier using negative feedback for controlled gain, with several voltage inputs and one voltage output. The output voltage is the inverted (opposite polarity) sum of all input voltages:
For a simple inverting summer circuit, all resistors must be of equal value. If any of the input resistors were different, the input voltages would have different degrees of effect on the output, and the output voltage would not be a true sum. Let's consider, however, intentionally setting the input resistors at different values. Suppose we were to set the input resistor values at multiple powers of two: R, 2R, and 4R, instead of all the same value R: