Like WS2812B, APA102 LEDs are 5050-sized LEDs with an embedded microcontroller inside the LED. You can set the color/brightness of each LED to 24-bit color (8 bits each red green and blue). Each LED acts like a shift register, reading incoming color data on the input pins, and then shifting the previous color data out on the output pin. By sending a long string of data, you can control an infinite number of LEDs, just tack on more or cut off unwanted LEDs at the end. The PWM is built into each LED-chip so once you set the color you can stop talking to the strip and it will continue to PWM all the LEDs.
The data transfer protocol use two line decoder mode. After the pixel power-on reset, the DIN port receive data from controller after decorder, the first pixel collect initial 24bit data then sent to the internal data register, the other data which reshaping by the internal signal decorder circuit sent to the next cascade pixel through the DO CO port. After transmission for each pixel.
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