Head-Up Displays For Beginners – How They Work, Why You’ll Love Them

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Your next vehicle will likely have a head-up display. Here’s how they work for you and why you will love them. 

Technology is constantly advancing in our vehicles and one of the most rapidly evolving technologies is information displays. Many drivers want more information available to them in their vehicles for a variety of reasons. Safety, navigation, vehicle status, entertainment, communication, and speed data are all things we recognize as being related to information displays in our vehicles. In the past, this information was arrayed in places that required that you move your head away from the position that looks straight ahead at the road. You would look down for speed information, or to view the tachometer. A driver would look right and down for audio, and navigation information. Pretty much everywhere, except straight ahead. HUD systems allow drivers to remain focused on the road, but to also view important information.

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Head-Up Displays – How They Work

HUD systems work by projecting information into your field of view. They are called “head up” because unlike a gauge or infotainment screen display, they are projected directly into the view ahead of you on the road. If you have not used such a system, you may feel apprehensive that this information will be in the way of the things you need to see. You should set those concerns aside for two good reasons. First, they do not operate that way. The information displayed is see-through. Your eyes can focus on the information, or look through it. Second, if you don’t want that information there, you can shut the system off. And it stays off. Every vehicle we have tested had an on and off selector that is “latching.” Meaning it stays how you set it. If you prefer to look away from the road to view, say t a navigation map, you can opt to do so.

Head-Up Displays – What They Show A Driver

The first head-up displays showed drivers two main things. First, speed information. Meaning the speed that the vehicle was traveling. Second, they could show the engine speed, meaning the tachometer information. The concept of a head-up display predates digital displays. Old-school hot rodders would place a tachometer on the hood of the car in front of a driver so they would not have to turn their head away from the road to see the RPM of the engine. Head up displays made this information easier to read and improves upon those efforts by enthusiasts.

Today, almost every HUD system we test in a new vehicle offers a driver much more information. Take speed. Not only is the speed of the vehicle displayed, but also the speed limit. To help a driver know when the speed limit is being exceeded, the speed limit sign can turn from white to orange. The smart cruise control vehicle speed setting information is also available in some cases. We have found this information is very helpful in certain situations. One, in particular, is rural driving where the speed limit can drop from 55 MPH on a one-lane roadway to as low as 35 MPH or even 25 MPG. Another is in cities where speed limits can sometimes drop surprisingly low, such as 15 MPH approaching or when inside of a roundabout or rotary. In our part of the Northeast, highway speed limits vary from 55 MPH to 70. On a long and lonely stretch of highway, the speed limit display can prove very helpful when signs can be ten minutes apart, or when transitioning to a new highway from another.

One of the features we really love about the better HUD systems we test is the ability to see the next turn we will make displayed. Here, HUD systems just seem entirely more safe than any other type of navigation setup. These systems can even count down the feet to your turn so that in areas with many intersecting roads, your turn is more obvious.

Some head-up displays can do much more – but it’s entirely up to you. For example, blind-spot monitoring information can be added. As can some audio information. One system we tested allowed the driver to view what was playing on the other audio stations as a preview. Is that more than you really want? Not a problem. Just go to the menus in your infotainment system and select just the information you want to see displayed. It is very easy to do and it stays the way you set it. The image above is from the Kia K900. We chose it for our example images because the menus were so simple to operate.

Because not all drivers are the same size and shape, HUD systems are adjustable. You can raise and lower the display, change its brightness, and you can rotate it a few degrees from perfectly horizontal. This allows the driver to place the display exactly where it is most helpful.

Head-up display systems are one of the most useful and most adaptable new technologies that automakers are bringing to market. When you shop for your next vehicle, take time on your test drive to give this helpful technology a try.

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John Goreham

John Goreham

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