What is a head-up display (HUD)?

Car manufacturers are constantly trying to improve the driving experience of customer’s and give their cars an edge over the fierce competition. More recently, they have been doing this by adding new technology and improving their car’s infotainment systems. One of the latest advances to in-car infotainment is the head-up display, also known as HUD, which were originally used by pilots to ensure that important information is available directly in their line of sight. If you are interested in buying a car that has a HUD or you’re looking at buying an aftermarket head-up display unit, our guide gives you all the information you will need.


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What is a HUD?

hud car

A head-up display uses a projector to display useful information directly into the driver's view, either on the windshield or a transparent head-up unit mounted onto the dashboard. The information displayed on a HUD is usually configurable and can include anything from directions, to the speed the car is travelling.

Car manufacturers have been keen to add head-up displays to their fleet of vehicles due to the argument that some infotainment systems can be distracting to drivers. Whilst having information projected directly into the driver’s line of sight may seem distracting, it means that the driver can concentrate on the road ahead and the information on the HUD is only properly visible when you look directly at the information projected.


What are the different types of head-up display?


The most cost effective type of head-up display used on cars is a combiner HUD. This system uses a transparent screen that is either mounted on the dashboard, or rises when in use and a hidden projector that beams the relevant information. Manufacturers such as Ford, Mazda and Renault are some of the manufacturers that offer you the option to add a combiner head-up display unit to a new car build, as an optional extra.

The other type of HUD used by car manufacturer’s removes the need for a transparent screen on the dashboard and instead projects the information directly onto the windscreen in front of the driver. As there is no screen on the dashboard, it may look sleeker and drivers aren’t likely to be distracted by the transparent screen when it’s not in use. In order for this type of head-up display to work, the windscreen will need to be prepared by the manufacturer to ensure it can reflect the information being beamed from the projector. Due to the complexity of a windscreen HUD, they’re generally found on higher-spec models, but may start to appear on lower cost cars as the development of technology becomes cheaper.


What information is shown on a HUD?


Head-up display units will generally show important information, such as the car’s speed. Where a car has a built in sat nav, you can expect directions to be displayed on the HUD, as well as information such as your current gear, revs and fuel level. Whilst head-up display technology has advanced in recent years, the graphics aren’t likely to be as high quality as on your infotainment screen or digital dashboard.


Frequently asked questions


There are third-party, or aftermarket, head-up displays available to purchase. Most of these stick to your car’s dashboard and project onto a transparent screen or your windshield. Some of these units work by using data from your phone, whilst others will use GPS to display information such as speed.

There are a number of apps available on popular app stores which claim to have the same functionality as a HUD unit. Most of these apps work by displaying a reversed image of your speed and directions onto your windscreen and require the phone to be mounted to the windshield.

Head-up displays were initially used in military aeroplanes so that pilots could see important information without having to look down at dials. Whilst the technology was developed in the 1970s, it wasn’t until recently that the technology has been widely adopted. As well as cars, they’re also standard equipment on many popular aircrafts, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380.


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