How does Up

How does a head-up display work? + Tips for retrofitting

Additional features in cars are on the rise. Today it is no longer enough for a car to be able to drive, horn and brake. It is too tempting to take the whole range of brake and traffic sign assistants, digital cockpit and head-up display with you.

But are these features that we really need? With most of them, you don't really know how they work - for example with the head-up display. We wondered: How does a head-up display work?

So how does a head-up display work? A head-up display projects information onto the windscreen. It consists of the image-giving, optical and image-receiving component, the windshield. The imaging component generates an image, video or animation and projects this onto the pane via the optical component.

However, there are many different technologies here. It is used in airplanes and in modern car models and works either as an independent unit or with separate systems - for example with the smartphone.

Did you know that the head-up display, or HUD for short, is not really a new invention? One can say that it has now reached the middle of society at the latest and can significantly upgrade a car model.

But don't worry, you don't need to buy a new car just because of the head-up display, because that Head-up display can be retrofitted!

Learn more about that below Working principle, the difference between head-up and head-down displays and the other areas of application.

We also find out which ones Variants of head-up displays there are and how you can retrofit them. Since there are really numerous possibilities, we have also selected for you what the TÜV recommends in this case.

We hope you enjoy reading!

The beginnings of the head-up display

Strictly speaking, head-up displays have existed since the 1940s. Back then it was still known as the “reflex sight”, they have been continuously developed and have become an indispensable part of modern aviation technology.

As General Motors the Then brought head-up technology to the automotive industry in the 1980s and 1990s, European automakers such as BMW and Citroën followed in the 2000s.

Head-up display working principle

There are some differences depending on the technology of the head-up display, but in general it always works in the same way.

The imaging and optical component

The imaging component generates information as an image, video or animation and passes it on to the optical component. Depending on the technology, this can be a tiny projector, laser or the screen of your smartphone.

The image receiving component

The image-receiving component ultimately shows you the information played out via the optical component. It is important that this is translucent and reflective.

For this reason, glass elements, such as the front pane, or transparent foils are often used in practice.

Security benefits

It is important with this technology that the driver is not distracted by the information. This means that it must be ensured that the information is easily recognizable and displayed at the correct distance so that the driver does not have to focus on the projected information for too long.

Suitability of the front screen

The condition of the windshield also plays a major role. Since it consists of two separate layers of glass, a simple projection would be displayed minimally offset.

While the windscreen on new vehicle models with an already integrated head-up display is adapted to the special requirements from the outset, older vehicle models have to switch to alternatives.

Alternatives to adapted windshields

This alternative consists of OLED or transparent OLED screens (TOLED), which are attached to the windshield and are intended to ensure that the projected information is still legible even in strong sunlight.

Difference between head-up and head-down displays

We don't know ourselves whether we have even heard of head-down displays before doing research on this article, but the fact is: they do exist.

Head up or head down

The difference between a head-up and head-down display becomes apparent relatively quickly when you translate it from English. With the head-up display (head-up screen) you can keep your head / gaze up in contrast to the head-down display (head-down screen).

Advantages and disadvantages of the head-up display

Of course, there are both advantages and disadvantages of the head-up display.

Advantages of the head-up display

With the head-up display, you can still keep your eyes on the road. The information is projected directly into the field of vision on the windshield.

This also results in the disadvantage of the head-down display: By lowering your gaze, you take your gaze off the road for a fraction of a second. Unfortunately, that is often enough to recognize a danger too late.

Furthermore, taking the view down is very tiring for the eyes in the long run, as they have to adjust to a new distance each time they look at the instrument cluster.

Disadvantages of the head-up display

The disadvantage of poor head-up displays, on the other hand, is that they can hardly be seen in strong sunlight. You spend too much time focusing and this also means you take your eyes off the road.

The head-down display has a clear advantage in this regard, because this display, which is integrated into the cockpit, is usually protected from solar radiation by a small front extension.

What is hardly noticed on short journeys can be of decisive advantage on long journeys.

What types of head-up displays are there?

As mentioned earlier, there are different types of head-up displays. We have summarized the most common types for you below:

  • Simple displays: The simple displays are systems that only show simple basic information on the windshield. This is mostly information that is needed to navigate the car. This basic information includes, among other things, the speed, warning messages, characteristic values ​​and navigation arrows.
  • Augmented Reality (AR): From a technical point of view, head-up displays belong to Augmented Reality. In principle, any type of information can be displayed with this type of head-up display.
    The possibilities range from simple pictures to videos or 3D animations.

What sizes are there head-up displays in?

The head-up displays known to us only have a relatively small format, mostly between 5 and 10 inches. In this format they are mainly used in airplanes, private jets or cars.

Over time, the head-up displays have also found their way into other areas. Today you can find them in sizes up to 80 inches at congresses, events or in museums.

Head-up displays in airplanes, private jets and cars

  • Small size, about 5 to 10 inches
  • 2D or 3D animation
  • Low quality up to full HD
  • Mainly shows basic information such as speed, warning messages, characteristic values ​​and navigation arrows.
  • Is projected onto transparent glass elements or foils so that the information is integrated into the background.
  • Possible with and without AR or VR glasses (AR = Augmented Reality, VR = Virtual Reality)

Head-up displays for congresses, events, showrooms or museums

  • Large format, up to about 80 inches
  • Augmented Reality, high resolution 3D animation
  • Resolution up to UHD (4K)
  • Unlimited display options: projection in so-called “deep frame” or projections in space, e.g. car models, animals running through space or changing art objects
  • Is projected into the real environment of the user
  • Possible with and without AR or VR glasses (AR = Augmented Reality, VR = Virtual Reality)

Can head-up displays be retrofitted?

First of all, a very simple answer: Yes, you can retrofit head-up displays. But there are also various options for this.

Complete systems - so-called HUDs

Quite confusing when you consider that HUD is actually just short for head-up display. These up to 5.5 inches tall Complete head-up systems consist, like all head-up displays, of an image-giving, optical and image-receiving component.

Advantage of complete systems

The advantage: you buy everything together with this complete system. “Everything” in this case includes an image-receiving film that is stuck to the windshield and a small box in which both the image-giving and the optical components are installed.

Information via GPS or via OBD interface

This box receives information such as speed or the distance to be traveled either via GPS or via the so-called on-board diagnostic interface (OBD).

If the HUD is connected to this interface, it can receive all possible vehicle-related information such as speed, engine speed, engine temperature and other driving information.

Data transfer to the smartphone is possible

The OBD interface is usually located on the left in the driver's footwell and is also used to read error codes. With some devices, this data can also be transferred to your smartphone.

Disadvantages of complete HUD systems

Since the HUDs are usually placed by yourself, the placement is not always optimal. Not everyone knows what details to look out for for a safe placement.

The HUD must not be placed above the ventilation or above the street.

Oncoming vehicles or other road users must not be dazzled by the projection.

Furthermore, many users struggle with the power supply. The start-stop function in particular often results in long downtimes, which are rather impractical, especially when the navigation system is running.

If the HUD receives the information via GPS, you have to forego the correct display for a long time in rural areas and at the latest in tunnels.

This is how installing a HUD works

Of course, we don't want to withhold the 5 steps you have to take to retrofit the HUD in your car:

  1. Find out whether your HUD receives its information via GPS or via the OBD interface. If necessary, connect the device to this interface.
  2. Does the device need power from the cigarette lighter? Then it also connects to this.
  3. Properly tape the cables or route them behind the dashboard. If they fall towards you while driving, it can be pretty dangerous.
  4. If you clean your windshield from the inside and dust it with a little water, this is the easiest way to attach the film and move it again in an emergency. You can get air bubbles out from under the foil by pushing them out with a flat object or by wiping them with a soft cloth.
  5. Next you have to install the small box on the dashboard - directly under the windshield. Sit in the driver's seat and think carefully about where you want to place the small box. If the information is not completely displayed on the slide, you can move it a little.
  6. You have successfully upgraded the HUD. Have fun trying!

Head-up display via smartphone app

Sounds too practical to be true, doesn't it? The practical thing is that it's the Head-up retrofitting options for smartphones come in many different varieties. And not much more is necessary than downloading a navigation app with HUD and buying the accessories for it.

Accessories for retrofitting the smartphone HUD

This accessory consists of a mat with an attached projection screen. It is advertised en masse in all quality levels, colors and shapes through the usual sales channels.

It must be placed in a suitable place between the windscreen and the dashboard. The mobile phone is then placed on the mat with the navigation app open, including the HUD function.

There are now really innovative offers that have integrated an anti-slip mat and a Qi charging station into the lying surface for the smartphone.

Why a HUD function is so important

Since the information displayed is mirrored during the projection, the driving information must be displayed mirrored on the smartphone. A navigation app with a HUD function does exactly that, whereupon the driving information is then also displayed correctly on the projection screen.

Disadvantages of the smartphone HUD

Smartphones are not designed for long-term use. In addition to the disappearing battery, they also get hotter and hotter over time. If you don't attach them properly to the dashboard, they can slip when cornering, which can be quite dangerous.

If you also believe the numerous customer reviews, the quality is not always sufficient enough for the driving information to be displayed legibly even in direct sunlight.

What does the TÜV say about retrofitting head-up displays?

Skepticism describes that Attitude of the TÜV towards the independent retrofitting of head-up displays most likely. Because there is currently no applicable test standard for head-up displays.

Depending on the car model, various points must be taken into account when placing the car - there is no generally applicable procedure.

Furthermore, it has not yet been conclusively clarified whether permanent access to the HUD accessories via the OBD interface might not have long-term harmful effects on the car. Finally, the external device has permanent access to the motor control.

Conclusion: The TÜV is working on a solution how a safe installation of head-up displays can be guaranteed in the future. It also does not exclude vehicle manufacturers from being involved in this.

Further questions:

It's really practical that the assistance packages can also be retrofitted to old cars. We wanted to know more about it and asked ourselves: Which assistance systems can I retrofit in the car?

So which assistance systems can I retrofit in the car? You can retrofit the assistance systems in the car either individually or as a professional multi-assistance system that has been designed and approved according to the manufacturer's specifications. Such assistance systems are, for example:

With so many assistance systems, the driver's reaction in stressful situations is becoming less and less important. The automation in the event of an approaching collision or inadvertently leaving the lane prevents the driver from behaving incorrectly.

We wondered: What role will the assistance systems play in the future of autonomous driving?

So what role will the assistance systems play in the future of autonomous driving? With every new driver assistance system, one takes a further step towards autonomous driving. Possible incorrect decisions by the driver are intercepted by a preprogrammed function of the assistance system. The car is already driving autonomously to a certain extent, i.e. independently.