What is a Head-up Display?

Discover how cars with a head-up display can show a wide range of information directly in front of the driver.

A head-up display on a night time driveShutterstock

Article QuickTakes:

Cars with a head-up display (HUD) show a wide range of information directly in front of the driver. Here's everything you need to know to help answer the question of "what is a head-up display?" and why you might want one in your next new car.

What is a Head-up Display?

This technology projects an image just below the driver's line of sight. It's a bit like a hologram in that it's not a screen image but a projected image that you can see through easily. Information is displayed right on the windshield or sometimes on a small plastic pop-up panel mounted on the dashboard. It's easily viewed, but low enough so that it doesn't obscure the driver's view of the road. It's designed to provide key information in a way that keeps the driver's eyes on the road rather than on the infotainment screen or lower on the instrument cluster. The projection system uses a small projector in the top of the dashboard to create a reflected image for the driver to view.

Pop-up Screen or Windshield Display?

Now you know how to answer your friend when they ask the question, "what is a head-up display?" But what kind should you choose? Whether you have a display on the windshield or a display on a small pop-up screen depends on the car you choose. In an effort to make the feature more accessible, some brands use a pop-up panel for the HUD. This usually shows less information and is smaller.

HUDs that show the image directly on the windshield are found on more expensive brands. These also tend to span a larger width to show more information to the driver. These higher-end systems often utilize multicolor displays rather than using only one color. One thing to note is that most, but not all, of the windshield display variety are difficult to see with polarized glasses. There are so many technologies in use, it's best to check these out in person.

What Information is Included?

The information included in a HUD is quite varied. The most common features are current speed, navigation, and the posted speed limit. Less expensive or older vehicles have fewer features included.

As you move toward more premium brands, the number of items included on the HUD increases. They can show everything from the music currently playing to the temperature—and even shift indicators on performance cars with manual transmissions.

Head-up Displays can be Customized

The degree of customization featured in a HUD depends on the car. Many allow you to choose what information to show. This lets you exclude items that don't matter to you so you can make the display less cluttered.

Additional customization features can help you make the image itself easier to see. These include the ability to adjust the brightness, and the ability to shift the display's exact positioning left to right and up or down to suit drivers of varying heights.

Head-up Displays have Limited Availability

As with many newer technologies, a HUD isn't something you'll find in every car. It's becoming a more common feature, however, and you'll find it available to some degree from almost every automaker. Some include one only on top trim levels or their top models. They're more common on luxury brands, where they're often a standard feature, so be sure to consider your spending budget when looking into this feature.

Whether it's navigation or the current speed limit, HUDs put what you need to know within easy view so your eyes can stay on the road and you can stay focused on driving.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Nicole Wakelin
I write about cars. A lot. That's because I’ve always loved cars and the fact that they regularly hand me the keys to shiny new automobiles so I can write about them is a constant source of amazement. I cover breaking news, write reviews, and attend auto shows and new vehicle launches across the country. The more winding the road and the more unknown the route, the better.