TECH: TFT Infotainment Screens Are Coming To Your Next Car

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The information display and gauges you view in your car are about to change.  Here’s how.

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Thin Film Transistor displays will be the next wave of in-vehicle infotainment progress. These new information displays will replace the gauges and screens you now view to get needed information. Brighter, crisper, and more visible from angles, the screens will enable easier viewing.

But that’s not what makes them special. TFT displays’ best trick is their ability to change what you see.

In a typical mainstream car in 2016 the view one sees is a large speedometer with an analog-like look, and possibly a tachometer or group of other needle-indicators showing fuel and temperature. Going forward, the new TFT screens will enable those same views, and they’ll show you much more.

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TFT screens are the intersection of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and semiconductor manufacturing. Created on a glass or plastic substrate, the material is deposited onto the surface with high-tech machinery long used to produced semiconductor devices like computer chips. The classic deposit, etch, and repeat steps enable the manufacturers to produce resolutions and abilities not previously possible.

audi virtual cockpit

Since these displays are entirely digital, more like a laptop or smartphone screen than past displays, the information you see can change easily. The classic display you view between the spokes of the steering wheel will still be the default.

However, automakers will give you the option of seeing a large, clear map as an alternative. Or perhaps you prefer to minimize the speedo and instead have the audio options use the majority of the screen. The customization options will let you dial in the display to get the information you want.

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Audi is taking the lead, and the new TT sports car has used the screen since its introduction about a year ago. Audi pairs a new computer processor from Silicon Valley’s NVIDIA called the Tegra 30 chip, with a screen our research indicates is made by Tekswo, an LCD manufacturer in China.

Together they produce a fantastic display that incorporates all of the driver’s needed information into the gauge area. The secondary and tertiary screens we are used to seeing in the center of and on top of the dashboard are gone. Even the backup camera is viewed in this new central location.

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Audi uses a new MMI interface to control it all, and it works very well. Other automakers will put their own spin on the technology and roll it out eventually. It is already migrating rapidly down from high-end luxury models to premium affordable vehicles. It’s migrating too quickly for one BestRide contributor, Clifford Atiyeh, who wrote in Car and Driver that, having seen the smart dashboard technology, he has concerns about driver distraction and cyber security.

We liked the new technology when we tested it, but it does take a bit of getting used to. Based on my personal testing, I agree that driver distraction is an issue, at least for me personally. One thing is certain, technology marches on and one can either keep up or watch it go by.

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Image notes: Third from top, and fifth from top images courtesy of Audi.