Digital instrument panel (Virtual cockpit)

The virtual cockpit is a digital version of the instrument cluster. In practice, it is a high-resolution display that replaces the traditional instrument cluster. Analog instruments are now a thing of the past and are gradually being replaced by TFT displays.

Digital combined instrument panels began to appear in the 80s. However, at that time, they were “ordinary” segment displays or electroluminescent displays, mostly without any graphical symbols. The readability of these displays was poor under unfavorable lighting conditions, and the numerical representation of speed was not entirely suitable for focused driving.

Examples of the first digital instrument panels include the Opel Monza (1982), Opel Kadett (1984), Fiat Uno Turbo (1985), or the later and more advanced cockpit of the Honda S2000 (1999). However, due to the reasons mentioned above, manufacturers withdrew from the widespread use of digital instrument panels. At that time, they were somewhat technical novelties and optional features created to impress.

Such an intermediate step between a purely digital instrument cluster and a classic analog panel can be, for example, Maxi DOT. Maxi DOT combines traditional analog indicators with a small display. This small display gradually enlarged until it became one large digital instrument panel. Automakers in the Volkswagen Group, such as SEAT, AUDI, and Škoda, refer to this digital instrument panel as the Virtual Cockpit or Active Info Display.

Essentially, it is a high-resolution TFT display that has its own graphics card with a powerful processor and functions as a small computer. The Virtual Cockpit is controlled using buttons on the multifunction steering wheel and offers various display modes. According to the driver’s preferences, the Virtual Cockpit can display anything from a minimalist representation of the vehicle’s speed indicator to various indicators combined with maps and navigation.


digital instrument panel (virtual cockpit)

Main components of the digital instrument panel:

  • High-resolution TFT display with 24-bit color depth, refresh rate of 60 Hz
  • Powerful graphics card with active cooling
  • Separate module for warning lights in case of malfunction or failure of the TFT display
  • Speaker for turn signal sound
  • Frame in which all these parts are housed

 Main components of the digital instrument panel (virtual cockpit)Main components of the digital instrument panel (virtual cockpit)

The design and quality of the components used can vary and logically depend on the vehicle’s price. However, it is evident that compared to previously used analog indicators, this is an expensive and sophisticated part.

Advantages of the digital instrument panel:

  • The combined instrument panel can be individually configured; the driver can choose different display styles and the amount of displayed information.
  • Control via multifunctional steering wheel
  • Easy installation

Disadvantages of the digital instrument panel:

  • Reduced readability in case of sunlight glare
  • Absence of parallax, meaning that despite perfect graphic processing, including shading, the image appears very flat
  • More challenging repairs

Did you know:

Digital instrument panels typically do not have a touchscreen display, as it would be impractical given its position behind the steering wheel. Therefore, another touchscreen display is usually placed in the middle of the instrument panel. Interestingly, the first touchscreen display in a production vehicle was introduced by the automaker Buick in 1986 with the Riviera model.