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Texas Instruments’ DLP car console display matches a car’s curves

Texus Instruments DLP Center Console Prototype

Unlike the curvaceous dashboards they end up shoehorned into, automotive infotainment screens are flat by necessity. But at CES 2013, Texas Instruments gave us a pretty exciting look into the future of infotainment displays with a brief demonstration of its curvy prototype DLP center console.

By using digital light projection (DLP) technology rather than the usual LCD tech, TI’s console is able to mold to a car’s dash, opening the door for entirely new and ergonomic ways to interact with infotainment systems.

The display we saw reminded us of Tesla’s gorgeous LCD screen found in the model S, with a literal twist: TI’s screen curved at the top and the sides. Despite the different technology, it looked vivid, sharp, and handled high-resolution graphics. Tesla’s screen is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 3, but TI’s prototype is powered by its own OMAP 5 (Open Multimedia Applications Platform).

Fitting curves isn’t the only perk of in-car DLP technology. Near-infrared sensors allow the screen to not only detect touch as an LCD would, but determine whether those taps came from the driver or the passenger. Existing infotainment systems tend to lock out features from both passengers and drivers while a vehicle is in motion, so being able to make this distinction means passengers can now interact freely with features that may have otherwise been shuttered for safety.

The same near-infrared technology also allows the system to detect approaching hands and change what’s on the screen accordingly. For instance, it might hide controls to show more of a map, then reveal them when you raise a hand to enter an address. (To be fair, drivers can already get a similar experience in the 2013 Cadillac ATS.)

Unlike an LCD screen, DLP projection also allows physical controls to be set in the middle screen, like the volume dial in the photo above. For drivers torn between the clean look of touch controls and the ease of adjusting tactile controls like buttons and knobs, this system could deliver the best of both worlds.

So when can we expect to see such a display make its way into production vehicles? Don’t put off your next car purchase to wait. TI couldn’t give an exact date, but says the technology is still about five to seven years out.