Digital Rearview Mirrors Are Garbage And I Can Explain Why With Science

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There are some things that sound great on paper, but in practice are awful, just awful. Things like, say, a popsicle made of chowder or a genetically-engineered flying chihuahua. When it comes to cars, I think one of the best examples of this concept is the inside rearview mirror that is actually an LCD screen connected to a camera. In principle, these should be terrific. But I hate using them. Why? What makes them so awful? To figure it out, I had to reach out to a scientist who studies visual cognition.

Are you familiar with these sorts of digital rearview mirrors? They’ve been around for a few years, and they seem to offer a lot of benefits: because the “mirror” (again, it’s not really a mirror at all, it’s a screen in the shape and location of a traditional inside mirror) is fed via a camera mounted at the rear of the car, nothing inside the car – passengers heads, luggage, pillars, errant balloons, whatever – can block your rear vision.

Also, the camera can provide a wider field of view, and prevents getting dazzled when someone has their brights on behind you. Here, I’ll let Toyota try and explain why these should be great:

I just tried one out myself in the 2023 Toyota Sequoia, and while the technology itself was impressive and well-executed, actually using the screen-mirror for its intended purpose was awful, almost literally unusable. It’s terrible.

(I should mention that while my examples here are from Toyota, this is not a Toyota-only thing. Other carmakers have these, and there’s aftermarket options as well.)

It’s terrible in an unusual way, too, in that there’s nothing actually wrong with the design or execution, it seems to be terrible in concept. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I had some suspicions. I also wasn’t sure if maybe there was just something wrong with me, but I asked a couple other Toyota reps (whom I won’t name, of course) and got confirmation that I’m not alone in finding these digital mirrors unusable.

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Part of what seemed to be going on had to do with my own particular vision situation. Ever since I made the decision to Become Old, which happened a few years ago in my late 40s, my once-perfect-vision eyeballs decided they’d help my more mature look by suddenly refusing to be able to see anything close to my head.

This is known as presbyopiaand happens to pretty much everybody, so all you beautiful, sexy young readers out there holding your phones inches from your gorgeous, clear, vivid eyes can just fuck right off, because it’ll happen to you, too, and then you’ll be having to get used to yourself in glasses just like I did.

Anyway, because this condition only really affects your close-up vision, I don’t wear glasses to drive, as my distance vision is fine, and I just deal with the fact that my dash instruments are a bit blurry. But, significantly, when I drive and look in my conventional rearview mirror, inches from my face, the images reflected in that mirror do not look blurry. They look as clear as any of the other distant cars through the windshield look.

But when I look at the digital rearview mirror’s screen, it’s blurry as hell. It’s the same distance as a normal mirror, so what’s going on, here? And, even with my glasses on, I can see the screen-mirror image clearly, but it still feels unsettlingly wrong compared to a normal mirror. How can I make sense of this?

Well, maybe can’t, but Dr. Jay Pratt, who specializes in perception and visual cognition and is a professor at the University of Toronto, can.Mir John

Of course, he did refer to me as “John” in all our correspondence, but I think he still knows what he’s talking about when it comes to this sort of visual puzzle.

Dr. Pratt gave some really interesting explanations for what I was experiencing, so I’ll let him explain. First, the issue of why the digital mirror image was blurry when a regular mirror, the same distance away, is not:

Issue #1: the mirror image is crisp but the LCD image is blurry.  I think this is an optics issue and probably due to your farsightedness.  The mirror is essentially reflecting light from distant objects plus the distance between your eyes the mirror (i.e., everything is distant viewing).  The LCD screen, however, is taking images from distant object, going through some processing, and then projecting it at the relatively short distance from your eyes (i.e., a relatively short viewing distance).  Depending on your correction, putting your reading glasses on might bring the LCD into focus – but you’d lose focus on the sideview mirrors.  Indeed, I wear progressive lenses; reading viewing at the bottom, distance viewing at the top.  This is good for driving because dashboards are down and windshields and mirrors are up.  But an LCD screen above my head would require me to tilt my head a lot to get my reading correction onto the screen.
Try this.  Stand a foot or two away from a mirror in a bright space.  Hold something with writing at the mirror; it’s probably fuzzy without your reading glasses.  At the same distance, now hold the object with writing beside your head and look at it through the mirror.  By doubling the viewing distance (object to mirror to you) the writing is probably crisper (albeit reversed).
Or think of it this way.  If you had a picture of a distant mountain on an LCD screen near your head, you would need glasses to see it clearly.  If it was a mirror at the same distance, with a mountain in the distance, you would not need your reading glasses.

This fits with something I was sensing intuitively, that I look into mirrors, but at screens. The image and light on a screen is generated and displayed right at the surface of the screen, but a mirror is actually bouncing light off the surface in such a way that

“A reflection appears to be the same distance from the “other side” of the mirror as the viewer’s eyes are from the mirror. Also, when light is reflected from a mirror, it bounces off at the same angle in the opposite direction from which it hit.”

…which just means that when I see a car in the rearview mirror behind me, to my eyes it’s the same as if I was looking directly at that car at a distance directly. I’m not looking at an image of the car on a flat plane four inches from my face, I’m actually looking at the car with my distance vision, because that’s how far the light actually traveled.Mir Mirrordiagram

Does that make sense? I don’t have to re-focus from distance vision to close vision because the mirror is distance vision.

Dr.Pratt elaborates on this a bit more:

Mirrors work differently because they are reflecting distant light.  Imagine you’re sitting at your desk looking at a computer monitor.  The monitor might be 2 feet away from you, and for that you need your glasses (well, maybe not now, but likely eventually).  If we replace the monitor with a mirror, it’s reflecting whatever is behind you, say that back wall of your office some 10 feet away.  So 10 feet between the mirror and back wall, plus another 2 feet between you and mirror, and your viewing distance is 12 feet.  At that distance, you don’t need glasses to see in the detail the back wall in the mirror.  It’s all a matter where the light information is coming from; a nearby screen or reflected from a more distant object.

Oh, here’s another way to think of it.  Suppose you have a mirror that has a sticker on it. You stand 5 feet from the mirror, looking straight at it.  Your image is 10 feet away; 5 from you to the mirror and 5 from the mirror back to you.  The sticker viewing distance is only 5 feet (from the mirror to you).  So depending on one’s eyesight, one might be in focus and one out of focus. The LCD is like a sticker on a mirror.

So, even if you have perfect vision, looking from the windshield to the LCD screen of the digital mirror will still require your eyes to re-focus, like they do when you look down at your dashboard, and that’s not nearly as seamless as you’d think. You notice it, partially because most drivers are used to having no need to re-focus going from windshield to mirror and back.

There’s more to it, though; it’s not just an issue of focal distance, as screens have other factors in play:

Issue #2: Transitions from LCD to windshield are hard. I’m guessing that the reverse transition, from windshield to LCD is much easier. This may be due to the attention capturing properties of the LCD.

LCD screens are very luminant with lots of light energy, and changes in luminance are very good at automatically capturing our attention. For another driving example, normal roadside billboards are pretty easy to ignore, but LCD billboards are much more distracting. Depending how much light energy the LCD is pumping out, being right near our focus of gaze (unlike the LCD center consoles with are away from where we should be looking), these things might be harder to disengage attention from that a mirror.

After all, the mirror is just reflecting light from outside the car; it’s the same luminance out the front and back windshields). Turning down the contrast of the LCD should equate luminance inside and outside, thus reducing the transition difficulties.

This is a big factor, too, at night more so, as the LCD screen is actually a light-generating source. And, if that’s not enough, there’s the issue of why the image is a bit disorienting from the digital mirror as well, even when you can see it clearly. The good doctor has an answer for this, too:

And yes, only a camera mounted on the rearview LCD monitor would give the same perspective as a rearview mirror.  A camera anywhere else would give a different perspective. Now that could be offset with some fancy processing of the images, but do to so would be a lot of computing power.  With enough practice, the new camera perspective would come to seem normal.

That one is a bit obvious – a camera on the back of the car has a different perspective and field of view than one mounted at the point of the mirror – but it’s definitely a factor in why using these digital mirrors feels so off.

Not having your view blocked by headrests or cargo is good, and having a wide field of view is good, but it’s still a view that’s discordant with where you are, as you drive, and that shift is a bit disorienting. This particular issue is likely the easiest one to get used to, but it’s still not great, and doesn’t feel as seamless or natural as a conventional rearview mirror.

It’s an interesting problem, why digital rearview mirrors suck so profoundly, and it’s not really the sort of problem that better technology can fix, because it’s an issue with the physics of light itself.

What complicates things even more is the fact that similar tech, rearview cameras used when reversing, don’t suffer from the same issues even though they’re essentially the same basic technology. The reason is that we don’t use them the same way. A back-up camera is focused on for the short period while reversing; it’s not glanced at with regularity over a long period of time like a rearview mirror is, so the transition issues just don’t come up.

Despite how great they sound when described or shown in a promotional video, I’d have to suggest that anyone, especially if you need reading glasses, should save their money and stick with good old cheap real rearview mirrors. Digital ones are just the wrong application of too much technology in a place where it doesn’t work.

I don’t know why or how these ever made it past the initial testing phase, though I suppose you could get used to them, and maybe in some cases the benefits could outweigh the negatives. But I’d encourage everyone even considering one to get in a car that has one and try it out, so you can actually feel what I’m talking about here, because words can’t really describe the suckiness properly.

Until Toyota or some other carmaker changes the fundamental nature of light, these overcomplicated non-solutions to the problem of poor rear visibility are best avoided.

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114 Responses

  1. Unpopular opinion, but I think theyre awesome! You can glance back and see much farther, much clearer while having your eyes off the road for much less time. Also much clearer at night, with no glare. Im not sure of all manufacturers, but Stellantis vehicles you just flip the little lever and the screen shuts off and you have your regular mirror. It’s not an option I would pay 1500 dollars to have, but if it were a 500 dollar option on a new Jeep, I’d probably take it.

    1. In my experience they take some getting used to due to the difference in perspective and focusing on nearby screens but this adjustment is easy to make and they have benefits especially in a full car.

      I do find myself switching to the normal mirror when I have back seat passengers either for eye contact in a conversation or to see what is going on back there, but it is convenient with taller passengers to have the camera and not have my view blocked by heads.
      (The girlfriend blocking the side view mirror I have not found a solution for yet.)

      1. It’s not just the beige-Buick-Regal-15-below-the-limit crowd. I’m a Generation Xer who got cataracts in my 40s (it happens), and the resulting surgery and lens implants gave me fixed focus eyes – permanent presbyopia. (I couldn’t afford Crystalens at the time, but regular cataract surgery was just a $10 copay.) Progressive bifocal sunglasses are great for driving, but they’re intended to bring instrument panels into focus, not things at window level. My vision is clear and 20/20 without glasses out a windshield, but a LCD screen a couple of feet (or a bit more than a half meter, for you non-Americans) away — forget it.

        1. I have the same issue that Torch does (old eyes, need readers-it happens to almost everyone over 45). I have Bifocal reader inserts on all my sunglasses so I can read my instrument panel. You can buy bifocal sunnies but they usually look like shit and I like Ray Bans so I bought stick on bifocals. They actually work great, I even have them on my cycling glasses so I can read my bike computer.
          I even have cheap night vision bifocals for night driving. Again none of this would help with those digital mirrors that are above the windshield.

      2. I build technology for a living. I swap EFI into formerly carbureted cars. I make fun of the luddite set on a regular basis…

        …but digital mirrors are objectively, provably worse in most situations. There are at least three purely optical ways that reflective mirrors are superior. Focus, 3D, and dynamic field of view. There’s nothing you can do to change facts.

        They might be on all new vehicles at some point, but it won’t be because people “got over it”. It’ll be because the IIHS finally shamed automakers into building opaque 19 ton 4 meter rounded off cubes with wheels in order to get that fifth star, and that’ll be the only way you can see the pedestrian before you flatten them.

      3. I can tell that you are under 40 years old. Progressive-lenses make it so you can only read closer than 24″ in the bottom 1/3 of your glasses. If trying to look at a rear-view mirror placed above our head, we would have to face our noses to the ceiling.

        That said, if placing the video for the rear view on the center console is possible, then that is a viable solution.

      4. That’s the problem though, it’s not (just) that Jason doesn’t like it, he literally can’t see the image on the screen, but could see perfectly well with a mirror.
        I suppose it is an old-person problem, but we’re all going to get old (hopefully).

        1. Jason can’t see the mirror cam because he refuses to wear the glasses he needs to correct his vision.

          This is not a technical fault it is Jason not wanting to admit he needs reading glasses.

          1. Let’s assume that Jason decides to give in to the obvious and get progressive glasses. In a progressive lens, the close up part is at the bottom of the lens whereas the rearview mirror is above your head. It would be nearly impossible to use the bifocal part of the lens to see the mirror without taking your eyes completely off the road.

          2. A couple of years ago I might have agreed with you but since then I’ve also reached my mid 40s and come down with the presbyopias. The problem is not that he just doesn’t want to wear his glasses, it’s that there’s different prescriptions to correct distance and near vision. If I wear glasses that correct my near vision I cannot see distance AT ALL which you can imagine will cause issues with me actually seeing where I’m going. Glasses that correct my distance vision make up-close objects even further out of focus which would make the rear view camera useless.
            This is why glasses with multiple prescriptions exist, bifocals or progressives, but as mentioned in the article they put the up close prescription at the bottom of the lens which would mean craning your head all the way back to bring the rearview camera into focus thus taking your eyes wayyyyy off the road.
            This is not just Jason refusing to admit he needs reading glasses, the entire article was about him admitting he needs corrective lenses for near objects. Just wait, you’ll see what this is all about eventually too. I should count myself lucky that I made it to 45 before I needed glasses but it still sucks and takes a lot of getting used to.

          3. I wouldn’t be so sure it’s even a degeneration issue or problems with a person’s eyes to begin with. I suspect it’s a cognitive or developmental issue, like, your eyes learning early how to focus differently between video screens and traditionally refractive or reflective optical systems.

            I’m age 34 with 20/10 vision and for the past decade I’ve worked equal amounts as a still photographer and a videographer, and I have never managed to deal with the transition to stills cameras with electronic viewfinders. The image through them looks completely unnatural to me, and I have a very difficult time keeping my non-viewfinder eye open at the same time as my viewfinder eye on a mirrorless electronic viewfinder stills camera, when I have no such issue with an SLR.

            Oddly enough, I have no problem using an electronic eye-level viewfinder for video, which I’m convinced has to do with familiarity — I learned still photography on manual focus film SLRs, and video on MiniDV using awful low-fidelity electronic viewfinders.

  2. I’m in my mid/late 30s and the issue hasn’t shown up yet, but when it does, I’m kind of looking forward to going full Chuck Schumer with reading glasses way down at the very top of the nose. I mean, I already eat his sandwiches, might as well

  3. My Triumph doesn’t have a passenger side-view mirror, so I sometimes find myself leaning forward to get a bigger field of view out of my rear-view mirror. I think it would be kind of a deal killer for me to have the point-of-view of the mirror permanently fixed by a camera.

    Of course, this well never be tested in my Triumph because Lucas Electronics have a hard enough time with a turn signal dash light. A mirror video is likely to just end up showing me intercepted TV signals from 1937 after shorting out the brake lights when activated.

    1. This is the first thing I thought of while reading this article.

      You may not even be aware that you’re doing it, but the ability to alter what you see in the mirror with just a little movement of your head should not be underestimated. Your brain just processes this as “looking around”, but it greatly enhances the utility of both the interior and exterior mirrors. A little movement also subconsciously helps your brain determine distance and relationships between objects.

      All this is completely thrown out the window with a fixed-view camera.

      The disadvantages of these systems in most situations clearly outweigh the advantages.

  4. Another thought:
    I’ve never been in a modern military tank. But I would surmise that the driver’s who would be using digital cameras in ALL directions for navigation would have these same issues with close blurriness and weird distal proportions. It would take a long time to get oriented rather than just naturally looking outside in real life.

    Of course, the Chevy Camaro could be the civilian test for this given it’s tank-like proportions and need for digital cameras for complete navigation. (bah-dum, bump…chhh).

  5. An alert to AARP about the over 50 crowd blur with this should be enough to relegate it to optional status.
    If you have sufficient cargo to block your rearview and passenger mirror, should you even attempt it? It’s akin to winter idiots that scrape off a small oval above the steering wheel.
    Use regular mirror and have a button that activates your backup camera if you have that much obstruction.

    1. I dunno man, I’ve been driving various commercial vehicles for years and none of them have any windows whatsoever on the entire rear 3/4 of the vehicle. Also, none of them have any kind of cameras at all—just those convex blind spot mirrors on the sides, which definitely do not reach around and let you see what’s directly behind you. (At best, they kinda-sorta replace the windows between the B and C pillars, in a tiny and distorted way.) It certainly does suck, but millions of drivers manage it every day. Saying that you shouldn’t be able to operate a vehicle with cargo blocking the rear window is going a bit far, if you ask me.

      1. Yea, that second point was vague. My swirling thought was built on Jason’s ‘balloon’ example. If your average personal car driver had a cabin full of balloons blocking all window view save the immediate forward, I think that wouldn’t be advisable. Although as a teen I’ve had six people in a cab of a Jeep Comanche. Ah youth. No offense meant for commercial applications, yall as a whole have much better operational intelligence than the majority of drivers.

        1. You give us too much credit. Anybody can drive a cargo van, and you can drive some surprisingly large trucks with nothing more than a quick medical exam every two years. It’s different for big rigs and anything with air brakes of course, but the dude in the ratty box truck from your local moving company doesn’t need a CSL to drive it.

          1. “but the dude in the ratty box truck from your local moving company doesn’t need a CSL to drive it.”

            He should. Anybody driving anything for a living should need more training than a regular driver’s license. Just for the sheer increase in opportunities to fuck up. And you should need trailer training to tow anything.

            If they can make us get a motorcycle endorsement, we can make people get a trailer endorsement. And a “don’t run over kids or lawns or mailboxes with the box truck” endorsement.

          2. “Anybody can drive a cargo van” Every single dented Amazon delivery van says otherwise. I see so many I am beginning to think these shipped to Amazon pre-dented. There can’t be that many bad delivery drivers.

      2. The number of times somebody has backed a tractor trailer into my mailbox on a 4 house cul-de-sac over the last year (Three. Three times) says to me that various commercial vehicle drives of all sorts are particularly bad at this.

        Of course, we let you drive whatever loaded up with tons of cargo around residential neighborhoods with nothing more than the worthless training we do to give out regular drivers licenses, so… What should we expect. It’s not the mirror’s fault (or lack thereof).

      3. I completely agree – I’ve been driving fire trucks for awhile now, and I’d love to have one of these. I can’t see a thing out the back. Newer engines have them, but my poor department won’t be getting something so newfangled anytime soon.

  6. “I don’t know why or how these ever made it past the initial testing phase…”
    Probably because all the test engineers, like the design engineers, are men in their late 20s and early 30s whose eyes don’t suck yet. That’s at least been my experience as a design and test engineer.
    The “most non-manager engineers are young” phenomenon is especially glaring in the design of home appliances. I’ve seen too many stoves that were seemingly designed by someone who only has a conceptual, at best, grasp of how stoves are used in a busy household.

  7. External mirrors add a lot of aerodynamic drag at speed so a mirror may be cheap to put on a car, they cost a lot more over time due to reduced fuel economy. By paying a little more at the start you will save a lot more over time.

    1. Wtf? First this is the rear view mirror, something that is entirely within the confines of the cabin. Literally doesn’t impact fuel mileage AT ALL. Second, what’s the total impact to fuel efficiency from a side view mirror? Maybe, 0.25 mpg tops? Assuming your car gets 25 mpg, over 100,000 miles at $5/gallon you’ll save a whopping $200 (rounded up from $198.02). The economics aren’t there.

      1. Changes to the car shape to improve fuel economy affects the placement of the rearview mirror. As the roof of vehicles (which are mostly crossovers) slope more front to back the rear window becomes smaller (shorter). For someone of average height to see out of the back using the rear view mirror it has to be moved down the windshield. At some point it starts blocking the view out of the front of the car. This is compounded by the fact that drivers want to sit more upright with a higher sightline instead of reclining like was common in sedans. A rear view camera instead of a physical mirror solves this problem as it does not need line-of-sight out the back of the vehicle so the display can be moved higher (or lower into the dash) and avoid blocking forward vision.

        I first noticed this when we bought a 2005 Prius and the rear view mirror was directly in my line-of-sight. Flipping the mirror 180 degrees and moving it to the top of the adjustment range helped but there still was a blind spot that could hide a car. I rent a lot of cars since I travel for work and most of them now have mirrors low enough to block my forward vision.

    2. Not really an issue on the rearview mirror, given its location inside the cab. And LCDs for side mirrors are more likely to be located in an area where progressive lenses would be fine for viewing them, so they do not face the same issues.

        1. The outside mirrors being replaced with screens can avoid the progressive lens problem, since they do not require one to look upward. The outside mirror replacement has been pitched as a solution for blind spots, fuel efficiency, and vehicle width. The rearview replacement solves the occasional problem of loads blocking the rearview mirror, but introduces as many problems as it solves.
          A rearview camera on the dash would be a better option, and it could even allow for the traditional mirror to also be used.

  8. The point made about how the mirror being at the top of the windshield makes it more difficult for those with progressive lenses to view them, means that maybe these digital rearview mirrors should be placed on top of the dashboard, like how some cars did in the 50s and 60s. Then you’re looking at it from the bottom part of your progressive lenses, so it’s not as out of focus. Still probably not as good a solution as just bringing back regular mirrors, but something I thought about.

    1. I guess you didn’t watch the video of Toyota’s system, because that is exactly how it works. The little rocker switch at the bottom of the rear-view mirror that used to be used for dimming the headlights of the car behind you is used in the Toyota mirror to switch between screen and mirror.

      The high-mounted mirror is a problem for people with progressive lenses (i.e., fancy bi-focals) since the close-up viewing is at the bottom of the lens and the top half is for distance viewing.

      The solution for these people is to integrate the rear-view down in the dash where the bifocals will focus correctly and where your brain is already accustomed to a close focus anyway.

      1. Odd. The one on my rav looks like a normal mirror (although with auto dimming) while also having the ability to switch to digital. That feature has only been activated once. During the test drive. Otherwise, looks and acts as if that feature didn’t exist.

  9. Eye doctors around the country all shouted out a collective…”well duh!”

    That’s why every single eye doctor’s office I’ve ever been in has a mirror in the exam room at 10 feet. It effectively doubles the distance to the back wall with the standard letters on the eye chart. Simply, it makes it possible to do a “20/20” vision check at standard 20 feet in an exam room half the size.

    The mirror doesn’t change the vision (other than the letters are backwards which is corrected by reversing the printed letters). If it’s good enough for eye doctors for the past 100 years, it’s good enough for me in my cars.

  10. Okay, so I have some questions. What problem is this digital “mirror” intended to solve? Is there a mechanism to keep the camera clean and free of obstructions at all times? Does the field of vision somehow change when you move your head to change the viewing angle like a regular mirror? If there is a benevolent, loving god, why does he keep allowing things like this to happen?

  11. Another problem not addressed here is that a mirror reveals a slightly different view every time your head moves to a different position. The angle of view changes when your head moves in relation to the mirror.

    A digital rearview display shows the view from one stationary point on the rear of the car, from where the camera lens is mounted. No matter how much your head moves around, the image in a digital display comes from the same point.

    You are used to seeing the viewing angle change slightly as your position relative to the mirror changes, and a digital rearview cannot provide the same experience you’re accustomed to, so it is very disorienting until you get used to it.

      1. Been looking and waiting for someone to mention this factor. REAL eyes and brain can adjust to a mirror and compensate for any depth perception changes. Our brains/eyes are not hard wired to achieve such with a screen. Actually I wish any screens had never been incorporated into vehicle design. It feels like the manufacturing process does not give a damn about real human interface anymore. Screw that.

  12. I was thinking of getting one of these for my BMW 850, when I got it the rear view mirror was long gone. I have gotten used to driving without one. Helps a lot with the BroDozers and their landing light bright headlights.

    I will be passing on it now

  13. Rather than a problematic special skeumorphic viewscreen that flips to being a physical mirror with suboptimal, compromised reflectivity it would make more sense to have a plain mirror for regular use and a means of activating the backup camera on its’ dashboard screen while driving forward for edge cases when the camera’s wider, unobstructed view is helpful.

  14. So why can’t I just have the backup camera stay displayed at all times and have a normal mirror to have the best of both? On most cars it turns off as soon as you shift out of reverse. On some it’ll stay on until you reach a certain speed moving forward or some time delay. This is great when maneuvering a trailer back and forth. Why aren’t they all like that? It is a patent issue?

    1. I have a Nextbase 522GW Dash camera mounted right next to the mostly useless rearview mirror on the driver’s side in my MINI Coupe S. Additionally, I have a rear-facing camera (connected to the front dash cam) mounted at the top of the glass in the car’s hatch looking straight backward. The main dash camera’s settings allow you to choose to have its screen on at all times, or turn off after a short period. Additionally, you can choose to display the front camera or the rear camera’s view displayed on the screen. I have it set to stay on at all times when driving because the view out the back and over my left shoulder is practically non-existent in the Coupe. The reverse camera has just enough field of view that any car that approaches me from behind is visible the whole time until it passes me on either side, but then at that point I can see the vehicle in my side view mirrors, so there is a sort of unbroken overlap between the view of the reverse camera and my car’s side view mirrors. Though the dash camera has a relatively small screen, it’s good enough to spot movement, if not great detail, so it does what I want it to. I also have a license plate reverse camera that streams to my cell phone when I’m reversing. That license plate camera runs on a rechargeable battery, however, so I only use it when reversing. So with the two rear-facing cameras, my view out to the rear and sides has markedly improved in my case.

    2. Backup cameras are often angled slightly downward, so they don’t provide a sufficient viewing angle under normal operation. They point down so you can see what your car would hit at ground level.

  15. I also must disagree. My wife recently got a Bolt EUV with one of these and she hates it but I dig it. I can see way more stuff in it than a regular mirror but I don’t have the near sighted thing going yet (although rapidly approaching the big five o). At first I noticed the refocus thing with my eyes but lately I got used to it and don’t even notice. Also my wife’s a foot shorter than me so instead of readjusting her rear view every time I drive ( which used to drive her nuts) I just flip the lever and go digital screen and everyone’s happy. Conclusion, I like this tech, sorry Torch.

  16. Old guy takes car to dealership.

    Old guy: Fix my rear view mirror, it’s all blurry!

    Service person: There’s nothing wrong with it. That’s your eyes.

    Old guy: Bah! My eyes are fine!

    Service person: OK … [sells him cheap stick-on mirror for $250]

  17. I like the mirror cam in my Chevy Bolt. Wider field of view and reduced glare at night. It also allows me to have the mirror as high as it will go so it doesn’t block my forward vision. (This is a problem on a lot of new cars. As the roof of cars slope more for aerodynamics the rear window gets shorter. To maintain line of sight out the back window the rearview mirror has to move down the windshield)

    The only point I’ll give Jason is that the traditional placement high on the windshield isn’t great for older drivers with bifocals (which Jason should be wearing while driving so he can see). Since a mirror cam does not need line-of-sight out the back it could be put into the top of the dash at the same height as the instrument cluster and therefore easier for people with bifocals to see it out of the bottom part of their bifocals.

  18. good article. I noticed that too (I’m 47 now), somehow all glass surfaces have become hard to focus on, especially when having reflections. I lost autofocus 🙂 on reflective glass, I always see the reflection first and I’ve been repositioning all reflective surfaces at home to not reflect too much. Even transitioned from normal TV to projector on screen for the same reason.
    It all makes sense now! Thanks again for articulating the reason and the explanations.

  19. This has also infuriated me, simply due to the need to refocus from the distant forward vision to the relatively close rearview display. Normally, a glance in the rearview mirror is just a glance, but it takes longer and strains your eyes when you need to refocus every time.

  20. FYI: I have contacts and your eye doctor can adjust the prescription so that one eye focuses long and one focuses short. You would think it is a problem, but your brain soon learns how to favor one vs another as needed. Works pretty well.

    1. YMMV. I tried that for a time and did I ever have eye pain. My eyes would never give up on trying to focus individually. After a few hours the pain would become unbearable as my eye that was blurry (the close up one if I was doing mostly outdoor distance viewing OR my distance eye when I tried to do my office work) tried to focus.

  21. The way I ‘see’ it is that a standard mirror is better than a digital mirror, unless it’s a situation where you can’t see shit with a regular mirror because of something (cargo, a trailer) or someone (people sitting in the back) are blocking your view.

    So if a standard mirror works, stick with it.

    But for vehicles/situations where you can’t see out the back such as a moving van or when towing a trailer, a digital mirror can be a huge improvement even if it’s not ideal.

  22. PEOPLE! This has been solved. How do you think VR googles work! You can’t focus on something 1″ away even if you are JT’s unborn progeny. Yet they work.
    I’m sure it would adjust like the mini viewfinder on my digital SLR, you move the slider until it is in focus (now unfocused for the fully sighted) and voila. For the smarter car it would remember your focus setting like it does your seat, mirror and steering wheel position.

    1. Doesn’t VR use 2 separate lenses, one for each eye, to achieve that though? I’m not sure how you would account for such a parallax of not just different heights but the fact that your head isn’t always in the exact same place every time

  23. Random thought. Where is rear-facing camera mounted? Is it the same as the backup camera? Would any of this be mitigated if the camera were to be moved up to give a better “more natural” view?

    I dunno, I’m not all that bright.

  24. It is screen world we live in.
    I stare at a screen looking at this website, I’m pretty much oblivious to things outside the illuminated screen. If I shift my head things stay the same.

    I take this perspective out to my car. My eyes have been trained to look straight ahead, all of a sudden I realize I need electronic driving aids as my neck and eyes don’t really want to move anymore.
    I’m reassured by back-up camera screen and the silence of the warning buzzer, I back out into the street shift to forward and off I go.

  25. I would think with higher beltlines, smaller greenhouses, the more sloped and rounded rears of vehicles shrinking rear windows as the main driver behind switching to cameras. At some point most of the rearview mirror view is being blocked by the inside of the car. I’m sure the rearview mirror is a low engineering priority, and by the time it’s noticed how bad the view is it’s probably cheaper to add a camera and screen.

    I’ve taken the backseat headrests out of my own car to give me a better view out the back window.

  26. Personally I loved the digital rearview mirror I got to try in a Lexus NX, but I guess that’s because my eyes are still young and don’t need any kind of correction.
    I didn’t have any trouble focusing because the rearview mirror is for seeing if a car is behind you, which doesn’t need much focus. It’s not like I’m trying to read the ECNALUBMA

  27. If only we could figure out how to have proper glass area and good sightlines while meeting modern crash test standards, we wouldn’t have to screw around with cameras.

    If any If you haven’t driven an older car as of late, say an XJ Cherokee, it’s a revelation to be able to see all around you in traffic with minimal blind spots.

    I’m not sure why manufacturers haven’t put more effort into getting back to adequate sightlines. I would think with all the advanced materials available like high strength steel and carbon fiber, someone could design a car you could see out of.

    1. I’ve dailied a 1976 Mercedes-Benz for the past year, and the visibility is absolutely refreshing. I don’t even miss having a passenger’s side mirror.

      Before that, I drove a 2012 Outback, which isn’t nearly the most barricaded of cars, but still the backup camera on that thing was absolutely necessary in parking lots. And earlier a couple mid 2000s Saabs, which as I understand are basically crush-proof, but you could still see out of them, so I know there’s a happy medium.

    2. It’s because thick pillars and high beltlines make people in customer-test clinics “feel safer”.

      Maybe these clinics should be run in heavy traffic with the facilitator yelling “GO, DAMMIT!”

  28. Jason, did you try flipping the mirror up/down? This usually deactivates the LCD and sets it to function solely as a mirror. I’m surprised you didn’t know this as this sort of thing is usually right up your alley.

    “I don’t know why or how these ever made it past the initial testing phase, though I suppose you could get used to them, and maybe in some cases the benefits could outweigh the negatives.”

    I’m in my mid-40’s and my eyes haven’t left me just yet. I’ve owned two vehicles with the digital mirror: 2018 Caddy CT6 PHEV and a 2020 Camaro SS Vert. It took me a few days to get used to using the digital mirror, but pros very much outweighed the cons.

    The Caddy had decent visibility, but using the mirror really made knowing what is behind me simpler.

    The Camaro, shit, it absolutely negated ALL the blind spots inherent in the design and the very small rear glass in my convertible. Without it would have REALLY sucked.

    You don’t like it, flip the little lever and turn it off, the mirror still works.

  29. If I’m not mistaken, the same principles also apply to the camera as side-view mirror/blind spot aid (as used on many Hondas), right? It’s only really a problem on the Honda e (as that’s eschewed any traditional side view mirrors), but beyond that, extra visibility is good,

  30. I’ve never experienced these, but I do hate the LCD “auto-dimming” rear-view mirrors that have been around for several decades.
    Seriously, I’ve never had a problem reaching up and flipping the lever. But the auto-dimmers don’t really dim at all, certainly not enough for an F-350 behind you at a traffic light.
    To compensate, I set the mirror to an upward angle so that the headlights hit me in the forehead instead of the eyes.

    1. I don’t hate them but when the safelite bro replaced the windshield in my 997, he dropped the auto dimming mirror and the precious fluid came unbound. A replacement OEM mirror was preposterously expensive (fighting with safelite got me nowhere), so luckily Porsche had a part number for a manual dimming mirror that was reasonable. I don’t miss the auto dimming.

  31. I have a 2021 Toyota Venza with one of these, a feature included along with other options I actually did care about. It was active during the (solo – one upside of COVID) test drive when I had no idea how to make it be a normal mirror. The test drive is the longest it has been used for in my car.

    The biggest issue for me is my eyes expect to be able to hold the same-ish focus distance when I glance towards the rear view mirror as when I’m looking forward, or towards the side mirrors. The wide, unobstructed view is actually pretty nice, but it’s just too weird for me to switch to close focus looking in that direction. That said, it does feel like something I could get used to if there was reason enough to give it a chance.

    Even still, there are a handful of times the digital mirror is somewhat useful. Programming the homelink buttons is WAY easier following actual instructions and prompts right on the mirror. The kid also likes it when he can see when a cool truck or something behind the car (that his head and carseat otherwise blocks). It’s also okay at night under certain conditions where the wide view is nice or it cuts down on headlight glare.

    In other markets, our car (sold as the Toyota Harrier) uses the digital mirror as a DVR, recording the front/rear cameras with the mirror taking care of playback. That actually sounds useful, wish I could get it. I could also see the technology being really useful in vehicle with no rear visibility (like a cargo van), or if it was enhanced with even better night vision capabilities.

  32. The real problem is regulations not keeping up with tech. Is an unobstructed rear-view good in concept while driving? Absolutely. The problem is it is crammed into components required by law. Like the goofy cameras sticking out of the bottom of Hondas mirrors. Do I need both, absolutely not. Are they both there because of government regulations? Absolutely.

    Unbind this tech from conventional rear-view placement, give us a few years to adapt, and we’ll be fine. Cram it into an existing required item, not so much.

  33. Engineering: A simple reflective piece of glass is proven, cheap and reliable.
    Marketing: C’mon, you have to give us something to geewhiz the customers with.

    I feel the same about backup cameras. My eyesight and coordination is much better glancing over my shoulder old school. None of the screens ever seem that clear or intuitive, especially if the camera gets dirty. The only use I have for mine is that, since I drive a manual, it could potentially remind me if I shifted into reverse by accident (it’s never happened). I’m sure a little 10c warning light could do that task.

    1. Some Dr. backed up out of his driveway over his kid who was playing below his sight line. The low mounted, wide angle backup camera could have saved his kids life. He spent a lot of time and effort getting them mandated, saving lives.

      1. I’ve also heard it was for parents who were constantly running over their kids toys in the driveway. I’m thinking that is a more likely explanation given the materialism of people these days. Now they are looking for ways to help idiots not forget their kids in the car. :ROLL:

        Too much effort going into fighting natural selection…

        1. Back when I was a kid with 4 siblings, my old man turned running over our shit in the driveway into a new sport. Seriously. The 66 and 70 VW Bus would roll over many a bike, skateboard, or baseball bat with ease. As I got older it was realized that he actually enjoyed it. What a turd.

        2. It’s not just useful for seeing ones own children. It still performs the function if you don’t even have kids and can also be useful for not backing over other objects.

          Having read accounts of kids accidentally being left in cars, it’s truly horrifying. I’m of the perhaps controversial opinion that killing humans and animals with a car is a bad thing, though, even if the driver isn’t an ideal moral hero.

  34. We as humans seem downright determined to put screens anywhere we possibly can. I’m sure it’s the same reasoning behind them being in fridges at this point, it’s a gimmick. A mirror is going to cost less, be more effective and last longer than a screen but it doesn’t look great in a marketing presentation.

    The only cameras we need for viewing behind the vehicle are backup cameras, I have one in my Dodge for hitching up trailers or backing up in tight spaces because judging a 20+ ft truck with a hitch on the back is a pain in the ass.

  35. This runs against my dad’s advice, never forgotten, that your eyes should be pointing in the same direction your car is moving, at all times. Mirrors are for fancy-boys, drape your right arm over the passenger-side headrest and do it the way our forefathers did! I guess our forefathers never drove lifted trucks or cars without views around the C-pillar.

  36. The application of technology is impressive here, but these have always struck me as a solution in search of a problem.

    A mirror is cheap, simple, and effective. A camera is neither simple nor cheap by comparison, and now you’re telling me it isn’t effective either.

    I’m not a Luddite about car technology, and in fact I often push back against that attitude being so prevalent among car blog commenters, but in this case I’m on their side.

    1. Can here to say this. These are just dumb. A mirror costs what? $20 MAX and they will never fail unless you pull it out and break it. These video mirrors have got to be at least $200 (likely more) and that’s not including the camera. Also there’s all the wiring between the two that can develop shorts rendering it all useless.

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