Analog Gauges vs. Digital Displays

5th October 2022

When customizing your dashboard, you could be left wondering whether analog gauges or a digital display unit are right for your applications and your vessel’s aesthetic.

They both do the same thing which is to measure a physical characteristic (such as temperature and pressure) and display it for the end user to read. As both analog and digital units display data in real time they are crucial to the safe running of the engine or machinery and can be an early warning sign of potential problems.

There are benefits and drawbacks to both types but this handy guide should help you through the process of choosing.

So, should you go with analog or digital?

The simple answer is, it depends on a variety of factors including what you need the display to do, what information you need to know and what you want the dashboard to look like.

The benefits of an analog gauge

Even in a digital world there are benefits to analog gauges, and there are certain situations where they could even be preferable to digital displays. Analog gauges are:

  • simpler and can be more cost-effective than digital displays.
  • dedicated to a single piece of data meaning they are easier to read and can be read in all light and weather conditions.
  • simple to read as they often have a dial with a needle providing the data.
  • easy to install and can be completed by connecting one or two wires.
  • easy to repair as they run via basic mechanics rather than electronics.
  • ideal for mechanical engines, which only require basic data monitoring.
  • great if you need to take a reading from a distance or to glance at a few readings (gauges) at once or rely on the movement of the needle to tell you something is happening.

One of the main benefits of an analog display is the simplicity, with one piece of information on one display. Sometimes this is exactly what is required.

When choosing analog or digital you need to consider who the end user will be. Do they need the more accurate recordings of a digital display or will the simpler information suffice? Too much information can sometimes confuse the end user and can end up causing more user errors.

The benefits of a digital display

Digital displays have a number of benefits which you don’t get with an analog gauge. Digital displays:

  • are ideal for monitoring multiple parameters, as dozens of pieces of data can be displayed on one screen rather than multiple analog gauges.
  • are better suited to environments with high levels of vibrations, low light operation and requiring high-level precision.
  • take up less room than multiple analog displays.
  • are more accurate than an analog gauge with its needle reading, as they are able to provide data to as many decimal places as required or in various units or formats.
  • can interact directly with the devices meaning any actions required can be made from the digital display. This means a digital display can replace multiple switches.
  • can run advanced shutdown logic (such as auto-start and stop, timers or telematics).
  • CANbus digital displays benefit from showing engine fault codes.
  • becomes part of managing the engine and other devices enabling the user to reduce the steps required to take necessary actions.
  • can record data over time showing minimum and maximum readings as well as spikes.

The main benefit of a digital display is that they are able to replace multiple analog gauges, displaying all the same information and more in a more accurate way. When designing  your digital display, you are easily able to customize the screens so information which is more useful is viewed side by side.

Alarms and alerts can also be programmed into the display unit to ensure that when there is an issue it won’t be missed by the user. Additionally, as the unit can be connected to the CAN bus, any alarms and alerts can be sent to a third party, meaning that nothing will ever be missed should the end user be unavailable.

Hybrid displays

Most modern digital displays are able to connect both analog and digital devices allowing you to keep your legacy equipment.

The benefit of hybrid display units is that they use analog dials as a mean of displaying certain information whilst using the digital aspects to display other information  with a digital appearance. This enables you to have the appearance of an analog display but the accuracy and range of a digital display which is the best of both worlds.

If the user prefers the aesthetics of an analog gauge but wants the convenience of a digital display there are displays such as Veethree’s R3 three-inch display which provides the styling of a traditional analog gauge but combines it with modern digital technology.

It has both analog and digital inputs making it an attractive and versatile display and it is pre-installed with Veethree Marine Engine Monitor software which can be configured to your specific requirements.

It is a fully round LCD-color display with touch screen – there are no actual buttons – and swipe technology. You can swipe between home screens, as well as press on menu options for selection.

Knowing your user

When making the decision as to whether analog or digital is the way forward, it’s advisable to think about the end user and what they need to know, and how they will be using the displays.

  • What information do they need?
  • Is high precision needed with the reading? Or is a needle reading enough?
  • Will they need to see multiple readings at once?
  • In what environment will the gauge or display be placed? Low lighting? Dusty? Heavy vibrations?
  • Will the user be wearing gloves? How will this affect their ability to change screens on a digital display?
  • What characteristics are being measured? Are they legacy devices?
  • Will reports be required of the data displayed?

These questions will go some way to helping you identify whether analog gauges would be suitable for the requirements, or whether investing in a digital display would be more appropriate.

Here at Veethree we have a selection of both analog and digital displays in traditional round or rectangle shapes. The digital displays can be pre-loaded with software or they can be customized to suit your particular needs. Head over to our product pages to find out more.