We tested two new night-vision systems that are available in the top-of-the-line Mercedes Benz S550 and BMW 7-Series luxury sedans. They operate on virtually opposite principles-Mercedes illuminates the environment with projected infrared light; BMW detects thermal energy emitted from objects-and each works well under different circumstances. Click here to see what we found.

by Courtesy BMW

The BMW night-vision system detects thermal energy being emitted by objects, people and animals. Drivers can select full wide-screen modes or a zoom mode that automatically pans the view to the left or right as the driver steers.

by Courtesy Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes system has by far the brightest and highest-resolution image. As this image shows, the car parked outside the reach of the headlights is clearly visible on the screen, which is positioned for easy reference by the driver. The camera works at all speeds, but the infrared illuminator doesn´t activate until the car reaches at least 8 mph. For this image, the car was standing still, and the camera´s ambient-light-collection capabilities still generated a noticeably brighter image.

by Courtesy BMW

BMW´s infrared camera is positioned low on the front bumper. The system scans roughly 1,000 feet in front of the car and uses a sensor and a processor that generates a heat-intensified image of the road ahead. Warmer objects appear brighter in the image. This is great for avoiding deer and joggers, but the camera has a hard time picking out inanimate obstacles.