CES took one step closer to replacing auto shows this year with not only new car introductions, but glimpses of conceptual automotive technologies that might one day be commonplace. Looking into its own crystal ball, BMW sees a future in which cars are equipped with monstrous 31-inch 8K screens that turn vehicles into rolling movie theaters to keep passengers distracted on road trips.
For as long as TVs have been small enough to squeeze into moving vehicles, carmakers have added them to keep back-seat drivers, children, and other passengers quiet and pacified as they travel from point A to point B. But while modern LCD displays can be discreetly hidden in the back of seats or quietly retract into the ceiling of a vehicle, they tend to be much smaller than the screens we enjoy at home. As far as BMW is concerned, it doesn’t have to be that way.
On Wednesday, the company debuted a concept called the Theater Screen, which, as the name implies, is an ultra-wide display that retracts from a vehicle’s padded headliner and, at 31 inches in size, fills nearly the entire width of the car and the space between the roof and the top of the backrest of the front seats. It features a 32:9 aspect ratio and pushes a resolution of around 8000 x 2000 pixels, allowing a 4K movie to be enjoyed in 16:9 while additional content is displayed on either side.
Featuring Amazon Fire TV built in, the Theater Screen also relies on a 5G mobile connection for streaming content on the road, while a Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround Sound System brings movie theater-caliber sound to passengers behind the driver and whoever is riding shotgun. The experience is further enhanced when the screen is lowered, which triggers retractable sunshades to cover the side and rear windows of the vehicle to help darken the interior and make the giant screen pop even more.
A screen that size dropping into place is going to completely obscure a rear-view mirror, but given features like backup cameras are now required in countries like Canada for all new vehicles, an LCD display on the windshield featuring a live-streamed view from a rear-pointing camera should solve any visibility issues the Theater Screen introduces. As for when you can buy a BMW with a movie theater in the back seat? That remains to be seen. There will undoubtedly be a lot of interest in the concept at this year’s CES, but we may not see in-vehicle amenities like this actually show up in production vehicles until they’re reliably able to drive themselves.
Fire TV in the Car
While BMW’s implementation of Amazon’s Fire TV in the car is decidedly over the top (and who knows when we’ll actually see it), Amazon is working to get its streaming TV platform in actual cars this year.
Amazon launched Fire TV last year in the Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. This year, you can expect to see Fire TV in more cars, including the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Explorer, and Lincoln Navigator.
Amazon’s Fire TV platform doesn’t have a navigation system like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, so all you’re getting here is content—which is perhaps why the best possible place to watch Fire TV is in the backseat of a ridiculous BMW and not on your in-dash entertainment system.