BMW's Theatre Screen: does it work? | CAR Magazine

BMW's Theatre Screen: does it work?

Published: 07 February 2023 Updated: 07 February 2023

► BMW’s cinema-like rear screen
► Available in the 7-series and i7
► Big screen, big innovation?

So you’ve heard of drive-in cinemas, right? You rock up, park your car in front of the big screen and then spend the entire movie trying to retrieve popcorn from parts of the cabin you never knew existed. Well, BMW reckons it can do one better with its latest piece of gadgetry – the Theatre Screen.

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Available in the new 7-series and i7 (standard on some versions, optional for others), it aims to satisfy the entertainment needs of your rear-seat passengers. A 31.3-inch (yes, you read that right) 8K touchscreen with a Bowers & Wilkins surround sound, it chimes perfectly with the hi-tech approach of BMW’s latest flagship, which also offers ambitious new levels of adjustable ambient lighting.

CAR drives the BMW i7

Cinephiles can activate the big screen using the ‘Touch Command’ devices (touchscreens built into the rear doors), at which point the display will fold down from the headlining while blinds for the rear window, side windows and roof slide shut. Viewers can use the Fire TV system to enjoy various streaming services (using the car’s built-in 5G connection), or play games, or listen to music. There’s a choice of aspect ratios.

If this sounds like BMW has simply taken one of those super-wide monitors favoured by Microsoft Excel enthusiasts and bunged it into the back of a 7-series, then that’s not far wide of the mark. Yet Theatre Screen really does look incredible in use.

However, it’s not without its flaws. For example, no matter how the screen or the rear seats are positioned, using the wide range of adjustment, we always felt uncomfortably close to one side of the monitor, while the other side seemed disconcertingly far away.

Then there’s the fact that with the screen down, the driver’s view out of the rear window via the mirror is obscured. This seems to be entirely avoidable, given that BMW is among the manufacturers that have experimented with ‘virtual mirror’ camera systems, where cameras display what they can see on to the mirror. Will it happen? BMW has not confirmed anything.

Some might also question the safety of dangling a big screen so close to the passengers, yet BMW insists the screen caused no problems during its rigorous crash tests.

BMW’s Theatre Screen: how it works

It’s all about the passengers

Fold down the monitor using touchscreens in the doors. Just make sure the front seats aren’t too far back, otherwise it won’t work.

Don’t forget the popcorn

Adjust the lighting, pick a movie to stream and pop the seat into full aircraft recliner position. Sound comes through the car’s speakers or separate headphones.

Total immersion

Sit back, relax and wonder whether a 31.3-inch screen really does move the game on, while your driver curses the sudden reduction of their rear visibility.

BMW’s Theatre Screen: does it work?

Yes. The bigger question is ‘does it work better than the tried and tested solution of two individual screens?’ And unless you’re that fussed about a 32:9 aspect ratio, then the answer is no.

By James Dennison

Head of automotive video for CAR magazine, its sister website and Motorcyle News.