Amazon’s Fire TV platform continues to evolve over the years. It started in a box in 2014 and then quickly expanded to an HDMI stick later that year. 2017 brought the first Smart TVs running Fire TV and a couple of years later, in 2019, Fire TV debuted in soundbars for the first time. Now, Fire TV has made its biggest leap yet with the introduction of Fire TV for Auto, the system for embedding Fire TV into the front and rear entertainment screens in vehicles. Here’s an overview of how that system works in the first Fire TV vehicle, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
I always buy all new Fire TV models to ensure the most thorough and accurate coverage, but, unfortunately, a $100,000 SUV is where I’m going to have to break that trend. Since I haven’t had any hands-on time with Fire TV for Auto, this overview is pieced together from various resources. While I can’t provide my usual new Fire TV coverage, like benchmark scores and whether you can sideload apps, hopefully, this gives you a sense of how the newest Fire TV platform works.
The 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer is the first vehicle with Fire TV for Auto, but there are rumors that the 2022 Chrystler Pacifica minivan will also feature the system and BMW has also stated that it will be adding Fire TV to one of its future models. While I expect the rear seat screens, which are the heart of the system, will function similarly across all Fire TV for Auto vehicles, I wouldn’t be surprised if front screens don’t have the same capabilities as Jeep’s new SUV. The Grand Wagoneer has screens all over the place, but it’s only the two main rear screens, the front center screen, and the front passenger screen that have Fire TV capabilities. At this point, it’s unknown if future vehicles with Fire TV for Auto, especially those from other manufacturers, will have the same front screen Fire TV features as this new Jeep.
Each of the two rear screens run their own independent Fire TV operating system and each one comes with its own remote. It seems as though this means that each screen needs to be initially set up separately and has its own set of apps installed and settings configured. That doesn’t mean they’re completely isolated from one another because there is some interoperability between the two and between the front screens, which I’ll get into in a bit. However, if you wanted to just use them like two Fire TV devices plugged into two TVs, you could.
Fire TV for Auto is based on Fire OS 7. The interface more closely resembles the older Fire TV interface, with the main navigation menu running across the top of the screen. It’s very similar to home Fire TV systems but it’s trimmed down quite a bit with fewer screens and fewer rows on those screens.
If there is no internet connection, Fire TV for Auto changes to reflect that it is offline. All menu items across the top that require internet access are dimmed out, as are app icons that require the internet. In the image above, you can see that Prime Video is the only icon that isn’t dimmed out. I assume that’s because that version of Prime Video allows for content to be downloaded for offline viewing, similar to how the app works on Fire Tablets.
The interface can be fully controlled by touch if you don’t want to use the physical remote, although not all apps have been updated for touch yet. For apps that aren’t touch-enabled, you can choose to use a virtual on-screen remote, instead of switching between touch and the physical remote. You access the virtual remote from a vertical menu that appears on the right side of the screen. There you’ll also find the power button, which turns the screen off, a back button, and a home button. The settings and car button in that menu open pop-over menus that I’ll discuss later.
The car brand menu, in this case, Jeep, brings up apps installed by the car manufacturer related to vehicle functions. Interestingly, it seems as though some of these apps, like the “Are We There Yet?” app, have been pulled from Jeep’s older rear seat entertainment systems but have been adapted to run on Fire TV. As far as I can tell, these apps are running natively on Fire TV and are not simply shortcuts that take you out of Fire OS into another system, but I can’t be sure.
Jeep’s navigation app lets rear passengers see the current route and search for destinations to suggest to the driver. Climate controls for rear passengers can be accessed through the climate app or by pressing the car icon in the left-side menu seen earlier. The “Are We There Yet?” app shows kids a car animation that is synced with the vehicle’s current navigation destination.
Along the bottom is an option to select the input for the screen, since it has an HDMI-in port along the bottom for external devices, like game consoles or Bluray players. One of the input options is also a choice for viewing the adjacent screen. This allows both screens to watch the same content in sync. Seen in the image above is the left screen’s About page being mirrored onto the right screen.
One reviewer noted that when one screen is mirrored to another, the image quality on the second screen is not as good as the original screen. This suggests that it isn’t actually piping the direct video output to the second screen, such as over HDMI, but rather, it is likely streaming/casting the image of one screen to the other over a network.
The app selection for Fire TV Auto seems quite robust. This is likely thanks to not requiring an app be touch-enabled since there is both a physical and virtual remote. You can search on amazon.com and select “Fire TV Auto” from the filter options to see if a specific app is compatible. There are currently over 9,000 apps marked as compatible, so it seems like most popular apps can be installed just fine.
Apps work exactly as they do on home Fire TV systems. Above, you can see the Netflix app running in the Jeep. It uses the same interface as it does on home Fire TV devices, not its tablet interface, as some suspected might happen. At this time, it doesn’t seem like Netflix has updated its app to support downloading content for offline viewing, which its Fire Tablet app does offer.
Pressing the gear icon in the side menu brings up a quick settings screen right over whatever you’re currently doing on the Fire TV system. Most of the options are self-explanatory, but note that there is a “Mirroring” option. While you can use this option to mirror the adjacent screen, you can also select to mirror Apple and Andriod devices to the Fire TV screen.
It’s not entirely clear how mirroring is being pulled off. While most Fire TV’s do support Miracast mirroring for Android and Windows devices, and Amazon recently added AirPlay support to Fire TV Smart TVs, I don’t think that’s what is being used here. Jeep’s owner’s manual says the system runs something called VOXX EVOLVE and says “VOXX EVOLVE is a 3rd party app that can offer more casting options for mobile devices with Rear Seat Entertainment.” So it seems like either Jeep, or possibly Amazon, is relying on a third-party app to mimic Google Cast and Apple AirPlay functionality, similar to how apps like AirReceiver do the same by reverse engineering Google and Apple’s proprietary mirroring protocols.
As for the front screens, they too have a bit of integration with the rear Fire TV systems. Unfortunately, there isn’t a third or fourth Fire TV system that can be independently controlled from the font screens. Instead, the front screens have limited control of the rear Fire TV systems and you can also mirror the rear screens to the front screens. In the image above, the rear left Fire TV is watching a YouTube video being cast to it from a mobile device, and that entire rear left screen is being mirrored to the front center screen. For the front center screen, this is only possible if the vehicle is in park.
You can see that the front center screen has controls along the top that allow the front driver and passenger to turn the rear screen on or off, switch between left and right rear screens, mute the rear audio, lock the rear screen entirely, or listen in on the audio of the rear screen without mirroring the video. Along the bottom of the front center screen are controls for launching apps on the rear screen, browsing media on external storage, and even navigation buttons for further control of the rear screens.
The front passenger screen has identical options for viewing and controlling the rear screens as the front center screen. The key difference is that the passenger screen can watch and interact at anytime, even if the vehicle is in motion. This is because Jeep has put a special privacy sheet over the screen that allows it to be viewed straight on, but makes the screen appear blank when viewed from the side. This means the driver cannot see what is on the screen and be distracted. In the image above, the rear right screen is watching Prime Video, which is being mirrored to the front passenger screen. This is happening simultaneously to the previous image, where the center screen is mirroring a YouTube video playing on the rear left screen.
Image: YouTube – Alex on Autos
Lastly, here’s a look at what the “Launch Source” menu looks like on the front passenger screen. A list of apps installed on the rear Fire TV systems is listed and can be launched directly. Again, this control can also be done from the front center screen. The front driver and passenger can also select, from the front screens, to mirror one of the rear screens to the other.
From what I’ve seen so far, I’m pretty impressed by the amount of cross-integration that is possible between the front and rear screens. When Fire TV for Auto was first announced, I assumed it would be just slightly better than connecting a Firestick to the HDMI port of a standard rear screen. The ability to interact with the vehicle’s other systems, like navigation and climate controls, from within the Fire TV experience is more than I was expecting. Add to that the ability to mirror screens back-to-front and left-to-right in all sorts of variations, and don’t forget about the ability to control so much of the rear Fire TVs from the front. It’s clear that this was a well-thought-out implementation of how the Fire TV experience in a vehicle should perform and far more than just connecting an off-the-shelf Fire TV to a car’s screen and calling it a day.