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Technology

Picture in Picture

Picture in Picture, sometimes called PiP, is way older than most people realize. In fact, next year the technology is 40 years old. It was first introduced by NEC in a television they sold in 1980. It didn’t catch on at the time and it became a staple of TVs with the adoption of cable, in my memory, in the late 90s.

To me, it was a tool to help avoid commercials prior to the arrival of DVRs. When the show I was watching would go to commercial I could swap to this other channel and keep what I was watching in a smaller window covering part of the screen. Then, when I saw the show return, flip back. Nice and easy.

On the laptop, I often will nest windows and have streams going as I work on other things. Or I will use it to watch multiple soccer games that are going on simultaneously.

Multitasking does not work. To many people, multitasking is about the belief that your brain can gestalt these multiple input feeds simultaneously like the fabled Sherlock Holmes. But repeated studies have proven we simply can’t do this.

But I will not stop multitasking or running multiple streams of simultaneous information. I do it not because I want to absorb it all simultaneously, but because it is about having continuous feeds of information so I can change my focus and have zero delay in receiving new inputs. When I’m watching multiple soccer games it enables me to catch big game moments out of the periphery of my attention to switch my focus to with zero lag.

This is a common setup for me in the midst of soccer season.

But also, I use Picture-in-Picture technology on the laptop while working because I have professional work reasons for watching streams or videos while accomplishing other things. And, up to recently, this was done via Windows’ nesting of windows to allow them to share screen real estate. That wasn’t always ideal because Windows’ system requires you to use entire vertical segments of the screen. Example:

Red is wasted space when all I care about is the blue portion on the right hand side.

So then I would try to just make it a small window and find some Windows bit of freeware or whatever that would let me make a specific window “Always on top” but those were often buggy because it isn’t a feature that Windows makes easy to do (for, I assume, reasons of concern over spam. Imagine always on top pop ups as a special level of hell. 🤢)

Thankfully my era of hardship is at a close. With Firefox 71.0, they have introduced a feature for picture-in-picture on any in-browser video player and I am legitimately excited about it. I was so excited I made a tweet which used all capital letters and read, upon reconsidering my tweet, like something a young child would exclaim in excitement on Christmas morning. I’ve since deleted the tweet and decided to instead turn this excitement into this blog post. And as I’ve written this post, I’ve been enjoying a video by my friend Sean “Day[9]” Plott in the corner:

As a person who’s primary job function is using, managing, and watching online video, this feature in Firefox is truly exciting to me. There used to be a community extension that offered close to this function but it was incomplete and sometimes buggy implementation, and then it went away altogether when Windows or Firefox changed security settings.

But now it is back and better than ever. The implementation in Firefox has, thus far, proven to be rock solid. And I am loving it. Yay, picture-in-picture and multitasking.