Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Whatever Happened to Picture-in-Picture?

As I watched yet another house hunting show with my wife, despite having bought our house more than a year ago, something I used to say all the time came back to me. A couple was negotiating down on a house, feeling that they were getting a good deal at $435,000. This in itself is not totally outrageous, unless you live in Atlanta, but the fact that they were buying a one-bedroom condo nearly made me vomit. It wasn't in New York City. It wasn't in SanFran. It was somewhere like downtown Oklahoma City. They immediately gutted the brand new kitchen and trashed the marble counter tops because they were the wrong color. Didn't even attempt to recycle them at all!

I then turned to my wife and said "When they show stuff like this, there should be a picture-in-picture of an African kid with flies on his face, and a subtitle that says 'Meanwhile in Africa, this kid walks 6 miles a day for water that doesn't give him horrific diarrhea!'"

"You say that all the time," she responded, which may have previously been true, but no longer is. But I couldn't help thinking about it. As we watch our first-world problems on television, like the $3500 wedding dress that's not quite right, how much would it change our perspective to have that small child with fly apathy staring at us from the corner? He doesn't do much in heart-tugging commercials for opening our wallets, but giving us the stinkeye all day while we watch white people lament over the bottled water brand that the convenience store doesn't stock might make us appreciate what we have a bit more.

Watching two shows at once in the 90s
Then I got off my internal soap box as I became distracted by that archaic concept of the picture-in-picture. Suddenly, I realized that I haven't seen one in years. And why not?

First, let me refresh all the millenials on what PIP is. Back in the day, we were sufficiently obsessed with television to watch two television stations at once. This was extremely useful for watching Nascar, because you could leave the cars zooming left in a tiny box in the corner while you watched something funny. Yep, you could catch up on Friends while watch Dale Earnhardt take the lead.

Picture-in-picture was a feature of higher-end TVs that placed a tiny box in the corner of the screen displaying another channel. You could switch between the two with the PIP button on the remote, or display and remove the box. Most people used it for amusing themselves with something else while commercials played on the program you actually intended to watch. With the commercials silently droning away in the corner, you could be entertained while keeping an eye on your program and seeing when the commercials ended and the program came back. So what offed this genius idea?

  1. The Internet. Instead of watching another program, lots of us sit in our living rooms with our laptops and iPads, finding an alternate way to amuse ourselves until the program comes back.
  2. DVRs. With the main program recording on another channel, it doesn't matter if you miss the end of the commercial break, because when you switch back, you can just rewind it.
  3. Cheap, flat TVs. PIP was useful in sports bars for showing Nascar juxtaposed with baseball, but now we just put 50 TVs in one room because they weigh hardly anything and cost even less.

DVD bonus features
So it looks like picture-in-picture isn't making a big comeback anytime soon. In fact, the only new use for the technology appears to be DVD/Blu-ray special features that utilize it to show video in the corner of the screen while a movie or television show is playing, allowing a talking head to spew facts at you. Neato!

But with all those ads and watermarks television stations put at the bottom of the screen these days, surely they can spare some real estate for a fly-covered kid. It might make you appreciate your toothbrush a little more.

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