Android TV 12 is still not out and slated to be released “later this year,” but information about possible Android TV 13 features are starting to emerge, thanks to a deep dive of Android 13 changes by Esper (via AndroidPolice.) It appears as though Android TV 13 is expanding on how the platform handles multiple video streams with the removal of Picture-in-Picture (PiP) video aspect ratio limitations and new positiioning controls. There are also new options for docking PiP video for side-by-side viewing in a Split-Screen orientation.
Android TV first gained PiP capabilities in Android TV 7 in 2016. The feature then made its way into Fire OS 6 in 2017 with the release of the 3rd-gen Fire TV (Pendant). On both platforms, the PiP video being played is limited to certain aspect ratios, mainly those commonly used by movies and TV shows, and limited in its placement on the screen.
Those limitations appear to be removed in Android TV 13. While PiP video aspect ratios in Android TV 12 and older can only go as wide as 2.39:1, which is the widest Panavision/CinemaScope aspect ratio commonly used by the entertainment industry, Android TV 13 removes the aspect ratio limitation. While an aspect ratio wider or taller than 2.39:1 is unnecessary for movies or TV shows, the change is likely being made to allow for more unconventional uses of PiP video. One possible use could be in a video conferencing app, where all the call participants are placed in a very wide but thin strip of video that floats in a PiP video window. Android TV 13 has also added changes that allow the PiP window to be moved around the screen using the directional pad on the remote.
More interesting than aspect ratio changes is the addition of new PiP docking capabilities in Android TV 13. This feature allows the PiP video to be placed along one of the edges of the screen so that both the PiP video and what is under it can be fully visible. While not explicitly mentioned, this new docking feature opens up the possibility for a built-in split-screen view in Android TV 13, here two video streams are viewed side-by-side.
Of course, none of these new features mean anything unless app developers choose to implement them in their apps. PiP video has been possible on Fire TVs for nearly 5 years and, unfortunately, I can count on one hand the number of mainstream apps that have implemented it. When it comes to PiP being used for two video streams, there is also the issue that most streaming hardware simply doesn’t support decoding two streams at once, so PiP is limited to a single video stream floating over a static interface, not a second video.
With modern Fire TVs, like the 2nd-gen Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick 4K Max, and Fire TV Omni Series Smart TVs, Amazon has made sure to include hardware that is capable of decoding two video streams at once. This is due to an emphasis on the ability to display a smart doorbell’s live video feed on top of what is being watched on the Fire TV when the doorbell button is pressed. The need to support that feature should mean that modern and future Fire TVs will be primed to take advantage of split-screen video capabilites, if or when Android TV 13’s new PiP docking feature makes its way into Fire OS.