PiPHero in the test: Use all Mac apps as a picture-in-picture display

As you know, there is one every month here on the blog Post recommending five Mac apps. I also had one for September 2023 PiPHero picked out, a free app that can float any program window and screen as picture-in-picture over all other content. But when trying it out, so many notes came together that I can't squeeze them into a single short paragraph of a collective contribution. That's why I'm making my experiences from the PiPHero test available to you in advance. There are some advantages, but also possible disadvantages. 

PiPHero in the test: Keep any program window in the foreground on the Apple Mac and freely arrange it in individual sizes.
PiPHero in the test: Keep any program window in the foreground on the Apple Mac and freely arrange it in individual sizes.

PiPHero: Free download, almost 217 MB app

The PiPHero app for the Apple Mac also has the term "PiP" in its name in addition to "Hero" for "hero". This stands for Picture-in-Picture, i.e. picture-in-picture. With the app, you can consequently ensure that any program window floats above all other display content and you can keep an eye on it without interruption. If that sounds interesting to you and on your Mac at least macOS 12 Monterey is installed, you can download the app for free via the official website Download - for both Intel Macs and Macs with Apple Silicon.

The download of the .dmg file is around 89 MB in size and is unpacked into an app of around 217 MB during installation. When you run the software, it first asks you to obtain permission for display access or screen recording via the system settings. You can access at System Settings -> Privacy -> screen Capture grant and withdraw later. The PiPHero app requires this authorization because it implements the picture-in-picture function in the form of a live transmission of the app.

In order to be able to use PiPHero, you have to give the app permission for screen recordings in the system settings. Nothing is recorded, only transferred to the PiP view.
In order to be able to use PiPHero, you have to give the app permission for screen recordings in the system settings. Nothing is recorded, only transferred to the PiP view.

Picture-in-picture is a video stream, not a minimized app window

Especially on smaller screens, when using the MacBook mobile for work or in other situations in which you always want to have an eye on certain content - PiPHero is very useful. However, the problem arises from the live transmission of the selected program window in the PiP view floating above everything that said window always has to be open in the background. Minimizing it will transfer the window's dock icon, resulting in pixelated mush.

For example, if you have several programs open that you have to minimize in order to access the desktop and its contents, then you must also minimize or at least move the transmitted window in order to access the desktop contents behind it. That doesn't sound bad for notes, tables and the like. But if you keep an eye on the baby camera or follow other important real-time information via PiPHero, then you should know that. Alternatively, you can of course also use the desktop folder in the Finder open or off macOS 14 Sonoma easy click next to the dock.

The transferred app window must remain open in the background. Then the transmission is also sharp (left). If you minimize the window, the dock symbol is transferred enlarged, which of course makes the whole thing unusable (right).
The transferred app window must remain open in the background. Then the transmission is also sharp (left). If you minimize the window, the dock symbol is transferred enlarged, which of course makes the whole thing unusable (right).

Selection: Keep an eye on screens and app windows

On a single display, e.g. B. on the MacBook or iMac without an external monitor, it makes little sense to let this screen hover over everything again as a reduced version. For a Multi monitor setup but that might make sense. However, I find PiPHero's option to select individual windows that are currently open much more important in order to make a PiP transmission out of them. To do this, click on the icon in the menu bar and then select the window that you want to keep an eye on. If you have more than one, just repeat this step.

The view of any app (or several apps) that is always kept in the foreground can then be freely adjusted in size via its corners. From a mini icon (useful only for color changes or other eye-catching content, otherwise too small for anything else) to full-screen broadcasting, anything can be achieved. The placement on the display can also be freely designed, you are not limited to the corners, the edges or the middle of the screen. In the PiP window, all changes of the respective app are displayed in real time.

If you click on the PiPHero symbol in the menu bar, you will see the open apps and the individual screens. From the overview, you can choose what should float above all other content.
If you click on the PiPHero symbol in the menu bar, you will see the open apps and the individual screens. From the overview, you can choose what should float above all other content.

Values ​​do not match: How much CPU is really used?

If PiPHero transfers a program window into a picture-in-picture view, then the Activity indicator on my MacBook Pro from 2021 with "M1 Pro" chip for the PiPHero process by default 21% CPU usage for it. And not much happens in the mini display. If I adjust this now, i.e. I change the position and size of the transmission, then the CPU utilization listed can sometimes skyrocket to 25%. 

Things get even wilder when displaying multiple PiP transmissions. For the test, I arranged three PiPHero displays - Pages document, Finder window and System Preferences - on an external monitor. They have different sizes and hardly anything changes in them (only in Pages, because I type). The CPU load supposedly fluctuates between 42% and 45%. And that’s just for the app itself. It also comes with a renderer and a GPU process, all of which also puts a strain on the CPU – everything together sometimes comes to over 60%, sometimes to 65%.

If you only look at the list of CPU values, then you wonder why everything is still running so smoothly.
If you only look at the list of CPU values, then you wonder why everything is still running so smoothly.

That sounds like a lot, but I don't notice it. There is no Beachball of Death, nothing jerks or stutters, the fans stay off, the music playback doesn't stop, the speakers don't crack, etc. So I took a closer look - and lo and behold, nothing of the high percentages can be seen in the graph display of the CPU load. An average of 20% CPU load is recorded for all open apps (including Safari, Music, Mail, Affinity Photo, etc.), three PiPHero displays, individual system settings, connections, etc. 

Just in case the activity monitor went crazy, I simply opened all possible Adobe programs that I had installed at once (Photoshop, After Effects, Animate and Premiere Pro). And not only did the individual values ​​in the list jump up, but the graph at the bottom of the window also showed peaks of 80% CPU load. So I don't know what the problem is with PiPHero. If you know why the values ​​in the list and those in the diagram do not match, please leave a comment!

If you then look at the overall overview of the CPU utilization, a different picture is drawn...
If you then look at the overall overview of the CPU utilization, a different picture is drawn...

My experiences with the PiPHero App for Apple Mac

As I said, I tried the app mainly for the mention in the upcoming Five New Software Recommendations post. So my experience is limited. I have e.g. B. Using PiPHero, let the notes for this post float over the Pages document in which I am now writing this summary. Then I had other windows displayed, including Pages itself. It all worked out well. Even multiple PiP ads from different apps work. I don't notice the supposedly high CPU load, it seems to be some sort of error.

PiPHero advantages

  • Free and useful software for the Apple Mac
  • All app windows can be displayed as PiP, even several at once
  • Easy to use menu bar, easy to close transmissions

PiPHero cons

  • Takes up almost 217 MB on the hard drive, which is large for comparable tools
  • Can only be used from macOS 12 Monterey (operating system from 2021).
  • Allegedly up to 65% CPU load, but this seems to be a bug

Picture-in-picture software summary

Apart from the mismatched CPU values ​​and the limitation to the more current Mac operating systems, I didn't notice anything negative in the PiPHero test. After the free download and installation, all you have to do is allow the screen recording function (you can undo it at any time) and you're good to go. All open program windows and active screens for the transmission can be selected from the menu bar. This can be arranged freely. Multiple PiP views are possible. So if you don't want to lose sight of certain windows, the software is quite helpful.

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