For most of us, this upcoming holiday season is going to be vastly different from previous years. With everyone still being urged to stay home, especially with the start of flu season on top of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, it's gonna be weird for those of us who aren't able to spend time with our families. The good news is, in the past few months a lot of the internet has had time to adapt to our extremely virtual lives, and now there are more ways than ever to hang out with the people you love, even if you're miles away from each other. What better way to do that than by gathering together to watch a movie?
A year ago, trying to coordinate a virtual watch party via Facetime was an impossible endeavor: There's always that one person who never presses play at the same time everyone else does; there's weird echoes all over the place; and trying to talk over a movie while watching it on ten different screens is just not fun. In 2020, streaming services and internet browsers have launched features and extensions that enable you to gather together with a group of friends and family members and sync up your favorite movies and TV.
Here are all the extensions and group watch features, and how to use them:
Teleparty, which used to only be available for Netflix (and called Netflix Party), has upgraded to a more wide-ranging extension, which is available for Google Chrome and allows you to watch anything on Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Disney+. After you download it, you simply fire up your streaming service of choice, pick a movie or TV episode, and activate the extension, after which you'll receive a URL that you can copy and paste to send to your friends. After that, a chat window will open on the right side of everyone's screen and you can send messages to each other while watching. Everyone needs to have installted the extension and an account with the streaming service you're using in order for it to work, and you can't use it on your TV, but it's a simple way to watch the same thing with a group of people who aren't in the same room.
Not to be outdone, Amazon is also beta testing their new Watch Party feature, which is compatible with any Amazon Prime original movie or series, and is available to anyone with an Amazon account. To use it, simply find the little icon on your screen when searching Prime for stuff to watch, enter in your username, and send the activation link to your friends. After that, a chat window will open up on the side of your screen, similar to Teleparty, and you're ready to go. You can also add up to 100 people to the party, which sounds fun, if a little chaotic.
Hulu also has its own Watch Party capabilities through the streaming service, for those of you who are wary of downloading extensions off the internet. The only thing is you need to be an ads-free subscriber to use it, so it's only available for those of you who are Hulu (No Ads) and Hulu (No Ads) + Live TV users. You can add up to eight people in a single session by simply setting up a Watch Party on an available show or movie and sending the link to your friends. Available titles on the site are marked with a Watch Party icon.
Live TV-watching service Sling also has its own group watch feature, called Sling TV, which only allows for four participants (that is, you and three other guests), but offers a video chat feature as well, for those of you for whom that wouldn't be incredibly distracting. Everyone needs a Sling account to use it, but all you need to do is log in to Sling, choose something you want to watch, hit the Create Watch Party button, and enter in the email addresses of who you want to send it to. If you don't already have a Sling account, your first Watch Party is free.
There are plenty of screen-sharing options already out there, of which Twitch is probably the best for fast connections and clear video playback. Twitch's new Watch Party feature is basically the same thing as Amazon's—almost literally, as it only allows you to access media available through Prime (so, nothing you've rented through Prime or anything that's not a Prime original), and everyone who wants to join also needs a Prime account. The difference is that this one is through Twitch, so if you're just more familiar with using Twitch to do this kind of thing, this is the one for you.
If you're simply desperate for connection no matter the content, Facebook has rolled out Facebook Watch Together, a service available through Facebook Messenger that allows anyone with video chat capabilities to start a video call and watch anything available through Facebook Watch with their friends. Simply start a video call and then pick something to watch from the list of available options.
Metastream is an extension app that allows you to stream video from a wide range of streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Crunchyroll. Simply download the extension, which is available for Firefox and Chrome, send the invite link to your friends, and start a watch session. What's nice about Metastream is you can surf through movies and TV on a variety of streaming services and, when you find something you want to watch, you can simply copy the URL link and paste it into the "Add to Session" section, after which it'll automatically play in the order you choose. Sort of like curating your own live TV channel.
With a wide range of available streaming services, Scener probably has the most variety of group watch choices available. Download the extension, choose which streamer you'd like to watch something on, and "create a theater"—you can choose between a private theater of up to 10 participants, or a public theater with up to 10 hosts and an unlimited number of participants. All your guests need is the link to join, an account at whatever site you're using, and the extension downloaded onto their computer. You can use the video chat function, too.
Basically the same as Scener and with many of the same streaming options available, Twoseven is another browser extension available for Firefox and Chrome, which you download, launch a session at whichever streaming service you pick, and invite as many friends as you want by sending them a link. This one also has video, voice-only, and chat features.
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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.