These are tough times, we don’t need to tell you that. But that’s not why you’re here. You want to know how you can reduce the loneliness of self-isolation and social distancing imposed on us by the coronavirus pandemic. And if it’s watching movies and TV shows with other people you miss dearly, we’re here to help. Each entry below takes care of synchronizing playback across multiple platforms — be it Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or even your local videos — letting you focus on washing your hands regularly. Most of them allow you to chat as well, and you can even chat with some. This is as good as it gets. All that’s left for you to do now is align your schedules and pop some popcorn if you like.
What is it for: Netflix, duh
If you googled something like “watch Netflix together”, this is it. It’s been around for a while – we wrote about it three years ago.
Netflix Party is a Chrome extension that does just that no matter where you are in the world. It appears as a sidebar on the right, allowing you to chat with people in the room. The person who starts ‘Netflix Party’ can choose to give everyone playback control.
All you need is Netflix accounts for everyone – and Chrome, naturally. Best of all, you don’t need to create a Netflix Party account.
How to configure it: Open Chrome, install Netflix Party, go to Netflix.com, play anything, click the “NP” icon in the top right corner and share the link with your friends.
What is it for: YouTube and a dozen others
If you’re more interested in watching cat videos than long series, consider this. In addition to not having to sign up, it also works in any browser. (You can create an account to have a permanent room for your group.)
With Watch2Gether, you can play any video or music available on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, Instagram, and SoundCloud, among others. All have playback control, but you can set your own video quality control.
How to configure it: Open Watch2Gether.com, click “Create Your Room”, choose a video and share the URL with your friends.
Facebook watch group
What is it for: facebook, naturally
While you need hacks for everything else, Facebook – being the Social network that is – has a built-in feature to watch videos together.
With Watch Party, you can invite any of your Facebook friends or even create one from a Facebook group or page. You’ll need to be an admin or editor to do this on a page, mind you. Naturally, everyone can chat with each other, and those you invite as co-presenters can add videos to the queue.
How to configure it: There are several ways to do this. Here’s one: open Facebook.com, find a video you like, click “Share” > “Start a watch party”. Add more videos if you like and click “Start”. Once signed in, use the “Invite Others” section on the right to bring your friends.
What is it for: Anything on your screen, really
Did the previous options not cover your platform of choice – Amazon, Hotstar, Zee5, etc.? If so, this might be for you. Remember, Kast has ads and quality limits in the free version. Kast Premium costs $5 (Rs. 375) per month.
Kast is essentially an entertainment community version of a screen sharing app like TeamViewer. You can find public parties playing Marvel movie marathons or beloved anime. Or you can start your own private party, which lets you share any part of your desktop. Since you are sharing your screen, the quality will not be as good as before.
Everyone needs to be on Windows or Mac as the mobile versions of Kast don’t support video sharing for now. You will also need to create a Kast account.
How to configure it: Go to the Kast website, download and install it, create and login to your Kast account and click “Create Party” in the sidebar. After signing in, click on the “Enable Video” icon, choose what you want to share and that’s it.
What is it for: local videos
While everything on this list allows you to watch things together, it fails to replicate the bonding experience. You know, someone sitting next to you and talking. And that’s what virtual reality is for.
With Plex VR, you can immerse yourself and three of your friends in a virtual environment (an apartment, a drive-in theater), create and customize avatars, and play normal 360-degree and 3D videos. All while you chat and play anything on your local hard drives. Again, as the videos will be streamed from person to person, the quality depends on your internet connection.
It comes with a heavy cost, however. First, you’ll need Daydream View / Gear VR – both are hard to come by despite their official release in India. In addition, you will need a Daydream compatible Android phone. And then one of you will need the Plex Pass which costs $5 (Rs. 375) per month. The first week of Watch Together is free, for what it’s worth.
How to configure it: Download and configure the Plex Media Server, install Plex VR on your phone, put on your VR headset, open Plex VR, add and invite friends to join in the “Friends” panel, and play any video.