It’s a tradition in my family to watch movies together during every part of the vacation. If the TV isn’t on and something we’ve seen a million times isn’t playing, we’re not even really celebrating. Or that means opening presents for A Christmas story or while chewing turkey Planes, trains and cars, movies are part of the procedure. But it’s not always possible to get together – and in 2020 there’s an excellent reason to stay apart this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean those traditions have to die. Basically every streaming service and plenty of online apps have ways to watch movies with friends and family, even if you are at a social distance and stay safe.
Here are eight ways to watch movies together while staying apart:
Formerly known as Netflix Party, the Teleparty The Chrome extension (which requires everyone to watch it on their own Netflix account) is pretty straightforward. You install it in your browser, go to Netflix, decide on a movie (arguably the hardest part of the process) and hit the “NP” button on the extension. You will get a link that allows you to see the movie and a group chat in the sidebar a la YouTube livestreams. And now it’s not just limited to Netflix, with the site claiming functionality with HBO, Hulu and Disney +.
However, Hulu offers its own way to watch remotely together. It is of course called Hulu Watch Party and is available for up to 8 concurrent users of Hulu (no ads) and Hulu (no ads) + Live TV accounts. As in, anyone who wants to watch must have their own profile (not an account) on one of those higher plans. Subscribers who share an account can share it with anyone who uses it, as long as everyone has created a unique profile there. If that’s the reality for your group, just click the Party icon on the movie’s detail page and share the link. Then you will get the synchronized movie and the text chat.
If Teleparty doesn’t work for your Disney +, there is an option offered specifically by House of Mouse’s streamer: GroupWatch. The downside to this is that unlike Teleparty, there is no text chat … just emoji replies. You can invite your friends and family from the GroupWatch icon on the detail page of your favorite Disney + movie. It has a maximum size of seven viewers, with four streams per account.
Fittingly, Amazon also has its own built-in Watch Party feature. Limited to selecting movies, you can click the Watch Party icon (next to the Watchlist button), choose a username for the text chat and get started. You can grab an invite link to share with up to 100 friends, as long as they have a Prime subscription. This works on most browsers except Safari.
Now we get into the less streamer-specific apps, which offer a few more robust features for a little more effort. Scener, another free Chrome extension, requires participants to either have an account with the streamer of their choice or use a free website. There are many supported sites here (including Netflix, Shudder, HBO Max, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Funimation, Disney + and Vimeo) and video chats with up to 10 ‘hosts’. Make sure everyone has headphones. Scener’s other strength is its unlimited ability to let people watch – even when relegated to the text chat – making it a favorite of streamers and those with larger groups.
A Firefox / Chrome extension that offers a similar level of support to Scener, but only with text chat, Metastream is for the more techies out there: if you’re the one who always fixes your parents’ computers / internet connection, this might be for you. One host is basically running the show, handling invitations, letting people into the room, and adding media to stream via URL. A great feature here is the Queue, which allows you to create a long vacation playlist to watch in the background.
Another third party app with video chat, TwoSeven has two levels of support: a free tier that includes YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crunchyroll, Apple TV +, HBO Max, Vimeo, and personal videos (i.e. anything you’ve downloaded), and a paid tier that adds Hulu, Disney +, and Screenshare. That paid level currently has a discount for social spacers, making it $ 3 a monthYou have to jump through a link sharing hoop to get people on board, but you can then add them as a friend for future convenience – and then you can video and text chat to your heart’s content.
You’ve gone through the rest and now it’s time for the quick and dirty fix. Plow, basically a screen-sharing app, is browser-based and allows up to nine video and text parties to join the movie of your choice. Just pick a tab or share a link and enjoy the chaos – no login required.
Jacob Oller is a film editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here: @Jacoboller
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