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 that's been imposed on us by the coronavirus pandemic. And if it's watching movies and TV shows with others that you miss dearly, we're to help. Each entry below takes care of synchronising playback across a host of platforms — be it Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or even your local videos — leaving you to focus on washing your hands regularly. Most of them allow you to chat as well, and you can even talk with some. That's as good as it's going to get. All that's left for you to do now is align your schedules, and make some popcorn, if you like.
What it's for: Netflix, duh
If you Googled something along the lines of “watch Netflix together”, this is the one. 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're in the world. It shows up as a sidebar on the right, allowing you to chat with those in the room. The person who starts the 'Netflix Party' can choose to give playback control to everyone.
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 set it up: Open Chrome, install Netflix Party, head to Netflix.com, play anything, click the “NP” icon in the top-right, and share the link with your friends.
What it's for: YouTube and a dozen others
If you're more interested in watching cat videos than longform series, consider this. Not only do you not need 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 song available on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, Instagram, and SoundCloud among others. Everyone has playback control, but you can set your own video quality control.
How to set it up: Open Watch2Gether.com, click “Create your room”, pick a video, and share the URL with your friends.
Facebook Watch Party
What it's for: Facebook, naturally
While you need hacks for everything else, Facebook — being the social network that it is — has an in-built feature to watch videos together.
With Watch Party, you can invite any of your Facebook friends, or even create one in a Facebook group or page. You'll need to be an admin or editor to do that on a page, mind you. Naturally, everyone can talk to each other, and those you invite as co-hosts can add videos to the queue.
How to set it up: There are various ways to do this. Here's one: open Facebook.com, find a video you, click “Share” > “Start a watch party”. Add more videos if you like and then hit “Start”. Once you're in, use the “Invite others” section on the right to bring your friends in.
What it's for: Anything on your screen, really
Have the previous options not covered your platform of choice — Amazon, Hotstar, Zee5, et cetera? In that case, this might be for you. Mind you, Kast has ads and quality limits on the free version. Kast Premium costs $5 (Rs. 375) a month.
Kast is essentially an entertainment-community version of a screen-sharing app like TeamViewer. You might find public parties playing Marvel movie marathons or beloved anime. Or you can start your own private party which allows you to share any part of your desktop. Since it's sharing your screen, the quality won't be as good as those before.
Everyone needs to be on Windows or Mac, as Kast's mobile versions don't support video sharing for now. You'll also need to create a Kast account.
How to set it up: Head to the Kast website, download and install it, create and log into your Kast account, and hit “Create Party” in the sidebar. Once you're in, click the “Turn on video” icon, pick what you wish to share, and you're good to go.
What it's for: Local videos
Though everything on this list allows you to watch stuff together, it can't quite replicate the experience of togetherness. You know, someone sitting next to you and talking. And that's what virtual reality is for.
With Plex VR, you can immerse you and three of your friends in a virtual environment (an apartment, drive-in theatre), create and customise avatars, and play regular, 360-degree and 3D videos. All while you talk to each other and play anything off your local hard drives. Again, since the videos will be streamed from person to person, the quality depends on their Internet connection.
It does come at a heavy cost, though. First, you'll need either of Daydream View / Gear VR — both are hard to get hands on despite officially launching in India. On top of that, you'll need a Daydream-ready Android phone. And then, one of you'll need Plex Pass, which costs $5 (Rs. 375) a month. The first week of Watch Together is free, for what it's worth.
How to set it up: Download and set up 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.