by Eric Ravenscraft on
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The internet is a wonderful tool that lets you connect with friends all around the world. Yet, for some reason, most video services don’t offer a way to easily watch movies, TV, or video with your long-distance friends. Fortunately, these third-party tools pick up the slack.
If you and your friends that live far away want to watch a show on Netflix together, usually it involves pulling up a separate voice chat, counting down and hitting play at the same time. Then you have to weigh whether it’s worth the complicated effort of resyncing if either of you needs to pause to go to the bathroom or something. We’re aiming to fix these problems with the following services that let you watch things together with relative ease.
If all you want is basic syncing for Netflix, then Chrome extension Netflix Party is the easiest way to share with others. Install the extension and open up a movie or show on Netflix, then click the NP icon in your toolbar. You’ll be given a link that you can send to your friends. They’ll be directed to the show you’re watching and playback will be synced up automatically. Optionally, you can turn on a group chat sidebar that shows icons (but no names) for each person. The chat is extremely basic, designed mostly to help you communicate if you don’t have an outside voice or video chat, but it’ll do the job.
The problem with most apps that let you watch movies together is that supporting each service can be complicated and cumbersome. Rabbit avoids this by letting you and your friends share a virtual desktop, instead. When you set up a “room,” you’re given what is essentially remote control of a browser tab hosted by Rabbit. You and your friends log into the same desktop and stream the same audio and video to your respective computers. The upside of this method is that you can watch anything that you can play in a web browser together: Netflix, Hulu, Twitch, Spotify, heck even Crunchyroll or SoundCloud. The downside is that the performance can be little muddy. You’re streaming a desktop from a virtual machine on another computer, and that’s not the ideal way to watch a movie. Still, as long as you and all your friends have a solid internet connection, it can work well.
Plug.Dj is a unique service that lets you create a public or private room where you and other users take turns playing YouTube videos. It’s designed with music videos in mind, allowing you each to play as the temporary DJ for a room, voting on each other’s music and keeping the party going. However, you can play any video on YouTube, making it an easy way to watch anything together.
You can use Rabbit or Plug.Dj to stream YouTube videos with your friends, but both are a little complicated, requiring an account to use them. Gaze is comparatively much simpler. One user creates a room and sends a link for it to another user and both can immediately start streaming together. The site even includes voice and video chat built in. Unfortunately, only two users can watch together, so any plans you had for a movie party will need another service. On the upside, in addition to YouTube videos, you can also sync up your own local files. Both users will need to have a copy of the video file available to sync, but, hey, that’s what Dropbox is for.
Of all the services on this list, Plex VR is easily the most cumbersome way to watch a movie. It’s also delightful once you get it working. You and up to three friends–all of whom need to have Android Daydream headsets–can join a shared virtual theater where you can stream movies or TV shows from your Plex library. Each user can adjust the screen size and position to whatever suits them, so there’s no bad seat in the house. Granted, watching movies through a lens a quarter inch from your phone screen isn’t exactly going to give you the best picture quality around, but it can be a fun experience if you have a couple VR headsets laying around. If you’d rather skip the VR bit, SyncLounge is a third-party app that lets you create a hosted room where you and your friends or family can watch with you. They’ll each need to be using a Plex app as well, but SyncLounge will simply keep them synced up.
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