There’s nothing better than going to movies with some pals. OK, staying inside and away from people so that you don’t spread a deadly virus is way better, actually. Still, it’s nice to watch stuff with friends sometimes, even if you can’t be together. Luckily, there’s a number of sources online that will let you stave off the shelter-in-place blues by hosting your own virtual watch parties.
Here are your best options.
Just Use Zoom
WIRED: Video chat. Only one person needs a streaming subscription.
TIRED: Picture quality is not always great. Syncing audio and video can be an issue. Kinda janky.
This option is the most flexible. Where the other streaming services require each person to have an active (paid) account to participate, the Zoom method just requires one person with an account to share their screen. By now, the mechanics of Zoom likely have been embedded deep into your psyche, so the following steps should be pretty simple. If not, check out our guide to getting started with Zoom.
First, queue up the video you want to play and start a Zoom meeting. Click the green “share screen” button on the bottom of the Zoom window. A popup will let you select which application you want to share. Select the browser window that has the video in it. But wait! Before you click “share,” look for two checkboxes down at the lower-left corner of the sharing options tab. They’re options to “share computer sound” and “optimize screen sharing for video clip.” Make sure both boxes are checked. Now click “share” and you’re set. If need be, the host can adjust the volume on the video player itself to make it easier to hear the other video participants.
As for downsides, well, Zoom isn’t exactly perfect. For our purposes here, the video quality isn’t always great. Lags or stuttering can get frustrating if you have a slow connection. Also, if the meeting host is using Zoom’s free version, each meeting is limited to 40 minutes—hardly ideal for a movie marathon. If you aren’t keen to pay for a Zoom subscription, there are some creative ways to get around the time limit.
WIRED: Good video quality. Text chat.
TIRED: No video or voice chat. Everyone watching needs a Netflix account.
Netflix Party is the big fish of the remote watch party ecosystem right now. It’s a third-party browser extension that allows up to 50 people to watch anything on Netflix together.
To get started, you’ll first have to install the Netflix Party extension. (It’s only available on Chrome and Opera browsers.) If it doesn’t show up right away, restart your browser, then look for an icon that looks like a puzzle piece in the top right corner of Chrome (it’s right by your profile picture). Click that, and it will give you a list of your extensions. Click the pin icon next to the NP logo and it will keep it at the top of your browser window.
If the NP icon is grayed out, it won’t do anything. Open Netflix and select what you want to watch. Once the video starts playing, the NP icon will turn red. Click it, then click “Start the Party.” (There is also a checkbox that lets you choose if only the host can control the playback.) A box will pop up with a URL that you’ll need to copy and send to everyone you’re inviting to the watch party. If you click out of the box too soon, just click the icon that looks like a chain link in the top right corner to copy the address.
After you send them the link, your friends will be able to join, provided they have also installed the browser extension and are logged into Netflix. During the playback, there will be a gray Netflix Party box for text chatting. You change your icon and username by clicking the circle at the top by the copy link button.
Unfortunately, at this point you can’t voice or video chat during playback, which could be just fine if your friend group is more into texting anyway.
WIRED: Video chat. Slick interface. Good video quality.
TIRED: Requires a separate Scener account.
Another third party option, Scener provides remote watching via Netflix, Disney+, Vimeo, and HBO Go and/or Now. It’s also just about the slickest option here, with video chat, an adjustable chat window, and the ability to easily toggle between streaming services. You also get the option for private screenings for up to 10 people, or a public session with an unlimited audience size (though still only 10 people can turn on their cameras).
First, you’ll need to install the Scener browser extension. (It’s only available on Chrome for now.) Like with Netflix Party, go to the puzzle piece Extensions icon in the top right corner of Chrome and pin the Scener icon. If you don’t see it right away, just restart your browser.
To start Scener, just click the extension logo and a separate window will pop up. From there, press “Create a theater” and choose between a private or public screening. Then select your subscription service of choice (you’ll have to log in if you haven’t already) and it should pop right up. In the chat window to the right, you’ll see the option to enable video chat and an invite link to send to your friends. A handy “pass the remote” feature lets you toggle who gets to pick what to watch next and who has control during playback.
Each person using Scener has to have a valid account with any of the available streaming services. They all have to make a separate Scener account as well.
Hulu Watch Party
WIRED: No installation needed. Good video quality. Text chat.
TIRED: No video or voice chat. Everyone involved needs access to a paid Hulu account. No live TV.
Unlike the first three options, Hulu Watch Party is supported directly in the Hulu service itself. To use it, you’ll need to be on a computer.
First, go to Hulu on your browser. (It supports Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge.) Go into the show or movie you want to watch. There’s an icon right next to the play button that looks like three people with a play arrow on the top. That’s the Watch Party button. Click it, then click “Start the party.” That will take you to a screen with a link for your viewing session. Copy that, send it to your friends, then click “Start party” once everyone has joined.
Like with Netflix Party, every participant needs to have access to a paid Hulu subscription. If you share a family plan, multiple users on the same account can join a Watch Party together. Also, not every single thing on Hulu is available for Watch Party. You can’t stream Live TV or “premium add-on content,” for example.
Amazon Prime Video Watch Party
WIRED: No installation required. Good video quality.
TIRED: Only Amazon content is available, so no rented or purchased movies. Everyone watching needs an Amazon Prime account.
The newest option on this list, Amazon Watch Party works almost exactly like Hulu’s version of the feature. It’s available on desktop/laptop computers (no mobile option yet). It’s also dead simple to use. Just select a compatible video, then click the “Watch party” option. That will prompt you to enter your name and the video will start. Copy the share link and send it to your friends for them to join.
The big caveat here is that right now, only content in Amazon’s Prime Video library are available to stream. This includes its original shows like Fleabag, Upload, and The Boys, as well as some licensed movies. Unfortunately, any movies you’ve bought or rented can’t be streamed through Watch Party.
A full list of Prime Video titles is here.
More Great WIRED Stories
- Screen share: A college teacher’s Zoom journal
- How to switch to Signal and bring all your texts with you
- Why NASA designed a new $23 million space toilet
- How to make your virtual jam session sound—and look—good
- The pandemic is transforming the rental economy
- ? Is the brain a useful model for AI? Plus: Get the latest AI news
- ? Things not sounding right? Check out our favorite wireless headphones, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers