In the midst of an ongoing pandemic requiring social isolation, we’ve come to realize that “Netflix and chill” doesn’t mean quite the same thing that it used to, especially for those who are used to having a bunch of friends over for a movie night. Fortunately, as in-place sheltering and social distancing continues, innovative companies find new ways to adapt and overcome.
Although there doesn’t seem to be any hope for Netflix (yet), streaming service Hulu and media server Plex are each releasing their own answers to this problem in the form of party viewing features that will let you and your friends sync up to the same movie or TV show, streaming it together in real-time.
Hulu’s Watch Party
Hulu has dubbed its version of the new feature Watch Party, and while it’s still in limited testing right now, once it hits wider release you’ll be able to invite up to seven of your friends to watch the same show together through the Hulu website and even chat while the content is playing.
According to MacRumors, some Hulu users are already being offered the option when signing in on the web, however it’s unclear if you’ll be able to invite friends unless they’re also part of the beta. Either way, though, your friends will all need to be paying Hulu customers who have ponied up for the more expensive $12/month ad-free plan.
The other downside is that it’s only available via Hulu on the web right now, likely due to the integrated chat feature. No word on when it’s coming to the iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV, but hopefully if it proves to be popular that will be the next step.
In addition to chatting with each other, viewers will also have independent control of their own playback, so they can skip back or pause without impacting the rest of the group, although some may argue that this detracts from the “group” experience.
Watch Together with Plex
If you have a Plex media server (or know somebody who does), the media company has announced its own variation on the theme called Watch Together. As Plex notes, this is something that users had been suggesting in the midst of the pandemic, and it turns out they were reading the minds of the engineers at Plex.
As with Hulu’s Watch Party, the Plex Watch Together feature is still in beta at this point, although with Plex that doesn’t mean limited availability, but rather just the company admitting that they still have some bugs to work out. In fact, during the beta period Plex is making Watch Together available to every Plex user — even those who aren’t paying for a Plex Pass.
Plex is taking a different approach from Hulu in that it’s omitting any kind of integrated chat system, although that could come later. For now it’s figuring that users can simply set up their own Zoom or FaceTime chat on the side. Since it doesn’t need to worry about how to support chat features on the big screen, however, this also means that it’s available on all of its platforms, including the Apple TV, iPhone, and iPad.
Unlike Hulu, users participating in a viewing party on Plex won’t have independent control of the stream, either — just like in real life, pausing the movie will pause it for everyone. Plex thinks that’s part of the charm of its solution, and to be honest, we kind of agree. There’s no point in watching a movie together if you’re not all experiencing it at the same time.
There are also no restrictions on content that will be available for watching together, with Plex allowing it for all of its free, ad-supported streaming content as well as anything in a user’s own personal Plex media library. Further, there’s no fixed limit on the number of friends that you can invite to your watch party, although when streaming from a Plex Media Server you’ll be limited by how many users your server and internet connection can handle.