WWith the spread of Omicron in the UK, the potential for disruption to Christmas plans is high, whether you are limiting your contact or have been forced to isolate yourself. But just because you can’t meet in person doesn’t mean all the festivities have to stop.
It won’t be quite the same but you can still join your family and friends and have a good time virtually. Here are some ideas to help you stay connected during the holiday season, whether it’s logging in to chat or sharing entertainment.
Easy video calls
Video calls are the first port of call for most people. You can use almost any device with a camera, but tablets or laptops are the easiest to set up for longer chats if you have them.
Zoom is one of the simplest cross-platform services available with an app available for most devices. It can be used for free for up to 40 minutes at a time.
For those in the Apple ecosystem, FaceTime is built into every iPhone, iPad, or Mac, is super easy to use, and you can now send invites to those who use Android or Windows for calls in their browsers. Google users can use Meet on Android, in Chrome on a computer, or iPhone and iPad apps.
Those who are seated alone should use headphones to avoid comments and help keep conversations more natural, and shorter video chats are generally best to avoid fatigue. Place a tablet or laptop at the end of the table if someone can’t meet.
Board games by video call
Chats can get old quickly, so why not try out board games through video calls. Some things are easier to do than others. Charades is a natural fit – just prop up your video calling device and create your shapes on the camera.
Pictionary is also fairly easy to do via a video call using pen and paper, or you can use a shared drawing service such as the free Microsoft Whiteboard to see what other people are drawing on their screens or tablets.
Quizzes are also a favorite for video chat. You can try using Google Docs or similar services, but the old way (rather than pen, paper, and a bit of screen sharing if there are pictures) often works better.
Share movies, TV shows and music in video calls
The latest addition to the growing list of video calling activities is watching videos or listening to music at the same time. Apple’s new SharePlay offering makes that easy – it’s integrated with FaceTime from the latest software updates.
While you’re on a FaceTime call, you can start watching TV, movie, or music in an app that supports SharePlay, like Apple Music and TV, Disney +, Pluto TV, and TikTok, and it’ll sync with others on your call when you press “play for everyone”. It works on all Apple devices including Mac or Apple TV streaming box so you can watch the movie on the big screen.
Watch movies together without needing to call
If you’d rather not see other people’s faces when watching a movie, or if you’re not using Apple devices, you can still watch on-demand services together remotely.
Disney + has a built-in feature called GroupWatch, which is easy to use and works on most devices. It allows you to invite other people with a Disney + membership to join you to watch the content at the same time. Amazon’s Prime Video Watch Party can do the same through Android devices, in-browser computers, or Fire TV devices.
Group viewing on Netflix is ââmore limited at the moment, requiring the free Teleparty Chrome or Edge browser extension on your PC, Mac, or Chromebook, so it won’t work on your smart TV, phone, or iPad, but you can chat by SMS with other viewers in a bar on the side. The BBC last year launched a pilot service called Together which allows you to bundle iPlayer, Sounds, Bitsize, News and Sport on one computer.
But remember, if you take a break for a quick stop it’ll also pause it in the middle of the action for everyone else, which they might not thank you for.
For a low-tech alternative, you can simply tune into a live TV show or stream and chat with WhatsApp.
Play video games remotely
Multiplayer and co-op video games are big business, and they can be exceptionally rewarding when you can’t be physically together.
All major consoles support online multiplayer with voice chat, and there are plenty of games to choose from. Typically, you have to pay for the service online, but many can be purchased on a monthly basis including Â£ 3.49 for the Nintendo service, Â£ 6.99 for Microsoft’s Xbox Live Gold, and Â£ 6.99 for PlayStation Plus from Sony. Some games such as the very popular Fortnite can be played online for free on most platforms, including consoles, PCs, phones and tablets.
There are plenty of great shooting, racing, and adventure games to play together, while a plethora of great board games such as Among Us, which is the modern reinvention of snap murder, offers something for it. a little different.
Shared Christmas Playlists or Roaring Fire (Digital)
If it’s just a common Christmas atmosphere you’re looking for and live radio isn’t enough, then a shared music playlist might be the answer. Spotify is best known for its collaborative playlists that allow anyone to add tracks using free or paid accounts. But you can at least share a basic playlist that you made by sending your friends a link from the various apps for Apple Music, Amazon Music, and most other services if they also subscribe.
For a bit of ambiance, you can also put a recreation of a roaring fire on your TV, so that you all watch the same hauntingly dancing flames. The easiest way is to play one of the surprisingly large libraries of fiery videos on the streaming service of your choice, be it Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, or others. Smart TV apps are also available for most platforms. Just search for “fireplace”.