It’s Time to Tech the Halls
In past years, you might have been the one insisting that everyone put their devices down and focus on the family around the table. This year, holiday gatherings are going to look a lot different, with many families deciding to host virtual get-togethers.
If you’re ready to “tech” the halls with boughs of holly, we’ve compiled a list of fun ideas and streaming options to help you maximize that feeling of togetherness, even when you can’t be.
Ho-Ho-Host a Virtual Meeting
The pool of virtual meeting apps has exploded with options this year, which can make narrowing them down seem like an impossible task. Here are our top suggestions based on ease of use, price and functionality.
Even if you’re not working or schooling remotely, you’ve probably heard of Zoom. The free version allows 40 minutes of video chatting with up to 100 people, and you don’t have to download or install the Zoom app—it can be launched directly from an internet browser. All you need to do is set up a virtual room and invite your friends and family to it.
Like everything Google does, getting started with Hangouts is pretty simple. Sign in, download and you’re ready to go. Invite up to 10 people and enjoy limitless virtual interaction, for free! If you have the paid Google Meet version, even better!
A cousin of Zoom, GoToMeeting offers app- or browser-based video chatting. The free version allows for 40-minute video chats with up to three people. If you weren’t ready to spring for the paid version but wanted the added benefits of more people and
no time constraints, GoToMeeting is offering a 14-day trial to help get you through the holidays.
Facebook Messenger Rooms create a family-friendly environment for up to 50 people, including those that don’t have a Facebook account. There are a variety of fun filters and effects that kids (and adults!) can play with to change their appearance and show off for family members. You can also easily set your background to a snowy village or a sunny beach to bring some extra holiday cheer.
Alexa, Call Grandma
Amazon's Echo Show has all the features of its ever-popular sibling, the Echo Dot, plus a smart display for video chatting and streaming. Just ask Alexa to cue up a video or surprise Grandma with a video call using Skype or the Alexa app.
As a bonus, Echo Show works with applications for video doorbell cameras, and it can also help you cook up delicious holiday meals, thanks to Amazon’s partnership with Food Network.
Make Your Smart TV Even Smarter
Instead of decking the halls with a festive Netflix fireplace as your TV background this season, consider bringing the magic of video rooms to the big screen. Here’s some ideas how.
If your laptop or PC tower has a HDMI output, you can easily connect your computer just as you would a DVD player, making the TV one giant monitor. This is an easy and cost-friendly way to turn any TV with an HDMI input into a virtual family meetup.
One of the most popular devices to broadcast content from your phone or computer is Chromecast. Most apps have an option to “cast” to your TV, and on the Chrome browser you can simply choose “cast to your device.” During the holiday season you can often find these streaming media players for under $20 – and setup takes just 15 minutes.
You can make your smart TV still smarter with a screencasting app for iPhone or Android that will allow you to mirror your phone to your TV screen. That means you can watch a show, chat with friends, and check your email all in one place.
Virtual get-togethers can be both fun and festive. Whether it’s a remote meeting, a video chat with a loved one, or (remotely) curling up on the sofa with friends and family to watch a show, there are many ways to stay connected even when distance keeps us apart.
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