How to prepare for a virtual Christmas - all the tech you'll need explained

Many of us will not be able to spend Christmas with our families as normal this year, due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

However, that doesn’t mean that you have to spend Christmas alone, or that you can’t see your family at all.

This is how to prepare for a virtual Christmas - and all the technology you’ll need explained.

Video chatting options

Over the course of lockdown, you’ve probably become quite familiar with all the big names in the video calling industry, from Zoom to Google Meet. It’s likely you’ve already found an application you prefer.

Each video chatting option has its own pros and cons. For example, the popularity of Zoom has skyrocketed over lockdown thanks to its easy to use interface, and ability to host a large number of people. However, there is a 40 minute time limit for free accounts.

Google Meet has no time limit. Unlike Zoom, it doesn’t need participants to download or install any software and can be used in your normal internet browser. To use Google Meet, you just need a Google account - it’s free to sign up if you don’t have one already. However, the video calling software’s picture and audio quality can vary, especially as the number of people on the call increases.

Other options include FaceTime for iOS users, WhatsApp video, Skype, Facebook Messenger calling, Houseparty and more.

The best way to figure out which platform to use is to check what your friends and family have access to, as well as their technological abilities.

Should I use headphones?

If you’re going to be connecting to the family Christmas video call by yourself, a good pair of headphones will make things a lot easier, in the long run.

Headphones are an easy way to eliminate the annoying sound of screeching feedback looping around everyone’s speakers. When using headphones, your microphone will not pick up the sound from your speakers and echo it back to your family and friends.

Just connect your headphones to your laptop or other device and ensure that the settings in your chosen video call app are using your headphones as the output source.

Even if you’re the only one on the chat using headphones, it will still make things easier for everyone else.

In order to avoid the previously mentioned feedback noise, some video chat services automatically mute participants, which is why some conversations get cut off - headphones avoid this entirely.

Stream video calls to your TV

You likely won’t want to be tethered to the desk you’ve been working at all throughout lockdown. Instead, why not try out some alternative ways of setting up your festive video call?

There are a number of ways that you can connect your video call to your TV.

Firstly, if you have a Smart TV with an in built camera, it probably came with a video chat app already pre-installed, like Skype.

If you don’t have a built in camera in your TV, you can buy a separate camera for your TV, such as Facebook Portal TV.

The Facebook Portal TV is a smart web camera which connects to your TV via a HDMI cable. It allows you to make video calls using either your Facebook or WhatsApp account. One of the drawbacks of the Facebook Portal TV is its price tag - you can get it from Currys for £149.99.

Alternatively, you could go for something like a Google Chromecast - a device which allows you to use your phone or laptop as a remote control, and cast your video calls onto your TV screen. You can pick up a Chromecast from Argos for £30.

If you aren’t in a position to buy any new gadgets, you can always simply connect your laptop to your TV using a HDMI cable. You’ll be able to see your family on the big screen this way, but be aware that to your family, it’ll look like you’re looking off in a different direction if your laptop and TV aren’t facing the same way.

Schedule activities

While technology has come a long way, some of us still feel a bit awkward talking on a video call. To help things flow a little better, you can prepare some activities to do together with your loved ones.

One option is to time your Christmas dinner so that everyone is sitting down to eat at the same time. This adds an extra layer of feeling together, and like you’re enjoying a meal around the same table.

You could also create a Christmas quiz to get everyone involved. If you don’t have the time to make your own quiz, you can find pre-made ones online - including this one which is all about the Christmas adverts of 2020, from John Lewis to Coca Cola.

There are also a number of online games that you and your family can play together remotely, using your own computers.

For example, website Playing Cards has loads of games to choose from, such as Chess, Go Fish, Cribbage and Joking Hazard.

Netgames also has more team oriented games you can play, such as One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Codewords, Love Letter and Enigma.

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