Photo Credit: Akhil Arora/Gadgets 360
Disney+ Hotstar has rolled out a “Watch with your friends” feature that allows you to video call friends and family while you watch cricket. This only applies to the Indian Premier League, and it's an odd time to roll this out with just two matches — watch together arrived over the weekend, ahead of Delhi Capitals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad — left in the 2020 IPL season. Now that the technology exists, it's possible that it could come to more cricket or other sports in the future, but Disney+ Hotstar told Gadgets 360 that it's a special one-off for IPL as of now.
To set it up, hit play on a live IPL match — the 2020 IPL final on Tuesday is your only option — and then click “Start Video Call”. The option is only available with your device in portrait mode, which means you can't watch the match in full screen. You can add up to five friends with Disney+ Hotstar's “Watch with your friends”. Once your friends are on board, you will get access to volume knobs for match commentary and your friends' conversation, allowing you to decide which one you wish to prioritise. And if video calling is too demanding, you can simply pick the “audio only” option.
Technically, you could do all of this using a third-party video chat client such as Zoom or Google Meet, but you might run into synchronisation problems. This is especially annoying for live sports. It's not fun to have someone react to a wicket or a boundary before you, because their stream is a few seconds ahead. Disney+ Hotstar's “Watch with your friends” takes care of this, synchronising everyone's video stream to ensure that all of you are watching the match together — in one sense of the word anyway.
There's no talk of Disney+ Hotstar's “Watch with your friends” coming to non-live content though. Add that to the list of differences between Disney+ Hotstar and Disney+. The Disney+ app has a “GroupWatch” feature that lets you watch any title on the service with your friends and family.
And while Disney+ Hotstar is focused on social experiences, live sports can use bells and whistles on the technology side of things. The app suffers on three important aspects: bitrate, frames per second, and resolution. Disney+ Hotstar averages just 3Mbps for live sports, which makes the feed lack detail and look pixelated on big screens. And it doesn't have support for 60fps (this ought to be standard), and it doesn't offer 4K resolution for sports content.
“We understand that real magic of cricket comes alive in the company of family and friends, something that is difficult in these times of social distancing,” Disney+ Hotstar head and president Sunil Rayan said in a mailed statement. “Our product team took on this challenge, to provide users with a unique social-viewing experience, whilst ensuring the cricket watching experience remains seamless. ‘Watch with your friends' is an exciting new concept that replicates offline behaviour virtually, and will forever change the way fans experience cricket.”