Video calling and virtual meetings have become our new normal during this pandemic, and everyone from Zoom, to Microsoft, to Google wants a piece. Today Facebook threw its hat into the ring by announcing Messenger Rooms, bringing massive improvements to its chat app’s video capabilities — including the ability to support up to 50 participants at once.
Massive meetups aside, one of the key differences between Messenger Rooms and regular Messenger video calls is that you don’t have to download an app — or even have a Facebook account — to join. Just click on the link and you can join on the fly — though Zuckerberg did note that using the Messenger app provides “the best experience.”
Naturally, the feature has tight integration with Facebook. You create a room, you have the option of sharing it on your feed, in groups, or on event pages, so people can drop in and out as they please.
Of course, most of us don’t exactly want to video chat with everyone on our friends list, so you can limit visibility to a few users or make the room private such that you need a link to join.
Unsurprisingly, the app supports fake backgrounds like Zoom, though Facebook goes a bit further by allowing you to set 360-degree backdrops that move as you do. You can use the AR filters you are used to as well, but the company says it’s also offering 14 new filters to modify the lighting during your video calls to make things look a little more interesting.
In a related move, WhatsApp today announced it would increase group call size to eight participants today. While that’s not as much as Messenger Rooms, it’s worth noting WhatsApp’s video calls are end-to-end encrypted. Messenger calls are not, although Facebook says it does not tune into your calls.
While it’s hard to imagine any company cutting into Zoom’s momentum for the duration of the pandemic, Facebook’s ubiquity obviously gives it a leg up. Their audiences also don’t completely overlap; while I’d use Messenger to host a video call with friends, I don’t anticipate using it for work meetings any time soon.
Messenger Rooms is rolling out starting now and will be available in the Facebook app within the coming weeks.