HBO fans have it pretty good these days. The premium network has begun offering its own standalone subscription service, HBO Now, the estranged sibling of the cable-offshoot service, HBO Go, allowing a host of ways to get your HBO fix online. However, with two different ways to stream the network’s coveted library of original series and movies, there are probably some wondering what sets these two services apart. Like all siblings, there are strong similarities, but also some important differences.
First, let’s discuss which features both services have in common — which, it turns out, is actually quite a lot.
Each one simply appeals towards which kind of user you are: cord cutter, or cable lover.
Likely the biggest concern on everyone’s mind is whether there will be a difference between the content offered by HBO Go and HBO Now. The answer is simple: No. Every film, comedy special, and television series will be available regardless of whether you’re on HBO Go, or HBO Now. Both services will get access to new content at the same time — typically about an hour after the live broadcast. Sure, you might be waiting a little longer than those watching live to see what happens next in the wilds of Westeros, but you’ll have more than enough backlog content to tide you over. The interfaces for both apps are practically identical as well — so much so, in fact, that the methods for navigating one will transfer to the other.
So what do the two services cost? This is where things get a little tricky.
First off, HBO Now costs $15 per month. It’s a standalone package, which means it doesn’t require a cable subscription to use it. HBO Go, on the other hand, is free with an HBO subscription — but that’s the only way to access it. So, in order to use HBO Go, one must first have HBO; and in order to have HBO, one must be paying for cable or satellite — ostensibly. There are some providers that will offer HBO access to Internet customers, who can simply access the content online. But for the vast majority of users, HBO requires a cable subscription. The amount per month for HBO varies between cable providers and their plans, and sometimes special offers will further change the price. Recently, most providers have dropped an HBO subscription to as little as $10 a month, but you could be paying anywhere from nothing to $20 on top of what you already pay for your cable bill.
HBO Go might have a cable-bill sized caveat, but HBO Now has its own limitations — for now, at least.
HBO Go is supported on a bevy of devices including Apple devices, Android devices, PCs, Macs, set-top boxes like Roku and Amazon Fire TV, and most major video game consoles. There is some room for error there — PS4 users who have Comcast service are still notoriously barred from accessing HBO Go on their console. Still, Compared to HBO Now, HBO Go’s list looks extremely robust. At present, HBO Now is offered via Mac, PC, Apple TV, iPad, and iPhones — and that’s it. That’s all about to change, however.
When HBO Now was unveiled in March 2015, the service was bound to a near-exclusive deal with Apple, meaning that the service would only be available on Apple devices (Apple TV, iPad, iPhones, etc), as well being offered to a select number of Cablevision users in the New York area. As it turns out, the deal was rather short-lived, however; when HBO Now launched the following month, Apple’s exclusivity was revealed to last only three months. The deal runs out in July, 2015, so wider-spread support is just around the corner. In fact, HBO Now is slated to land on Google’s Chromecast and Android TV devices any day now. Beyond that, one could safely assume that all devices currently supporting HBO Go will, at some point, carry HBO Now as well.
So, now that we’ve covered which devices are (currently) supported by the two services, it’s time to discuss their restrictions.
Luckily, there aren’t many, and most deal with content access across multiple devices. In this regard, HBO Go is the more complicated of the two. Order to use HBO Go on a device, you must first authenticate the service through a cable or satellite provider. It’s a bit tedious, but the good news is there is no cap on the number of devices that can be tied to an account.
HBO Now also allows limitless devices per account, but without the authentication requirement. Simply sign in with your HBO Now credentials, and you’re free to stream to your heart’s content–to a point. Both services will cap the number of videos being simultaneously accessed. So, while everyone on an account can be watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones, if you’ve got several devices all trying to access different movies or tv episodes at the same time, you might run into some trouble. That said, if all you’ve got is one or two devices, streaming should be essentially unrestricted.
Which is better?
So, in the battle between HBO Go vs HBO Now, which comes out on top? The answer to that question depends almost entirely upon you. Both services have small idiosyncrasies, but nothing that makes one the clear choice over the other — each one simply appeals towards which kind of user you are: cord cutter, or cable lover.
HBO Go makes the most sense for people who are already subscribed to HBO because (surprise!) you technically already have HBO Go. For those who have cable without HBO, HBO Go still makes sense right now, as it is currently offered on more devices than its sibling.
HBO Now is targeted at those who opt to trade traditional Pay TV for Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other a la carte streaming services like Sling TV and Playstation Vue. If you’ve cut the cord, HBO Now is not only your best option, it’s virtually your only option for watching HBO’s content — legally anyway.
All in all, the two services are practically identical. The only major factors separating the two are the number of devices currently supported, and that pesky cable subscription required for HBO Go. It stands to reason that device support will reach parity in the near-future, and once that happens, picking between HBO Go and HBO Now will simply come down to whether you have cable or not.