Disney+ is like the HBO of old. It’s a great place to find some of the best movies ever made, as well as a small selection of top-tier original series. HBO is, well, HBO, a premium cable channel with a streaming component that keeps cranking out hit after hit after hit. Both generate tons of buzz. Both are worth your money.
Still, there’s not enough time to watch everything, and not every streaming service will fit your budget. It’s painful, but something has to give. Oh, just because the choice between HBO and Disney+ isn’t hard enough already — don’t forget, HBO Max is still waiting in the wings.
Disney+ is the new online repository for everything that Disney owns. That is, quite simply, a lot. Naturally, Disney+ has all of Disney’s classic animated features, its family-oriented live-action films, its vintage cartoon shorts, and a whole bunch of Disney Channel original series and movies, but thanks to corporate synergy it’s also the new, exclusive home for the Star Wars movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Simpsons, Pixar, and plenty more.
All in all, Disney+ launched with over 600 TV shows and movies, and more are on the way. Now, Disney+ isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s firmly tied to the Disney brand, meaning all of its content is family-friendly, and its selection of TV shows skews very young. Kids and nostalgia-addled adults will never run out of things to watch on Disney+. Everyone else might find that the service’s offerings begin to wear thin.
By contrast, HBO offers a rotating selection of around 800 movies. HBO’s movie catalog is a lot more eclectic than Disney+’s — you’ll find everything from kids’ movies to blockbuster action flicks to Oscar-baiting dramas to indie documentaries on the service — but it has a lot of turnover. Unlike Disney, HBO (and its parent company, WarnerMedia) don’t own all of the content on HBO, so the list changes regularly. That’s nice if you like variety, but it also means that you need to watch the movies you’re interested in as soon as possible. Otherwise, you might miss them.
HBO doesn’t have any network or cable TV shows, but it does have all of HBO’s original series. That’s HBO’s killing blow. The Sopranos helped usher in the era of prestige TV, and HBO’s been cranking out classics ever since. Game of Thrones. Deadwood. The Wire. Veep. Sex in the City. Curb Your Enthusiasm. Big Little Lies. Succession. Westworld. Watchmen. The list just goes on and on. Even HBO’s second-tier titles — Boardwalk Empire, Eastbound and Down, and so on — are better than most things on TV.
By contrast, Disney+ only has one high-profile original series, The Mandalorian, plus a handful of smaller scripted series and reality shows. There are bigger shows on the way, but they won’t arrive for a while. Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the first of Disney+’s Marvel spin-offs, doesn’t debut until fall 2020. Its next two live-action Star Wars shows haven’t started filming yet.
Don’t get us wrong. The Disney+ line-up is great, and The Mandalorian deserves to be a hit. However, if you’re looking for variety (or adult-oriented content — very few of HBO’s original series are appropriate for kids), HBO’s film library and collection of original series are hard to beat.
Unfortunately, all of that great content comes at a cost: HBO is more than twice as expensive as Disney+. If you subscribe to HBO as a stand-alone streaming service using the HBO Now app, it’ll cost you $15 a month. The same holds true if you’re getting HBO as an add-on to Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or Apple TV. If you have HBO through your cable or satellite TV provider, which is how you get HBO Go, your price will vary, although $15 seems to be the average rate.
By contrast, Disney+ costs $7 a month, or $70 for a yearlong subscription. You can also get a free seven-day Disney+ trial, after which you’ll be charged the regular monthly fee, or get it in a $13 bundle that includes ESPN+ and Hulu.
If you can’t decide between Disney+ and HBO, your hardware isn’t going to help. Both services are available on Amazon Fire TV, Android, Apple TV, Chromecast, iOS, PlayStation 4, Roku, Samsung smart TVs, web browsers, and Xbox One. You can also get Disney+ on LG smart TVs, but otherwise, the services’ device lists are identical.
User experience, video, and sound quality
Both the HBO Go and HBO Now platforms and the Disney+ app get the job done. The two interfaces look almost exactly the same: A banner at the top of the login page shows new and featured content, while scrolling down shows you various content categories to explore. You can browse both Disney+ and HBO by genre, and add things to your watchlist to check out later.
However, at the moment, HBO is a little more stable. Some users have experienced glitches using the Disney+ app, and its search feature is unreliable. HBO’s streaming apps have been around for a while. They work. Disney+ is a new service, and we expect that Disney will iron out the wrinkles fairly soon. For now, however, HBO functions better.
On the other hand, Disney+ supports 4K resolution with Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos sound. HBO doesn’t. On HBO, the best you’re going to get is 1080p a resolution and Dolby Digital surround sound, even though some of HBO’s series actually have Atmos mixes on Blu-ray. HBO looks good. Disney+ looks great, at least on content that supports all of Disney+’s advanced features.
Disney+ supports up to four simultaneous streams per subscription. HBO tops out at three.
Here’s the twist: In a few months, the HBO landscape will change. In May 2020, WarnerMedia will launch HBO Max, a brand new streaming service full of WarnerMedia content.
Not only will HBO Max have all of HBO’s original series, but it’ll contain the full runs of shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, South Park, and Doctor Who, and episodes of new CW series. It will have a huge collection of films from the Warner Bros. library, including Hollywood classics such as Casablanca, every DC Comics film from the past 40 years, and the complete Studio Ghibli catalog. Finally, HBO Max will also get its own slate of original series, including new projects from J. J. Abrams, an animated Gremlins prequel, and adaptations of the hit novels Station Eleven, Made for Love, and Circe.
All that, and HBO Max will only cost $15 a month — the same as a current HBO subscription (in fact, everyone who gets HBO through their cable or satellite company will get HBO Max for free). While there are still a lot of questions — i.e., whether or not HBO Now will still exist after HBO Max launches, if HBO Max will also have HBO’s rotating film library, and whether or not the service will stream in 4K — HBO Max is shaping up to be a major Disney+ competitor.
If you’re looking for something to watch right now, this doesn’t concern you. HBO Max is still months away. However, if you’re making long-term streaming plans, it’s something to be aware of. HBO Max could be a big, big deal.
Ultimately, who consumes the most entertainment in your house: you, or your kids? That’s going to determine which of the two services you settle on. With its huge collection of cartoons and animated movies, family-friendly features, and superhero content, Disney+ is a great value for children, families, and the young at heart. If you’re looking to show off your home-theater setup, its 4K, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos capabilities can’t be topped.
If you’re looking for more adult fare, choose HBO. Its content won’t look or sound as good and you won’t be able to use HBO to watch Star Wars or Marvel films, but HBO has plenty of other blockbusters, in addition to all other kinds of movies. Besides, HBO’s mature, thought-provoking, and well-made original series are some of the best TV shows ever made. They’re worth the extra money all on their own.
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