HBO vs. HBO Max

HBO fans have it great these days. Subscribers can watch their favorite shows and movies whether they’re seated in front of their TV or they’re on a mobile device while riding the bus to work. While HBO used to offer an astonishing three streaming services, though, WarnerMedia retired HBO Go on July 31, 2020, in the wake of HBO Max’s launch. In turn, HBO Now was rebranded as simply HBO.

While viewers still have the freedom to pick between two streaming services, things are a little more straightforward than they once were. With multiple ways to stream HBO’s coveted library of original content, there are probably some people who are wondering what sets these services apart from each other. HBO Go and HBO Now had many similarities, which was likely why WarnerMedia chose to retire one. HBO Max, however, goes above and beyond basic HBO by offering the entirety of HBO’s library, plus a lot more.

Here, we’ll compare the two services on price, content, and more.

Price

So, what do the two services cost? Well, this is where things get a little tricky.

HBO costs a flat rate of $15 per month. It’s a stand-alone package, which means it doesn’t require a cable subscription to use. However, if you do have HBO included in your cable subscription, you can access it through the HBO app. By sunsetting HBO Go, WarnerMedia made it easier for both cord-cutters and cable subscribers alike to access one unified service.

The vast majority of HBO users access the service via a cable or satellite subscription. The monthly rate for HBO varies between providers and plans, and sometimes special offers will further reduce the price. Some providers have even dropped HBO subscriptions to as little as $5 a month, but you could be paying anywhere from nothing (via an introductory offer) to $20 on top of what you already pay for cable. 

Some providers offer HBO access to internet-only customers, who can then access the content online. An HBO subscription can also be added to services such as Amazon Prime Video, PlayStation Vue, and Hulu (HBO is not currently offered on Sling TV due to a contract dispute). If you have one of AT&T TV Now’s most recent plans, you won’t even need to pay extra. HBO is included as part of your AT&T TV Now subscription at no extra charge.

If you’re a college student, you might be able to get HBO for free through your university. HBO’s website has detailed instructions on how to see if your school offers no-cost HBO, but basically, if you see your place of study listed under HBO’s list of TV providers, you’re good to go.

HBO Max costs the same as an HBO subscription — $15 a month — but does not require a cable subscription. Given that it offers considerably more content than HBO, it’s easily the best bang for your buck unless you’re getting a special offer through your university or cable provider.

Even then, however, HBO Max may still be the best option. At launch, HBO Max was free for HBO subscribers who have AT&T, Cox Communications, Verizon Fios, Altice USA, and some other independent cable providers. (Also, if you already had HBO Go or HBO Now, you can use your same login credentials for HBO Max.)

Content

Every film, comedy special, and television series HBO offers is available on the HBO app, usually at the same time as its original broadcast.

HBO Max offers everything available on HBO, plus a whole lot more.

At launch, HBO Max had 10,000 hours of premium content, including the entire HBO service, titles past and present from Warner Bros., the complete Studio Ghibli catalog, and classic TV shows such as FriendsThe Big Bang Theory, and South Park. It will also offer 31 original series in 2020 and 50 original series in 2021 that will not air on the regular HBO service. That original content library will include content from the likes of J. J. Abrams, Greg Berlanti, and Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Devices

HBO Go was around since 2010 and had amassed a robust list of compatible devices during that time. When HBO Now was unveiled in 2015, the service was bound to a near-exclusive deal with Apple, which meant it was only available on devices such as the iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV.

Since the deal’s expiration in mid-2015, however, the company has steadily added support for HBO Now to a multitude of devices. The main difference between each platform’s compatibility is not the device, but the generation or version thereof. Check the table below to find out which of your devices are compatible with each streaming service. Now, the standalone HBO app uses HBO Now’s compatibility.

If you want to watch HBO on your TV and don’t have a set-top box, HBO recommends connecting your compatible iOS or Android-based mobile device to your television via an HDMI cable (anecdotally, an MHL connection will work too, although HBO doesn’t officially say so).

HBO Max HBO
Amazon Kindle Fire tablets No Amazon Fire tablets 3rd-gen+
Amazon Fire TV No Amazon Fire TV 1st-gen+
Amazon Fire TV Stick No Amazon Fire TV Stick 1st-gen+
Android phones and tablets Android 4.1+ Android 4.1+
Android TV Android 5.0+ (details here) Android 5.0+ (details here)
Apple iPad iPad 2nd-gen+, iPad Mini 1st-gen+ iPad 2nd-gen+, iPad Mini 1st-gen+
Apple iPhone iPhone 4s and newer iPhone 4s and newer
Apple iPod Touch iPod Touch 5th-gen+ iPod Touch 5th-gen+
Apple TV Yes (details here) Yes (details here)
Chromecast Yes (details here) Yes (details here)
Google Chrome Google Chrome version 62+ Google Chrome version 62+
Mozilla Firefox Firefox version 63+ Firefox version 63+
Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 10+ Internet Explorer 10+
MacOS Yes Yes
Microsoft Edge Yes Yes
PlayStation 3 No No
PlayStation 4 Yes Yes
Roku No Roku 2nd-gen+(details here)
Safari Safari 11+ Safari 11+
Samsung Smart TVs Yes (details here) Yes (details here)
TiVo No  No
Windows Windows 10+ Windows 10+
YouTube TV Yes No
Xbox 360 No No
Xbox One Yes Yes

Restrictions

So now that we’ve covered which devices the two services support, it’s time to discuss their respective limitations. Luckily, there aren’t many, and most deal with access across multiple devices.

HBO allows unlimited devices per account, without an authentication requirement. Simply sign in with your HBO credentials and you’re free to stream to your heart’s content — to a point. The service will cap the number of videos being simultaneously accessed, which HBO claims is for security reasons. So, if you have several devices trying to access different movies or TV episodes at the same time, you might run into the message “You’ve exceeded the number of simultaneous streams,” forcing you to sign out or restart your device. If all you have are a few devices online at once, streaming should be essentially unrestricted.

It’s still unclear what sort of restrictions, if any, HBO Max has. The company has not specified any restrictions or limitations that HBO Max will have that are separate from HBO. Since upgrading to Max is relatively simple for existing subscribers, it seems likely that restrictions are not dramatically different from the earlier services.

Another option

If you’re not looking to spend the dough on an HBO subscription, whether streaming-only or through your cable package, it’s worth noting that there are quite a few HBO-produced options available on Amazon Prime Video. Prime subscribers have access to a wealth of HBO-made content, and though it’s not the same volume as you’d get through HBO, it could be enough to make a dedicated HBO subscription less important.

Which is best?

In the battle between HBO streaming services, which comes out on top? Once upon a time, the answer to that question depended almost entirely on you. HBO Go and HBO Now had small idiosyncrasies, but nothing that made one the clear choice over the other — each one simply appealed to a particular kind of user, either cord-cutter or cable subscriber.

Now that there is only one HBO app, those idiosyncrasies are gone. It’s simply a question of whether you want HBO or HBO plus a whole lot more.

In that sense, HBO Max is the clear frontrunner.

Max offers all of the same content that HBO does, plus thousands of more hours of shows and movies, both classic and original. It’s as easy to access for cable subscribers as it is for cord-cutters with an app available for practically any device. For $15 per month — the same price as HBO — HBO Max is a far superior option to the company’s other streaming services. There’s a good chance that it will one day render the other obsolete.

Once you’ve chosen your desired platform, peruse our picks for the best movies and shows on HBO. If you opt for neither, well, these are the best movies on Netflix.

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