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Finally, HBO Max is hitting our screens. It’s the latest entrant to the streaming wars that have been bubbling the last few years, and HBO is entering the fray with a sleek app that’s packed with plenty of familiar TV shows and well-loved movies. Everything HBO has made is on there, plus some classics like Rick and Morty and Friends, plus the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movie anthologies. You also get nearly all of Studio Ghibli’s catalog, making for a well-rounded collection of content to keep adults and kids occupied, and there are even decent parental controls that outshine what’s on offer on most other services.

The good stuff

  • Loads of content over a lot of genres for the same cost as HBO Now
  • The interface is easy to get to grips with
  • Great range of children’s content with personalized rating settings
  • Gives warnings when shows will leave and previews of what’s coming

Not so good stuff

  • It’s not exactly cheap
  • Not compatible with Amazon Fire TV or Roku
  • Doesn’t stream in 4K HDR
  • No option to bring watch history over and no personal recommendations

If you subscribe to HBO or HBO Now for streaming services, you’ll get HBO Max with loads more content and a fresh interface with the exact same cost. The upgrade will be free for existing customers; you just pay your usual $14.99 each month. If you’re new to the HBO family, it might seem a little expensive, particularly if you’re signed up to Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus or any other service, notes Alison Disco Rayome for cnet.

As the service goes live, it won’t work with your Roku or Amazon Fire TV setups, and there’s a distinct lack of 4K HDR streaming, which all of the competition offer. Apart from the original HBO content that you’ve already seen, there’s not a whole lot of exclusive new content to devour – especially since the Friends reunion has been put on hold. There’s nothing comparable to The Mandalorian, the Disney Plus breakout featuring Baby Yoda. These issues will improve over time, and quickly most likely, but they don’t make the launch bode too well. 

If you’re a lover of HBO, Elmo, or Friend, or even just need something new to binge on during lockdown, HBO Max is a sound investment. It does still have some teething issues and doesn’t quite measure up to the competition as it stands.

Comparing services

HBO Max Netflix Disney Plus Hulu
Monthly price $14.99 Starts at $8.99 $6.99 Basic $5.99 with ads, Ad-free for $11.99, Live TV for $55
Ads No No No Yes, with basic tier
Availability Now Now Now Now
Top titles Entire HBO catalog, Studio Ghibli films, DC films Stranger Things, The Office, Breaking Bad, 13 Reasons Why The Mandalorian, Avengers Endgame, Toy Story, The Simpsons Handmaid’s Tale, Catch-22, Lost, Bob’s Burgers
Mobile downloads Yes Yes Yes Yes (on Ad-free plan only)
4K available No Yes (on Premium plan) Yes Yes
HDR available No Yes (on Premium plan) Yes No
Number of streams 3 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 4 2 (Unlimited with Live TV and a $10 add-on)

Share the wealth

The price of HBO Max is $14.99 per month unless you were smart to get in with a preorder, in which case you’ll pay $11.99 per month for a year. The price matches HBO Now and HBO packages on TV through most of the pay-TV companies. It’s planned that there’ll be a second tier of pricing added, which will be cheaper and include advertising. No set time has been announced, but it might even be a free service. 

Image credit: variety.com

Already got a standard HBO TV package or HBO Now? You’ll get HBO Max at no extra cost. To try and simplify their model, the parent company of HBO, WarnerMedia, plans to get rid of the HBO Go app at the end of July, now that you can use the HBO Max app. For HBO Now, the app won’t change but it’ll be rebranded simply HBO. 

It feels a little confusing, but there’s a comprehensive HBO Max FAQ that should cover what you want to know. 

There’s a whole lot of movies and TV available on HBO Max, but it’s still pretty expensive when you put it up against its streaming competitors. The basic Netflix subscription is £8.99 monthly, Hulu’s ad-supported plan is $5.99 each month, and Disney Plus is just $6.99 per month. One of the big complaints about HBO No and Go has been giving access to friends and family. An executive at HBO, Tony Goncalves has said that you’ll still be able to watch three streams at the same time using the service. You can set up a maximum of five user profiles, which you can’t do on HBO Now or Go, so account sharing did get a little easier. 

HBO Max is available on different Apple devices, such as iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Apple TV. It’s also available on gear that runs Google’s Android operating system for phones and tablets, as well as Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast, and Chromecast built-in devices like Vizio TVs. The Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and recent Samsung smart TVs are also on-board. 

Even with all that accessibility, you still can’t get it through Roku or Amazon Fire TV, which does do down the service a little, since Roku is by far the most popular device for streaming in the US.  

Feast your eyes

The best thing about HBO Max is just how much TV and movie content it carries, catering for both adults and kids. When it launches it has 10,000 hours of watchable shows and films, including everything made by HBO, plus big-hitters of TV like The Big Bang Theory, Friends, Rick and Morty, and South Park.

There are six Max Originals on the service and the most famous of them is Love Life with Anna Kendrick starring. They’re ok, and who can resist Elmo? But there’s nothing huge to grab headlines, until summer comes at least. There’ll be 31 original shows by the end of the first year of operations, and 60 by the end of the second, HBO says. Rather than going for a series drop like Netflix does, HBO Max will do weekly episode releases just like TV. 

Whilst we patiently wait for the good stuff to land, there’s loads of movies available, with some pretty new ones and a lot of classics. You can get The Lord of the Rings sets plus two The Hobbit ones, DC movies like Wonder Woman and Joker, The Matrix full set, and golden oldies like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz, plus more recent movies like A Star is Born and Crazy Rich Asians. Nearly the full catalog of Studio Ghibli’s anime films are on HBO Max too, which is a first for any US streaming service. If you’re a 2017 Justice League fan, the director’s cut from Zach Snyder will be hosted on HBO Max. 

Image credit: digitaltrends.com

HBO is known to cater well for adult audiences, but the kids aren’t forgotten about with HBO Max. They get Looney Tunes cartoons and episodes of Sesame Street but the catalog of content from Cartoon Network. There’s also Lego Movies and Doctor Who to feast upon. 

Parents get a lot of control on HBO Max. You can set up profiles for each child and give different access based on ratings and each account can be locked with a passcode so they can’t just jump onto a parent account and get to see anything you don’t want. If you kid figures out your passcode, that’s on you for raising a smart one.

Scroll away

HBO Max has a similar feel to Netflix and Hulu. Upon opening your profile, you get the option to Continue Watching or My List which both sit at the top of the page. You also get options such as Featured Series, Featured Movies, and HBO Series: Editors’ Picks. 

The meus look better than what you get elsewhere. The color scheme is black and dark purple so the text is easy to see, and there are less tiles covering the screen. You also get more space between the content on screen so it’s not so busy for your eyes. One negative to note, which text is highlighted as you move through the menus can be hard to figure out. 

Centered on the page is a mini-hub that gives access to content based on properties, such as: HBO, Sesame Workshop, DC, Studio Ghibli, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, and CrunchyRoll. If you’ve got Disney Plus, it might feel familiar but the names are quite as impressive as Star Wars or Marvel. 

When you’re stuck for inspiration, there are curated collections of movies set around a theme that come up on your homepage, for example there’s blockbuster franchises or rom-com favorites. From the browse button in the top left you can hunt through by categories like Series, Just Added, Movies, Coming Soon, and Last Chance, plus there’s content organised by genres like Documentaries, Comedy, Action, and Crime. Here’s also the home of mini-hubs.

Keeping up with what’s leaving soon and what you can get your hands on in the coming weeks can be tough, but that information is accessible on HBO Max. Content can also be downloaded on mobile devices and the app looks broadly similar whether you’re on a TV, phone, or tablet.

The search function is good, with the system understanding abbreviations, like GOT is understood as Game of Thrones. The voice search is generally effective; give the name of a series and you should get the home screen for it. It’s also possible to just back into an episode that you left with a command of “watch GOT” for example. 

Once you select a show you’ll be taken to a landing page, with the list of all the available episodes in a nice clean format. You may add any of the episodes to your list. After you start a show, its rating will pop up in the upper left corner.

It’s not completely perfect. Netflix lets you “skip intro” but that’s not an option on HBO Max. For a Friends binge watch, you’re going to get a whole lot of theme song if you can’t be bothered to fast-forward..

What’s missing?

HBO Max promises to not rely solely on algorithm driven recommendations, but it’ll actually have human-curated content from celebs, making it feel more human. You can’t access this feature from launch but there are curated listings that are helpful, like a track of Friends episodes that take you through the Ross and Rachel journey.

Streaming quality is another downfall of the launch; HBO Max doesn’t do 4K HDR quality, nor does it support Dolby Atmos. It’s a shame because even HBO’s own content would work well with these features, remember those super-dark Game of Thrones episodes up at Winterfell? As it stands, you get the same streaming quality as HBO Now, HBO Go, and normal HBO TV which is 1080 HD and Dolby Digital. It’s decent to watch, but the 4K HDR would make a world of difference 

Should I get HBO Max?

If you already use HBO Now, switching to HBO Max will be not complicated at all. All you have to do is opt for an automatic free upgrade and you’ll get lots more content for the same amount of money. Besides, HBO Max allows you to create your own profiles, which is not possible on HBO Go or HBO Now. Mind that the free subscription is available for seven days. 

If you are about to get your very first streaming service subscription, HBO Max can appear a little pricey. Yet, if $14.99 a month is not a big deal for you and you want to be able to watch Friends, Game of Thrones, or all of the Studio Ghibli movies at any given moment, then you’ll not be disappointed. Besides, there are lots of other movies to choose from.

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