There are more streaming networks than ever before, so If you have questions about the future of streaming, then you’ve come to the right place. All week long, IGN’s State of Streaming 2.0 initiative will feature reviews and in-depth analysis about new streaming providers like NBCUniversal’s Peacock, as well as a look at the coolest hidden features that streaming services are implementing and what the future of Netflix’s interactive space will look like. Today, we’re reviewing one of the newest streaming services currently available, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max. Be sure to check out our reviews of other popular streaming services: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Apple TV+, and Quibi.
One of the key elements needed to compete in the Great Streaming War against the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Amazon, Hulu, and others is to possess a vast and diverse entertainment catalog to keep potential subscribers occupied not just for hours, but days, weeks, and even months on end. For HBO Max, the newly expanded streaming service has plenty of content thanks to WarnerMedia’s many subsidiaries: HBO, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros., Adult Swim, Studio Ghibli, Crunchyroll, and many more. At launch, HBO Max promises to provide over 10,000 hours of content.
And while Netflix reportedly has around 36,000 hours of movies and shows at any given time, setting a high bar for quantity, HBO Max has quality on its side: it brings with it a level of brand recognition and prestige that no other service (apart for Disney) can match. Warner Bros. alone has been in the entertainment business for over a century, producing iconic, award-winning films like Casablanca, The Shining, and the entire Batman, Harry Potter, and Lord of the Rings sagas. In short, you don’t have to wade through nearly as much junk on HBO Max in order to get to the good stuff.
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However, even with an impressive list of movies and TV shows to stream at launch, HBO Max’s user interface has to function as seamlessly as its competitors so subscribers can enjoy the overall experience. At launch, the Max has a greater than average number of kinks in terms of its features and availability that it still needs to iron out. Of course, while there are some red flags to consider, if we’ve learned anything from Disney+’s technical debacle when it first launched, it’s never too late to recover.
To learn more about what we thought of the HBO Max streaming platform, read on for a more detailed overview of its movies and shows, user interface, and pricing when compared to other providers.
HBO Max’s TV Shows and Movies
In this competitive streaming landscape, holding the rights to popular shows and films is key. Netflix probably realizes this better than anyone, especially since the streaming giant offered WarnerMedia $100 million just to hold onto the rights to the enduringly popular ‘90s sitcom Friends back in 2018. But Warner refused, and now, all of your favorite episodes of Friends can be exclusively be found on HBO Max (even though the highly anticipated Friends reunion special is currently on hold due to the novel coronavirus). Apart from Friends, HBO Max is also the one and only home to countless series from HBO, TNT, Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, and across Warner Bros’ many studio divisions.
This means, especially if you’re already an existing HBO subscriber, that you’ve gone from having access to the entire library of HBO’s hit series like Game of Thrones and The Wire, to now having (nearly) everything else from WarnerMedia’s empire at your fingertips. IGN has a complete list of everything that’s available on HBO Max at launch right here, but some notable highlights include the entire Studio Ghibli collection, all eight Harry Potter films, and a curation of timeless Turner Classic Movies like Gone With the Wind and Once Upon a Time in the West.
But there are glaring omissions in that list. Much in the same way Disney+ did not have its entire lineup available at launch, HBO Max is missing favorites such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and the four Christopher Reeve Superman films due to various licensing agreements with other services that have yet to run their course (or, seemingly, because they want to keep some programming, like Superman and Batman: The Animated Series, exclusively on their DC Universe streaming platform). For more notable movies and shows missing from HBO Max’s library, check out the gallery below:
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It’s not all about the library of course: there are also a handful of HBO Max Originals, both scripted and unscripted (read our launch reviews here). These include Love Life, an entertaining rom-com starring Anna Kendrick, and Looney Tunes Cartoons, a modern re-imaging of the classic animated series featuring iconic characters like Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Sadly, none of these launch shows are worth the price of admission (see our section on pricing below) on their own. It’s surprising that WarnerMedia did not strive to release a new tentpole launch series here like Disney+ did with The Mandalorian and Apple TV+ did with The Morning Show and See – which both feature A-list actors such as Reese Witherspoon and Jason Momoa, respectively. Perhaps HBO Max’s lack of a prestige series at launch is due to production delays caused by the novel coronavirus, or simply poor planning.
Looking ahead, we’re excited to finally see the Justice League Snyder Cut in 2021, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi drama Raised By Wolves, Ansel Elgort’s Tokyo Vice, the hotly-anticipated Adventure Time specials, high-concept Dune: The Sisterhood, and Greg Berlanti’s live-action Green Lantern series that will feature Sinestro and two Earth Lanterns. But it seems shortsighted for the service to rely so heavily on library content at launch without also touting a buzzy, must-watch series to help lure in subscribers.
HBO Max’s User Interface
HBO Max’s user interface is seamless to navigate, with the standard curated carousels for when you’re in the mood for “edgy animation” like Rick and Morty and Primal, or “blockbuster franchises” such as Die Hard and The Lord of the Rings. You can also easily search by genre via a sidebar, and browse WarnerMedia’s various networks by simply clicking on one of the “HBO Max Hubs” to Adult Swim, Studio Ghibli, or DC depending on what you’re in the mood for (similar to the way Disney+ breaks down its content across Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, etc). In terms of its aesthetics, HBO Max is a good looking interface with its vibrant blue, purple, and pink hues that are easy on the eyes.
Where the streaming platform struggles is not with its visual appearance and ease of navigation, but in the lack of features that we’ve all come to expect should be found on any modern-day service backed by a multi-billion dollar company. For starters, there’s no 4K or HDR support available at the time of writing, which is a big disappointment considering that rivals Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon all offer this feature (although a 4K subscription does cost $15.99 per month on Netflix in the US). To its credit, HBO Max does have a “continue watching” option (Disney+ infamously did not when it debuted) and the ability to download shows and movies for convenient offline viewing on a phone or tablet. The fact that the platform’s licensing deals have also prevented a simultaneous global rollout (similar to Disney+, which staggered its international launches over several months) also put it at a disadvantage compared to its competitors.
Another issue plaguing the launch of HBO Max is the confusion consumers are having over the differences between HBO Go, HBO Now, and HBO Max when it comes to existing subscriptions. Thankfully, we have an HBO Max sign-up explainer if you find yourself scratching your head, but the TL;DR is that if you have Go or Now, you probably already have HBO Max without even knowing it, although navigating the sign-up process has proven daunting for some.
And lastly, before you make a decision to sign up, you should be aware that HBO Max is currently not available on Amazon Fire and Roku devices due to WarnerMedia and their parent company AT&T not being able to reach a deal with Roku and Amazon yet. That’s a shame, since these particular streaming devices reportedly account for 80 million TV households.
HBO Max’s Price
In terms of cost, HBO Max falls in the higher priced tier of streaming services, on par with Netflix, which currently offers a 4K, four-simultaneous-streams plan for $15.99 in the US. While HBO Max may seem a bit expensive when compared to Disney Plus’s surprisingly affordable $6.99 per month rate, it’s actually a pretty good deal when you consider that HBO Now, along with most cable packages that carry HBO as a standalone channel, have been charging $15 for some time now. HBO has been able to justify that high cost with its outstanding original content. And here, HBO Max is essentially providing that same service with a ton of additional movies and television series from WarnerMedia’s other subsidiaries at no extra cost… it’s basically HBO on steroids.