As one of the best-known names in streaming and film over the past twenty-plus years, HBO and HBO Max might not need much of an introduction.
Founded in 1972, HBO has grown in prominence and is now one of the flagship properties of Warner Bros. Discovery. As the longest cable-based subscription service in the U.S., it came as no surprise when HBO launched its video-on-demand platform in 2020. Even as HBO Max plays catch up to Netflix and Hulu, it quickly becomes one of the ten biggest streaming services in the country.
As popular as HBO Max has become, regular HBO is still very much around, and for many people, there is some lingering confusion about how these two services live side-by-side. So, let’s take a look at how HBO and HBO Max break down as well as the differences and similarities between the two.
HBO vs. HBO Max: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Launch Date||November 8, 1972||May 27, 2020|
|Price Per Month||$15.99 monthly||$9.99 monthly (with ads), $15.99 monthly (no ads)|
|Number of Titles||4,000 hours of entertainment||13,000 hours of content|
|Subscriber Count||76.8 million combined||76.8 million combined|
|Simultaneous Streams||3 devices at one time||3 devices at one time|
|Available Bundles||Bundles with cable (Xfinity, Spectrum, etc.)||Hulu, Prime Video (no discounts), YouTube TV|
|Downloads||Yes, episodes and movies||Yes, episodes and movies|
HBO vs. HBO Max: What’s the Difference?
If the content is the most important consideration for any streaming service, pricing is a close second. As a standalone service, HBO is available at $15.99 monthly with no ads and is the only price point available for customers to choose from. HBO Max, on the other hand, is available for either $9.99 monthly with ads or customers can opt for the $15.99 monthly plan with no ads.
Where pricing does come into play is that HBO is essentially a standalone service and doesn’t require any connection to a TV/cable provider. As of February 2023, HBO is not available through any app store for downloading and watching on any smartphone or tablet. HBO Max is considered a standalone streaming service as well but you can tie it together with a cable service, pay directly through HBO’s website, or access your subscription through the App Store, Google Play, or a Samsung TV. You can also bundle your subscription with Hulu, Prime Video and YouTube TV, though HBO doesn’t offer any discounts as part of any of the bundles.
This is a bit of an oddity as one might expect two services with the same name to offer closely mirrored content catalogs, but that isn’t exactly the case.
With regular HBO, you get around 4,000 hours of content including all the original HBO series, movies, and documentaries. This means shows like Game of Thrones, House of Dragons, The Last of Us, and the best HBO show of all time, The Sopranos, are all available for your viewing pleasure. Even as 4,000 hours sounds like a lot of content, there’s still a fairly large gap between regular HBO and HBO Max.
With HBO Max, you get a whole lot more to the tune of 13,000 plus hours, or nearly three times the content of the regular HBO platform. The 13,000 hours includes the 4,000 hours of the regular HBO catalog so you get everything HBO subscribers get and a whole lot more.
On top of the regular suite of HBO programming, you also receive Cinemax originals and content from Warner Media’s other brands including Adult Swim and the Cartoon Network all with your HBO Max subscription. It’s also important to remember that HBO Max can be bundled with other streaming services like Hulu or YouTube TV which immediately increases the amount of available content at your disposal.
The key takeaway as far as content goes is that HBO Max gets you everything HBO does plus a whole lot more, which makes the former the far better choice for most people.
As it stands today, the answer to any question about supported devices for regular HBO is pretty much wherever your cable subscription is watchable. Unfortunately, there are no dedicated apps for standard HBO available in the App Store or Google Play Store. What you can do is watch HBO anywhere your cable subscription offers a live streaming or on-demand app. For example, the Xfinity Stream app will let you watch with your HBO subscription and the same goes for other cable providers. If you are not an HBO Max subscriber, this is about the only way you can access HBO programming on the go.
For many years, the original HBO was widely available as an app, but with the release of HBO Max, the standalone app has seen its availability dwindle considerably. The caveat to this is that the HBO app may be available in areas of the world where HBO Max is not yet available.
Unlike the HBO app, HBO Max has seen an explosion in availability since its release in 2020 and now is available through dozens of different methods. Some of this availability is through the App Store, Google Play, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Roku, LG webOS, and Samsung TV. HBO Max has also come to gaming consoles with availability on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox lineup of consoles. On top of devices and hardware, HBO Max is also viewable on any computer using a browser like Chrome, Safari, Edge, Brave, and more.
Whereas the catalog is the big differentiator between the two services, it’s in features where differences become less clear. If you’re in an area where regular HBO is still available as an app, both services will let you download and watch later (up to 30 titles at once) and they will both allow a limited number of simultaneous viewing through a mobile app (where available). HD content is a definite probability for both services as is the ability to watch much of the modern catalog in 4K UHD quality assuming you have a supported device.
If you are not in an area where regular HBO is still available as a downloadable app, then none of the benefits above apply. If that is the case and you are an HBO Max subscriber, you still receive downloadable titles and simultaneous viewing with the app.
Here is where things get a little more interesting as far as where HBO really shines as a standalone cable brand. With a cable subscription, there are up to seven HBO channels that are simulcast in both standard and high definition. This includes the following channels:
- HBO, which is the appropriately named flagship channel and focuses on first-run movies, original series, sports content, and documentaries.
- HBO 2 is the brand’s secondary channel and focuses heavily on made-for-cable movies and rebroadcasts of first-run films that are also airing on the primary HBO channel.
- HBO Comedy unsurprisingly plays comedic films, stand-up specials, and HBO-sponsored comedy specials.
- HBO Family is focused heavily on safe content for the whole family with a demographic that aims mostly at children ages 2-11.
- HBO Latino is the newest channel having launched in 2000 and caters to Hispanic and Latin American audiences and airs all content in Spanish. Dubbed versions of American films are also a staple of the HBO Latino channel.
- HBO Signature is dedicated solely to films, HBO original series, and specials.
- HBO Zone is a step up from HBO Family and focuses on programs for ages 18-34 where it airs movies and HBO original programs.
Why Does Regular HBO Still Exist?
This is the big question as it’s clear that HBO Max is the better option considering you get everything HBO has to offer with HBO Max. As to why HBO still exists in its current cable-friendly format, it’s important to note that HBO Max is only available in certain parts of the world whereas regular HBO has a broader reach. This allows the HBO cable brand to release its original shows and movies to a worldwide audience that does not yet have access to HBO Max streaming available.
HBO vs. HBO Max: 7 Must-Know Facts
- HBO has been around since 1972 and is currently a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery after recently being purchased and later sold by AT&T.
- HBO Max was released in 2020 and has already grown to more than 50 million subscribers outside of HBO subscriptions.
- HBO original programs include some of the most popular award-winning modern-day programs including Game of Thrones, Succession, The Sopranos, Veep, True Detective, Westworld, The Wire, and more.
- Coincidentally, both HBO and HBO Max (no ads) are similarly priced at $15.99 monthly, though HBO Max offers triple the amount of content.
- HBO Max is available on dozens of devices and browsers while HBO availability is limited to wherever cable subscriptions are available.
- HBO Max is one of the more expensive streaming services, second only to Netflix which is a few dollars more per month.
- HBO Max also adds content from Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, DC and Looney Tunes, Sesame Workshop, and Studio Ghibli.
HBO vs. HBO Max: Which One is Better?
HBO has a long and fantastic history of producing some of the television and films in the last 25 years but its required cable subscription is no longer a necessity. The rise of streaming platforms and devices to watch them on including smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs has continued to show why regular cable is in decline.
No matter how you slice it, you get far more value with HBO Max at the $15.99 monthly price point than you do with regular HBO, including content that isn’t HBO focused like Cinemax, Adult Swim, and Cartoon Network content, plus popular shows like Friends. For that reason alone, HBO Max is the better option for anyone who can access the HBO Max service.