The most successful on-demand video streaming services focus on building libraries of quality content. To appeal to wide audiences, these catalogs should include both past classics and compelling original programming. HBO Now, HBO’s on-demand streaming service, features premium on-air originals and an extensive on-demand collection of well-regarded shows and movies. Additionally, HBO Now performs well in our testing and offers an ad-free experience. That said, HBO Now is pricier than its competitors and does not offer HDR or 4K content, nor does it let you download shows for offline viewing. Much like HBO for regular cable, HBO Now works best as an add-on to another service. When it comes to standalone options, we recommend Editors’ Choice Netflix for its larger content library, and Editors’ Choices Hulu and Sling TV, for their live TV components.
What to Watch
Most people won’t have any trouble finding something to watch on HBO Now. For example, subscribers can watch HBO originals such as Game of Thrones, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Silicon Valley, and Westworld. You can also choose to take a deep dive into other beloved series such as Deadwood, Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and The Wire.
Those shows alone might be enough to convince many people to subscribe. That said, many of HBO’s flagship shows are also available on other platforms. In fact, Deadwood, Oz, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and The Wire are all available in their entirety on Amazon Video. HBO does not stream any animated series, let alone anime, which may be an important consideration for some. Both Netflix and Hulu offer options in those genres.
Other categories of content available on HBO Now include Comedy, Sports, Documentaries, Collections, and Late Night. Most of these categories feature scattered lists of productions that subscribers are free to peruse, but these are not the main appeal of the service. If sports are your primary interest, take a look at either fuboTV (a sports, news, and entertainment streaming behemoth) or ESPN+ (ESPN’s newest streaming service, which focuses on a selection of live sports and on-demand in-house shows).
HBO also has a collection of recent mainstream movies as well as popular films of years past across a wide range of genres, including action, comedy, drama, family, horror/sci-fi, Latino, romance, and suspense. During my testing, HBO Now highlighted Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk, the complete Harry Potter collection, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, The Lego Ninjago Movie, Logan, War for the Planet of the Apes, and Wonder Woman, for example. In total, scrolling through the alphabetical list of titles revealed a little over 550 movies, which is impressive. I like that these collections include multiple entries in a film series. For example, HBO Now’s collection included three Die Hard movies, three Back to the Future films, and four entries in the Fast and Furious franchise.
Nowadays, HBO Now is most similar to Netflix in that both primarily focus on high-quality originals. It also has parallels with CBS All Access, given that both have extensive back catalogs of high-quality content. Keep in mind that there’s no live component to HBO Now, such as you find with YouTube TV or Philo. As I mentioned, some shows stream simultaneously with the on-air release, including Westworld and Game of Thrones, but this is not the same as the live TV offerings of services like SlingTV or Hulu with Live TV.
Pricing and Platform
HBO Now is pricier than its competitors, at $14.99 per month. Netflix and Hulu both start at $7.99 per month. CBS All Access’ base plan only costs $5.99. Keep in mind that, for Hulu and CBS, those plans include ads in at least some part of the experience, and HBO Now does not. HBO Now is closer in price to Philo ($16 a month) and SlingTV ($20 per month), but both of those include a live TV component.
HBO Now supports an impressive number of platforms. In addition to the web, HBO Now is available on Android, iOS, and Fire OS devices. You can also use the service on the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. For smart TV users, HBO works on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Android TV, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and compatible Samsung TVs. There’s even an app for Google’s Daydream platform. Keep in mind that HBO Now is a US-only (and some US territories) streaming service, so international audiences will need to turn to other solutions, such as getting the regular HBO channel through a local cable provider. You might be able to spoof your location with a virtual private network, or VPN,, but I recommend testing your network setup with HBO Now’s trial before you pay anything, since many video streaming services don’t play nicely with VPNs.
You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of HBO Now, but this option requires a payment method. Oddly, the website directed me to sign up for the trial from my Android device. HBO does not give a hard limit on how many devices can stream simultaneously, but if you exceed a reasonable number of devices, HBO Now might kick everyone off the service for around 30 minutes and then require everyone to sign back in again. In the past, I have experienced some issues when signing on to multiple platforms with the same account, but I did not encounter any such issues in my testing for this review.
What About HBO Go?
To clarify a frequent point of confusion, HBO Now is HBO’s on-demand streaming service and HBO Go is an extension of its cable offering. To use HBO Go, you need to have an existing cable subscription that includes HBO. Both services offer the same content.
HBO Now’s interface on the desktop is clean and elegant with a black backdrop, white text, large thumbnails, and simple menus. Many of the elements are translucent as well, which reminds me a bit of Windows 10’s Fluent visual design. Performance is also quick; I did not experience any lag when searching for shows or navigating through the various sections. Across the top, you can jump directly to Shows, Movies, or More (Comedy, Sports, Documentaries, Collections, Late Night). You can also search for shows directly via the included search interface.
On the right-hand side of the screen, you can access your account settings or your Watchlist. Settings break down into a couple of different categories, including the basic account info, billing, and notification settings, but it also builds in a parental control panel. Here, you can set the maximum rating allowed for both Movies and TV shows and lock down these preferences with a four-digit PIN. I prefer the way Netflix and Hulu allow you to set up separate account profiles for each user, since it would be a pain to unlock and change this setting for every potential user. For example, if you want to watch Westworld, but do not want your child experiencing Delos Inc.’s particular brand of existential violence, there’s no way to set those preferences per viewer with HBO Now.
The default page highlights featured content in a large top-level slider, and a selection of Quick Hits (video snippets related to shows) appears directly below. Horizontal sliders offer another entry point for content categories otherwise accessible via the menu. This page looks a lot like Netflix’s home page, but I do appreciate that HBO Now’s content sliders are directly related to the menus. All of the individual content categories look similar. You can play content directly from any screen or simply add it to your Watchlist. Clicking on a show brings up a brief description, a section for any related video content (such as sneak peaks or interviews), and general information on the cast and crew. HBO Now does not, however, provide any aggregate rating information from Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, nor does it feature any sort of recommendation engine.
The playback interface is simple and effective with the option to enable subtitles. One drawback to the web version of this player is that it requires you to enable Flash, which is disabled by default on most standard browsers, including Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari due to Flash’s frequently targeted security vulnerabilities. Both Netflix and Amazon Video use the HTML5 standard instead. I would also like HBO to implement something similar to Amazon Video’s X-Ray feature, which identifies all actors and actresses in a particular scene, tells you about any music playing, and offers fun facts like continuity errors.
Other Features and Performance
HBO Now does not currently support 4K or HDR content, nor does it allow you to download on-demand episodes for offline viewing. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video offer all of these capabilities. Hulu is reportedly adding ad-supported offline viewing to its service, but that feature is not yet live. Neither 4K nor HDR technologies are new at this point, so it’s disappointing that HBO’s ongoing flagship programming does not support these standards. The vast landscapes of Westworld and the industrialized interiors of the Delos Inc. headquarters would look incredible with greater dynamic ranges and sharper textures.
One other difference involves HBO Now’s premier releases (such as Westworld and Game of Thrones), which, as I mentioned, are available for streaming at the same time as on cable. One drawback to this approach (for the consumer) is that you can’t watch entire seasons at a time unless you wait until the season ends. When Netflix or Amazon Prime Video release a season, the whole thing goes live at once.
On the one hand, it’s nice to not feel the pressure to binge an entire season to avoid spoilers, but the downside is that you need to keep subscribing to HBO Now for the entirety of its release schedule. CBS All Access employs a similar strategy with the way it handles the release of Star Trek: Discovery. I don’t foresee either network switching to the content dump strategy any time soon, given their reliance on conventional cable releases. That doesn’t make it any better for the consumers, though.
I tested HBO Now on my PC connected to my home network (200+ Mbps download speeds via Ethernet). During my tests, I streamed episodes of Westworld’s latest season and Six Feet Under, as well as The Fate of the Furious without any lag or performance dips. The one exception to HBO’s lack of ads I saw in my testing was a brief (and skippable) HBO trailer for some of its other programming at the beginning of the stream. For example, the service showed me promos for its new adaptation of Fahrenheit 451.
HBO Now on Mobile
I tested HBO Now on a Nexus 5X running Android 8.1 and didn’t have any issues signing in to the app. The interface maintains the same visual design as its desktop counterpart. Its simple black-and-white visual scheme and large thumbnails look great, but I wish you could resize the thumbnails to fit more content on the page. Hulu’s app has the same problem; the interface is modern and aesthetically pleasing, but it can be a pain to navigate and discover new shows and movies to watch.
I also downloaded HBO Now on an iPhone 8 running iOS 11. The iOS app is visually and functionally identical to its Android counterpart. Despite the prevalence of poor reviews on the App Store, I had no issue signing in or streaming from the app.
The main app page breaks down into two tabs: Featured (the app displays featured show, movies, and collections) and Quick Hits (video featurettes). You can expand the content categories and access settings from the menu in the upper-left corner. I like that almost all of the options from the web are accessible from the mobile app, but am disappointed that I could not manage my subscription from my phone.
I tested the HBO Now app while connected to PCMag’s Wi-Fi network (50 Mbps download). Given that HBO shows tend to be quite long, make sure to connect to Wi-Fi to avoid outrageous cellular data costs. I launched an episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and had no trouble playing back the episode or scrubbing to a new point in the show. In testing, the picture looks sharp and audio sounds crisp.
HBO Now’s main advantage is its excellent original content, including currently airing shows, (such as Westworld and Game of Thrones) and classics (such as The Wire and Six Feet Under). Furthermore, HBO Now has excellent apps, does not run any ads, and supports a wide range of platforms. However, HBO’s on-demand service lacks the 4K, HDR, and offline viewability you get with Netflix and Amazon Video. HBO Now also costs more than similar services, some of which offer entire HBO series on demand. If watching HBO shows (and especially watching them as they are released) is important to you, you will enjoy HBO Now, but note that HBO Now works best in conjunction with another service. For full-featured alternatives to cable, we recommend Editors’ Choice Netflix for its expansive content library and Editors’ Choices Hulu and SlingTV for live TV consumption.