HBO Max review: So much more than 'Friends' and regular HBO

HBO Max Review 2020
(Image: © Bryan M. Wolfe/iMore)

iMore Verdict

Bottom line: With HBO Max, you get everything you love about HBO plus more original content and full seasons of classics like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and Sesame Street. You can also find a massive library of classic and modern films.


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    Age-appropriate profile creation

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    No ads

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    A broad selection of content

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    Open to most current HBO users


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    No 4K content

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    Original content lacking due to pandemic

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    Missing some WarnerMedia content

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    Can't manually adjust the resolution

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The latest streaming video service is here, and it's a game-changer. HBO Max from WarnerMedia comes with 10,000 hours of curated content at launch and has a familiar name. However, it's much bigger than the HBO you've come to love. In addition to offering full access to HBO's ever-growing library of original content, HBO Max also includes titles from DC Comics, Sesame Street, TCM, Adult Swim, and much more.

The best part about HBO Max: If you already subscribe to HBO, it's likely you already have your golden ticket.

A hodgepodge of entertainment

What is HBO Max?

HBO Max on iPhone (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

HBO Max and Disney+ are very familiar in at least one respect. Both services launched following massive acquisitions; Disney after it purchased large chunks of 21st Century Fox and WarnerMedia (a new name) following AT&T's takeover of Time Warner. The result is Frankenstein-like streaming services designed to appeal to as many subscribers as possible.

Disney+'s approach is decidedly more family-friendly since Disney has the luxury of relegating the company's more mature content to its Hulu streaming service. At HBO Max, by contrast, you're going to see Game of Thrones and similar titles next to Sesame Street and Looney Tunes. Age-appropriate profiles can quickly remove adult content from the mix. Still, seeing Big Bird next to Daenerys Targaryen on the HBO Max home screen is a little bit jarring nonetheless.

How to get HBO Max

No doubt, the name itself, HBO Max, will confuse many, especially when you see similar titles such as HBO Go and HBO Now. The many ways you can subscribe to HBO Max adds to the confusion.

HBO Max Continue Watching (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

Current HBO Now subscribers now get HBO Max instead. At least on Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, the app for HBO Now is no longer available. HBO Max is also accessible to current HBO subscribers who get the service through select providers, including Apple, AT&T, Cox, DIRECTV, Google Play, Hulu, Optimum, Spectrum, Verizon, and YouTube TV.

This means the HBO Go app is no longer necessary for those customers, although it remains in the App Store since not everyone with an HBO subscription through cable or satellite qualifies for an HBO Max account, at least for now. You can find a current list of the companies supporting HBO Max through the official website.

If you don't yet qualify for HBO Max, you can sign up at at any time. When signing up for HBO Max, new users get a free 7-day-trial.

HBO Max is available on the previously mentioned Apple devices and through Google Play, plus Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Fire tablets, and select Samsung televisions. You can also stream content directly from the HBO Max website.

What you get with HBO Max

At launch, HBO Max divides most of its content into nine so-called Hubs that are separated by brand. You'll also find content made exclusively for HBO Max plus a library of on-demand movies that come from various providers. The Hubs are HBO, DC Comics, Sesame Workshop, Classics Curated by TCM, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network Collection, Adult Swim Collection, Crunchyroll Collection, and Looney Tunes.

HBO is the most straightforward hub to explain, and the one with the most familiar content for most people. If something initially aired on HBO, it's probably on HBO Max right now. From older series like The Sopranos and The Wire, to current titles such as Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Succession, HBO Max has every episode covered. When new stuff arrives on HBO, it will also appear on HBO Max for on-demand streaming.

HBO Max hubs (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

The DC Comics section on HBO Max offers a modest sampling from DC, at best. Missing, at least for now, is most content from the Arrowverse and many DC movies. WarnerMedia also offers a separate DC Universe streaming service, which suggests HBO Max will never have all of the DC content with both services online. Throw in existing licensing agreements elsewhere, and it makes you wonder how things will play out. My prediction: HBO Max will eventually be the only home for DC content.

There are no holes in the Sesame Workshop Hub. For the first time in history, every season of Sesame Street is available in one place for on-demand streaming. The complete library includes the 40 seasons that were on PBS going back to 1969 and the 30-minute episodes that have aired on HBO since 2011. You'll also find other HBO-Sesame Workshop content such as The Electric Company, Esme & Roy, and Elmo's Playdate.

Speaking of Elmo, the furry red Muppet character is the star of one of the first HBO Max original programs. The-Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo! features familiar Sesame Street characters and guests.

Classics Curated by TCM, meanwhile, brings iconic titles from the Turner Classic Movies library to HBO Max. These include Ben Hur, North by Northwest, Casablanca, and many more.

HBO Max TCM (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

The Cartoon Network and Adult Swim collections are packed full of popular and unique animated content from the two long-running channels. Like with HBO proper, if your favorite series is on Cartoon Network or Adult Swim, respectively, it's available on HBO Max.

The Studio Ghibli Hub offers just over 20 animated feature films from the iconic Japanese animation film studio. On HBO Max, you'll find the company's first successful title, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984).

Sticking with the animated theme are new and old Looney Tunes titles featuring classic characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and Wile E. Coyote.

Finally, with the Crunchyroll Collection, you'll find streaming anime, manga, and dorama made famous on Crunchyroll's distribution channels. Crunchyroll is part of Otter Media, which in turn, is a subsidiary of AT&T's WarnerMedia.

Content that doesn't necessarily fit into one of the HBO Max Hubs includes titles from New Line Cinema, CNN, Rooster Teeth, and many more. And that says nothing about the extensive film library that promises to be the backbone for the new service. Here you'll find much of The Criterion Collection, content from BBC Studios, and much more.

Did I mention HBO Max is also the new home to every episode of Friends and The Big Bang Theory?

What about original content?

Like Disney+, Hulu, Netflix, and other services before it, HBO Max+ plans on offering an expanding list of original content, including first-run series and films. Initially, WarnerMedia had planned on releasing over 30 original series on HBO Max in 2020 and another 20 by 2021. Those plans are now up in the air right thanks to COVID-19.

At launch, you'll find the first episodes of the comedy-drama Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick, the previously mentioned Elmo series, and HBO Max original reality competition series Legendary with Dashaun Wesley Williams. There's also On the Record, a documentary about Russell Simmons' accusers.

Love Life on HBO Max (Image credit: Sarah Shatz)

Upcoming Max Originals include Ridley Scott's Raised By Wolves, the Kaley Cuoco-led The Flight Attendant, reboots of Gossip Girl and The Boondocks, and a new comedy, Made for Love. There's also the highly-anticipated Friends reunion show that was supposed to arrive on the first day of HBO Max before the pandemic changed those plans, and Zack Snyder's cut of Justice League.

Ultimately, HBO Max's original series will be judged on the quality of each property. If one or more series break out among viewers early on, more originals will quickly follow. Otherwise, WarnerMedia will rely more heavily on content from other locations in the future, especially the HBO family of channels.

About the price

HBO Max is $14.99 per month, and that allows for simultaneous streams on different devices. For now, WarnerMedia isn't saying how many concurrent streams are possible. On the HBO MAX FAQ page, WarnerMedia only states the number is "limited for security reasons."

Weakened Apple TV integration

HBO Max already has a significant presence across Apple devices. However, it lacks the Apple TV app integration once afforded to HBO Now. The new HBO channel is not part of Apple TV Channels, which means you can't play the content directly from the Apple TV app. However, you can still see the HBO Max series you're watching under the Up Next section in the Apple TV app.

The decision not to integrate HBO Max with the Apple TV app was WarnerMedia's decision. It's a path also taken by Disney when Disney+ launched last fall.

Day one excitement

HBO Max: What I like

Even in the face of a pandemic, the team at HBO Max has put together a vast ecosystem ready to bring entertainment into your home or on your mobile device. No doubt, that library is going to grow significantly over time, especially when original programming ramps up.

HBO Max profiles (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

Additionally, the HBO Max interface is easy to use and should look familiar to anyone who had previously experienced HBO Go or HBO Now on any device. For now, most of what you see on the HBO Max home screen is algorithm-drive. Soon, however, it will be adjusted based on your viewing habits.

According to Andy Forssell, executive vice president and general manager of WarnerMedia's direct-to-consumer business, human curation will play an increasing role on the content and topics users see throughout the HBO Max interface.

Profiles are a vital part of any successful video streaming service, and on this point, HBO Max hits it out of the park. With a profile, you can keep track of your content and start from where you left off, regardless of your device. With profiles, you can also set up a watch list and download content to your devices, when possible.

With a kids' profile, you can change your child's age or content restrictions. You can also decide which type of content they're allowed to watch. Perhaps best of all, you can require a PIN for children to switch profiles.

HBO Max Parental Controls (Image credit: WarnerMedia)

Finally, there's no denying WarnerMedia is making it very easy for large swaths of online viewers to sample HBO Max. At launch, the service is available across various platforms and devices. Additionally, if you're already an HBO subscriber (somewhere), the odds are in your favor that you now have access to HBO Max also. This inclusiveness is a big deal and should serve HBO Max and its customers well.

Something is missing

HBO Max: What I don't like

There are a few noticeable holes and limitations with HBO Max at launch that are worth noting. First, it's a shame there's no 4K content, which makes little sense in 2020. Not being able to adjust resolution across devices manually is also a concern, especially for those who have limited bandwidth available. It's also unfortunate DC content remains fluid, although I'm convinced this is only a short-term problem. The lack of more original content is also regrettable, though understandable in this strange time.

What about the price, and is it worth it?

At $14.99 per month, HBO Max isn't cheap. However, it is correctly priced.

The standalone Netflix service is currently available for $12.99 per month for the standard plan and $15.99 per month with 4K content included. By contrast, Disney+ is $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. For $12.99 per month, you can get a Disney bundle that includes Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+.

And yet, $14.99 per month is what WarnerMedia typically charged for HBO Now for streaming customers and as an add-on for cable and satellite subscribers. Looked another way, if you've always wanted to subscribe to HBO but haven't because of the price, understand you can now get much more for the same price. And if you're a current HBO subscriber, congratulations, your monthly payment is going much further now.

A contender, maybe the leader


HBO Max is almost certainly the last of the all-in-one streaming video services to launch in the United States. In many respects, WarnerMedia saved the best for last. Content, original and otherwise, will ultimately be what keeps HBO Max viewers happy and sticking around. At launch, HBO Max is already a force that others shouldn't discount and probably aren't. It's the real deal and worth your consideration.

Have any questions?

If you have any questions or concerns about HBO Max, leave a comment below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.