What, Exactly, Is HBO Max? All Your Questions About the New Streaming Service, Answered

Culture

You’ve got Netflix, obviously. Maybe you signed up for Disney+, because how could you say no to Baby Yoda? You’ve “borrowed” an ex’s Hulu password, and you’ve got a calendar alert to remind you when Quibi’s 90-day free trial is over. But HBO Max joins the streaming wars today, and it might just be the service you need—provided you can figure out what, exactly, it is.

HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, launches today. It will be home to a ton of content, including hit HBO series, beloved TV shows like Friends, tons of classic titles from Warner Bros. film archives, and other gems like the Studio Ghibli films. And with the coronavirus pandemic keeping most of the country inside and looking for something to watch, HBO Max has a lot to offer. But, still…what is it, exactly? Here are the answers to your most burning HBO Max questions, starting with the obvious:

Is HBO Max the same thing as HBO?

No. Or, well, not really. WarnerMedia, the fairly new conglomerate that combines AT&T and Time Warner, wanted to get in on the streaming game: they have a ton of content, even more potential money on the line, and formidable rivals in Netflix and Disney to compete with. How to differentiate itself? Well, WarnerMedia also owns, via Time Warner, HBO, which has lots of prestige and name recognition. So the new streaming is named HBO Max—but it is not the same as HBO, HBO Now, or HBO Go, the three main ways you can watch your favorite HBO shows.

The easy explanation is that HBO is the traditional cable channel you know and love, with tendrils into the world of streaming: maybe you subscribe to HBO Now, or use HBO Go to watch Game of Thrones on your laptop. HBO Max, meanwhile, is an over-the-top streamer that includes all of HBO’s shows, movies, and documentaries—along with a bunch more non-HBO stuff. Still confused? HBO itself has an explainer that might clear things up.

I already subscribe to HBO. Do I need to pay extra for HBO Max?

Most existing HBO subscribers should be able to get HBO Max with little additional effort—though that depends on how they get HBO. Folks who subscribe to HBO Now (the streaming-only version of HBO that you can sign up for without a cable subscription) will automatically get access to HBO Max.

If you get HBO via premium cable subscription, you’ll likely be able to get HBO Max for free: if you get your cable from AT&T TV, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Hulu, Spectrum, Altice, Suddenlink, Optimum, Cox Contour, or Verizon Fios TV, you’ll get HBO Max at launch. If you get cable from a smaller provider or one that wasn’t in that list, you’ll have to wait for WarnerMedia to cut a deal with your provider—or you can just subscribe elsewhere.

You can also think of it this way: HBO Max costs $14.99. That makes it more expensive than lots of other streaming services (and twice as much as Disney+). But that price is already what normal HBO already costs—you get all the Max content thrown in for free. For new subscribers, subscribing to HBO Max gets you all the HBO goodies you know and love.

Essentially, if you already subscribe to HBO, chances are you woke up today and were signed up for HBO Max. If you don’t subscribe, well—keep reading.

What do I get with HBO Max? Any good movies?

You’ll get so, so much stuff, starting with more than 600 movies at launch. Warner Bros. has been making movies for close to a century now, and while HBO Max won’t have every movie the studio’s ever released, it will have a ton of notable ones from WB’s storied history. Some of the classic Warner Bros. films available at launch include Ben-Hur, Doctor Zhivago, Singin’ in the Rain, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Wizard of Oz. And that’s only a handful of titles from the library.

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