We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

HBO GO vs. HBO NOW vs. HBO MAX: Understanding HBO’s Convoluted Streaming Options

HBO Streaming Services hero
Photo Hall/Shutterstock.com

With shows like WestworldCurb Your Enthusiasm, and Watchmen, HBO has proven it knows how to make must-watch content. HBO also has way too many streaming services, and it’s hard to know what makes each one different from the others.

HBO’s Streaming Conundrum: An Intro

HBO currently has three different streaming services: HBO GO, HBO NOW, and HBO Max. That’s on top of its existing cable-based service and Hulu integration for some content.

Why HBO chooses to have multiple streaming services and additional integrations with other streaming platforms over having a singular place where all of its content is available is anyone’s guess. HBO Max is poised to become the de facto HBO service when it’s released on May 27th, but there are still other options worth considering if you already have a cable subscription or Hulu account.

Each HBO service costs about the same—about $15 per month —and allows you to watch HBO original programming and licensed movies. However, they are each separate services, so paying for one will not grant you access to any of the others (in most cases, anyway—but we’ll get to that in a bit). If you’re trying to spot the differences between the services, it all comes down to accessibility and quantity of content. Once you learn what each option offers and how it works, hopefully you’ll have a better idea of which one is the best fit for you and your family.

What Is HBO GO?

HBO Go service

HBO GO is an app with all of HBO’s content available on demand and accessible via your cable or satellite provider’s credentials. Most major providers—like Xfinity, DirecTV, Spectrum, and Cox Communications—offer it as a premium add-on, and you have to be subscribed to HBO via your cable or satellite provider to use HBO GO.

The service has tons of on-demand HBO content, from originals and sports to comedy specials, documentaries, and theatrically released films. HBO GO content can be viewed on your TV and on any device where you can authenticate your cable subscription, including Macs and PCs, Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Apple TV, and Roku. It also supports simultaneous streaming, so multiple people on your account can watch different HBO content at the same time. Pricing may vary depending on your cable provider, but it should be about $10-20 per month.

What Is HBO NOW?

HBO Now service
NYC Russ/Shutterstock.com

HBO NOW is HBO’s current standalone streaming service, available for $14.99 per month. It offers the exact same content as HBO GO, but you do not need a cable subscription in order to access it. And, just like HBO GO, multiple people can watch different shows at the same time without issue on desktop and mobile devices, major gaming consoles, Apple TV, and Roku. Sign up for HBO Now on HBO’s website, through app stores, or through other digital subscription providers like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video.

What Is HBO Max?

HBO Max service
DANIEL CONSTANTE/Shutterstock.com

The newest addition to the HBO family, HBO Max, is a standalone streaming service launching on May 27. The major difference between Max and Go/Now is that Max will not only have all of the HBO content featured in Go/Now, but also new content and streaming rights to popular titles like Friends, Doctor Who, Adventure Time, as well as the cherished Studio Ghibli library.

There’s even plenty for kids to watch, with titles like Sesame Street and Looney Tunes. HBO Max is promising curated collections handpicked by team members, instead of relying on an AI algorithm like other streaming services do, and you can download your favorite titles onto your mobile device to watch anywhere.

HBO Max is also promising an impressive set of originals, like DC’s Doom Patrol, The Not Too Late Show with Elmo, and even an unscripted Friends reunion special. HBO Max will be available for $14.99 per month. Current HBO Now subscribers (whose billing is through HBO) will get access for no additional cost, and the deal now extends to those subscribing to HBO through Apple. Certain AT&T customers will also get access to HBO Max for free.

A Note About HBO on Hulu

Hulu service

Hulu has exclusive rights to some (mostly older) HBO content that you can enjoy without purchasing its HBO Add-on. You can watch up to 500 hours’ worth of popular HBO shows like The Sopranos, Six Feet UnderVeep, and The Wire. This is ideal for getting a feel for HBO’s shows and deciding whether or not you want to pay for a full subscription to an HBO service.

You can also choose to add HBO to your Hulu plan for $14.99 per month. This allows you to stream HBO series, comedy specials, and movies directly from Hulu’s interface. With the subscription, you’ll be able to access a good portion of HBO’s content library, with titles like Westworld and Last Week Tonight, as well as popular movies like Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. This option also lets you watch HBO live and record content on your cloud DVR.

The service is supported on tons of popular devices, like Windows and macOS devices, Android and iOS devices, Xbox, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and many smart TVs. You can also use your Hulu credentials to log in to the HBO Now app and watch on-demand content that way.

Ultimately, Bet on HBO Max

With the same price point as HBO GO and HBO NOW, but with way more content (including regular new releases for Max Originals and exclusive content like Friends and Doctor Who), HBO Max will likely become the best HBO streaming service overall. It will also likely become the primary focus for HBO moving forward, so if you’re looking to choose one of these services, it’s probably best to wait until May 27th when HBO Max is released.

So, there you go. Hopefully having more insight into HBO’s confusing streaming platform menagerie will make it a little bit easier for you to decide which one is right for you. Maybe eventually all these services will be combined into one platform that houses all of HBO’s content. Until that day, you’re stuck with one of these.

Suzanne Humphries Suzanne Humphries
Suzanne Humphries was a Commerce Editor for Review Geek. She has over seven years of experience across multiple publications researching and testing products, as well as writing and editing news, reviews, and how-to articles covering software, hardware, entertainment, networking, electronics, gaming, apps, security, finance, and small business. Read Full Bio »