October 1, 2020

HBO Max is great, but hindered by poor device support: Our initial review

HBO Max has all the content of its predecessor, but adds tons of unique additions. The downside? Poor device support.

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When Disney Plus launched over six months ago, we noted that it had excellent platform support, but its content was a bit on the slim side. The reverse is true for our first few hours of checking out the HBO Max streaming service. In our first impressions HBO Max review, it’s clear there is tons of content for all age groups. However, it’s flat out shocking that the service does not include support for Roku or Amazon Fire TV streaming sticks, boxes, and smart TVs.

HBO Max impressions: Content

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HBO Max basically is a turbo-charged version of the HBO Now service. Before today, subscribers for that service could watch all of HBO’s movies, along with nearly all of its current and classic original TV shows and films. That service costs $14.99 a month. Now, here comes HBO Max. It has everything that HBO Now has, plus tons of classic Warner Bros. films, TV shows like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and even third-party content for anime and art film lovers. All of that comes for the same price as HBO Now.

One big surprise was adding all eight of the Harry Potter films to the service, which was not revealed before HBO Max launched. You can also binge-watch all of the movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and DC Comics fans can stream many films, both live-action and animated, from that superhero corner.

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Anime fans will go nuts over the library of films from Studio Ghibli, along with a selection of classic and current anime series via Crunchyroll. There’s also some series from Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, but their selection is really limited. It’s made up in part by the many classic Looney Tunes animation shorts that are also available.

In short, there’s plenty to watch on HBO Max, and unlike Disney Plus, there’s plenty of stuff to watch just for adults. 

Original content is very sparse for now

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HBO Max will have movies and shows that will only be available on the service, which it calls Max Originals. Like Disney Plus originals, the amount of Max Originals is pretty sparse. However, Disney Plus launched with the first season of The Mandalorian, which became an instant pop culture phenomenon. There’s no such instant hit among the few Max Originals. The only scripted live-action series so far is Love Life, which looks at the romantic choices made by a woman through her life. The series, starring Anna Kendrick, has an interesting premise but based on the show’s first three episodes it doesn’t feel like anything we haven’t seen in other romance-driven series.

The service also has two reality competition series for launch, Legendary, and Craftopia, plus On The Record, a documentary about the #MeToo movement. The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo is both cute for kids and a nice satire on late-night talk shows for adults. Perhaps the best of the originals is the new Looney Tunes Cartoon shorts that manage to be as funny as the classic cartoons.

User interface

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The UI of HBO Max is very clean, and the main page also includes “hubs� of various content on the service. The menu on the left side of the main page brings up different categories of shows and movies to surf through. 

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The Android version of the app allows users to download content from the service. You can change the download video quality settings to standard or high. You can set up to five profiles for each account, and families can set up kids profiles for their children. Those profiles can be secured with PIN numbers, and kid profiles can be customized based on age ratings. Unfortunately, there’s no cool avatars you and your kids can set up for each profile. Maybe this will be added by the time we write our full HBO Max review.

Things HBO Max needs to work on

At the moment, the service doesn’t seem to support 4K resolution for its content. At least, it’s not mentioned in the support documents. However, the biggest issue with HBO Max is its current lack of support for Roku and Amazon Fire TV-based devices. We are certainly not privy to the negotiations between WarnerMedia, Roku, and Amazon. However, it seems like Apple and Disney didn’t have any issues with those two major smart TV platforms. We can’t imagine what’s stopping WarnerMedia from adding support to Roku and Amazon Fire TV. It’s a huge misstep in the launch of this service. Hopefully this will be resolved when we write up our final HBO Max review.

One other annoying thing about the content is that every movie and TV episode has some kind of video preview of the service’s shows and movies that plays beforehand. It’s basically an in-house ad, and it’s completely not needed.

Is it worth it?

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For many people, HBO Max is available at no additional cost if they are already an HBO Now subscriber, or have HBO on their cable tv lineup. The $14.99 a month price for everyone else is still very high compared to most other streaming services. It may be worth it for fans of Friends, The Big Bang Theory, or classic movies. However, the lack of Roku and Amazon Fire TV support is a huge detriment to this service’s future success.

Stay tuned as we will have our full and final HBO Max review in the coming months. In the meantime, are you planning to sign up for the service?