As part of IGN’s State of Streaming event, we’re taking a fresh look at the major streaming services and what they offer subscribers in 2022. You can check out our initial thoughts on HBO Max as of 2020, and see what’s changed (for better or worse) in this updated review.
HBO is the most recent major player to enter the streaming wars, debuting in May of 2020 with a strong library of Warner Bros. content and watercooler-worthy new movies and TV shows. But it’s made a lot of moves over the past two years, for better and worse, and there’s certainly been no shortage of news lately surrounding the merger of Warner Bros. and Discovery and the resulting turmoil that comes from smashing two very different streaming services together.
Still, it retains its vast catalog of movies and zeitgeist-y TV, even if its interface leaves a lot to be desired, and its pricing options aren’t as competitive as other platforms. Before HBO Max makes even more changes, though, we’re taking a crack at reviewing how it stands today.
HBO Max’s Library
Warner Bros. has been trying to cut costs with some recent removals of shows like Sesame Street, but even still, its library remains pretty robust. Its legacy HBO content includes plenty for prestige TV connoisseurs, including The Wire, The Sopranos, Sex and The City, and Game Of Thrones, as well as more recent critical successes like Barry and Succession. And of course, let’s not ignore the Targaryen in the room: House of the Dragon continues to roll out weekly for the moment, and if 10 million viewers for its premiere episode are any indication, it’s no small draw.
Outside of originals, one of its greatest treasures is its Studio Ghibli library. This is the only place where viewers in the U.S. and Canada can stream Miyazaki and the company’s extensive filmography, such as Oscar-winning classics Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. HBO Max also has a partnership with Crunchyroll for those looking to expand their anime horizons beyond Studio Ghibli’s remarkable portfolio.
HBO Max Spotlight: September 2022
Film buffs will get plenty of mileage out of their subscription as well. Partnerships with the Criterion Channel and Turner Classic Movies keep cinephiles awash in their favorite films, whether you’re looking for classic westerns or kaiju. And, while it seems to be the most at risk of cancellation in the current landscape, we’d be remiss to not mention HBO Max’s impressive animated collections, which include multitudes of Batman and other DC superhero movies and shows as well as Rick and Morty and more.
While recent actions — and the actions taken at the beginning of the pandemic — may have damaged Warner Bros.’ relationships with artists like Christopher Nolan (and, eventually, Zack Snyder), there are still plenty of films and series to keep viewers engaged.
HBO Max’s Interface
While HBO Max’s film and television catalog remains solid despite the turmoil, its interface has always been a little rocky. Where it’s good, it’s great! Where it’s not, well… yikes.
Let’s get the bad out of the way. Many users have reported consistent frustration with hair-trigger rewind and fast-forward functionalities, meaning it can be hard to go back or forward to a specific timestamp. The platform also struggles with crashes at a more regular clip than its competitors.
The browsing capability leaves something to be desired, too. It’s not a platform that encourages discovery – basically, if you don’t already know what you’re looking for and it’s not part of one of HBO Max’s curated sections, it’s going to be hard to find something new to watch. Meanwhile, competitors like Netflix, Disney+, and Prime Video have a much wider array of their catalogs on display on their homepages, making it easier to casually browse for titles.
If the ability to watch in 4K is important to you, HBO Max may not be the way to go either. You can stream just 34 of its titles (ranging from The Matrix trilogy to Space Jam: A New Legacy) in 4k, and that’s only on the ad-free tier.
With all that said, HBO Max’s interface isn’t without its charm. The sound it uses as the navigation noise is a very pleasant clicking, and the ombre purple and black aesthetic is relatively pleasing overall. It also has a leg up on many of its competitors with the “leaving soon” section, which highlights shows and movies that you only have a limited time left to watch before they’re rotated out.
HBO Max’s Price
HBO Max’s price currently ranges between $9.99 with ads and $14.99 without them. You can also sign up for their annual packages at the promotional rate of $69.99 and $104.99 respectively. After that year, your annual price will increase by at least 40 percent. Both profiles offer the ability to have up to 5 profiles, but if you want 4K streaming of limited titles, the ability to download to watch offline, and to stream outside of the US, you’ll need to buy the ad-free plan.
$9.99 might not seem like much when compared with Netflix’s basic package at the same price, but adding in the fact that this rate comes with ads makes it much less appealing. For comparison, Hulu’s ad-supported subscription currently sits at just $6.99. And when you go ad-free, every other major streaming service starts cheaper than HBO Max’s $14.99. So it’s a premium price, but you do get a lot of premium content along with it. However, with all the cuts Warner Bros. Discovery is still making to its upcoming shows and movies, it’s become a bit harder to be confident in its ability to keep turning out hits in the future.