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The Main Difference: HBO Max is the Better Streaming Service for Most Viewers

At its core, the main difference between HBO and HBO Max comes down to the evolution from traditional cable TV to streaming. HBO represents the premium cable TV roots, while HBO Max signifies the new streaming-focused future.

For most people looking to conveniently stream HBO content on demand, HBO Max provides noticeable advantages. Its broader device support, larger library, and streaming-centric features make it the best choice for on-the-go viewing. Read on as we fully compare HBO vs HBO Max across all the key factors in this streaming service showdown.

Let‘s start with a quick overview of how HBO stacks up against HBO Max across some key categories:

Launch Date November 8, 1972 May 27, 2020
Price Per Month $15.99 monthly $9.99 monthly (with ads), $15.99 monthly (no ads)
Number of Titles 4,000 hours of content 13,000+ hours of content
Subscriber Count 46 million in the U.S. (est.) 76.8 million globally
Availability 150+ countries 61 countries currently
Simultaneous Streams 3 devices 3 devices
Available Bundles With cable subscriptions YouTube TV, Hulu + Live TV
Downloads Yes Yes

This quick look shows how HBO Max generally provides more content, lower pricing, and wider device reach. Next let‘s dive deeper into each of these aspects.

One of the most important factors for any streaming service is the amount of content available to watch. When it comes to overall size of content libraries, HBO Max has a clear advantage.

HBO‘s cable service offers around 4,000 hours of on-demand programming encompassing its original shows, documentaries, and theatrical movies. While 4,000 hours seems extensive, this pales in comparison to HBO Max.

After its launch in 2020, HBO Max quickly expanded its catalog to over 13,000 hours of content. This includes everything available on regular HBO along with a wealth of extra movies, shows, and documentaries.

According to data from Reelgood, some of the key content differences include:

  • 2x more HBO original programming – This includes complete series from The Sopranos to Game of Thrones along with current shows like The White Lotus.

  • 3x more animated content – HBO Max adds programming from Cartoon Network, Looney Tunes, Studio Ghibli, and more.

  • 4x more documentary content – More acclaimed docs like I‘ll Be Gone in the Dark and 100 Foot Wave.

  • 20x more kids content – With Sesame Workshop and Cartoon Network.

Beyond the raw numbers, HBO Max also has exclusivity over hit shows like Friends that are not available on regular HBO. The service is also releasing new Warner Bros. movies like The Matrix Resurrections concurrently with theaters.

For consumers looking to get the most entertainment for their money, HBO Max easily wins out over regular HBO in the content department. You get everything HBO offers plus thousands more hours of acclaimed movies, shows, and documentaries.

The other major point of comparison between streaming services is how much they cost. HBO has maintained its premium cable price point, while HBO Max offers lower tiers more comparable to competitors.

HBO as a standalone cable add-on is priced at $15.99 per month. This requires linking HBO to an existing cable package from a provider like Xfinity or Spectrum. There are no options for reduced pricing on HBO‘s cable service.

HBO Max features two main pricing tiers:

  • $9.99 per month (ads) – This lowest tier includes commercials that play before and during content. At under $10 monthly, it matches competitors like Hulu.

  • $15.99 per month (no ads) – The higher no-ads tier equals the price of regular HBO.

Based on these pricing options, HBO Max offers a few key advantages:

  • A 39% cheaper entry point with the $9.99 ad-supported plan
  • The flexibility to choose between ad and no-ad experiences
  • No cable subscription required unlike HBO

HBO Max also allows bundling with other streaming services like Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV. While it does not currently offer a discounted rate, the convenience of managing multiple streams in one place provides value.

As far as getting premium content at the best price, HBO Max once again beats out plain HBO. A $9.99 plan with ads makes it one of the more affordable streaming options.

One of the biggest differences between HBO and HBO Max comes down to what devices you can actually watch each service on.

As a cable channel, HBO is primarily accessible through any platform where your cable TV subscription and HBO add-on can be authenticated. This includes:

  • Cable provider websites and apps
  • Some smart TV apps from Samsung, Vizio, etc.
  • Hotel and college TV systems with cable

Without a traditional cable subscription, HBO does not offer any official standalone apps. The HBO Now app that previously offered mobile streaming has been discontinued since HBO Max‘s arrival.

HBO Max on the other hand is widely available across all major platforms and devices:

  • Mobile – iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle
  • Streaming TV – Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast, Android TV
  • Game Consoles – PlayStation, Xbox
  • Smart TVs – Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio
  • Web – Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari

This omnichannel availability makes HBO Max the clear winner when it comes to accessing content on whichever device you choose. No cable box required!

Despite differences in content and device support, HBO and HBO Max share many similarities when it comes to core streaming features.

Both services allow you to download movies and shows to watch offline on mobile devices, with a limit of 30 downloads at one time. Playback features like pause, rewind, and resume work for downloaded content.

Streaming quality reaches up to 4K HDR where available, along with support for 5.1 Dolby Audio. Standard definition streams are also offered.

For simultaneous streaming, the limit is typically 3 concurrent streams per account. This allows 3 devices to be actively watching at the same time.

There are a couple Feature differences to note:

  • HBO Max allows full playback control and pausing of live content, which isn‘t available on cable HBO.

  • HBO cable has multiple channels that can be browsed, while HBO Max is an on-demand catalog.

But for core playback, quality, and mobility features the two are very comparable. HBO Go and HBO Now previously had features like downloads as well before being consolidated into HBO Max.

One feature that the cable version of HBO retains is its lineup of premium TV channels. These provide a more traditional lean-back watching experience compared to HBO Max‘s on-demand catalog.

Depending on your cable package and region, HBO provides the following channels:

  • HBO – Flagship channel for original series, movies, specials
  • HBO2 – Focused on movies and nightly series replays
  • HBO Comedy – Standup specials and comedy films
  • HBO Family – Family friendly series and movies
  • HBO Latino – Spanish language programming
  • HBO Signature – Movie channel formerly known as HBO 3
  • HBO Zone – Edgier late-night movies and shows

Being able to flip between channels is a remnant of cable TV that some loyal HBO fans still enjoy. But the prominence of HBO‘s channels has been declining for years as on-demand viewing grows.

HBO Max focuses entirely on delivering an exceptional on-demand experience. For most modern streaming users, having HBO‘s programs available immediately outweighs channel surfing. But channels may still appeal to some old-school cable subscribers.

Given HBO Max‘s advantages around content, pricing, and device reach, why does plain old HBO continue to operate? There are a few key reasons cable HBO remains relevant:

1. Broader international reach – HBO Max has launched in 61 countries, but regular HBO is available in over 150 regions. For global audiences without HBO Max, cable HBO provides access.

2. Revenue from existing subscriptions – HBO has around 30 million cable subscribers in the U.S. alone according to S&P Global. Continuing these lucrative subscriptions is valuable despite streaming‘s rise.

3. Promoting newer HBO Max service – Keeping the HBO brand active via cable helps boost awareness of HBO Max and convert cable subscribers to the improved streaming option.

4. Licensing and distribution deals – Prior HBO content licensing contracts keep cable HBO earning revenue internationally in regions where HBO Max can‘t launch yet.

While streaming is unquestionably the future, regular HBO still fills an important role for the time being. But over time, HBO Max stands to fully supersede cable HBO in popularity and availability.

To recap the key differences between HBO and HBO Max:

  • HBO launched in 1972, HBO Max in 2020
  • HBO has around 46 million U.S. subscribers, HBO Max has surpassed 76 million globally
  • HBO Max offers over 3 times as much on-demand content
  • HBO Max has an ad-supported plan starting at $9.99 per month
  • HBO Max includes brands like Warner, Cartoon Network, Studio Ghibli
  • HBO is only available through a cable package or TV provider
  • HBO Max can be streamed across mobiles, smart TVs, consoles, and more

When comparing HBO vs. HBO Max, the newer streaming service clearly comes out ahead for a few important reasons:

Price – HBO Max offers a 39% discount at $9.99 per month with ads, whereas HBO has no low-cost tier.

Content – With over 13,000 hours to watch, HBO Max offers 3x as many movies, shows, and documentaries.

Availability – HBO Max can be streamed on all major mobile, computer and TV platforms without cable.

Features – Other than live channels, HBO and HBO Max have similar streaming capabilities.

The only major downside of HBO Max is it is not yet globally available like regular HBO. But for U.S. audiences and much of the world, Max is hands-down the best way to experience HBO.

With on-demand access to HBO‘s exceptional programming plus so much more, HBO Max represents the new gold standard in premium streaming. Its competitive pricing, massive catalog, and device reach make it the ultimate streaming home for HBO content old and new.


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