Product Review: HBO NOW
HBO NOW and its cousin HBO GO finally bring the premium entertainment provider up to speed with their competitors, but they ceded a lot of ground that makes them a harder sell.
Besides sounding like something George Costanza would scream, HBO NOW (they decided to use all caps; don’t blame me, StrongBad) is the standalone application for watching all of HBO. From their in-house series, to sports, comedy, and blockbuster movies, you can finally get their stuff without having to buy a cable TV package. You even get their “why do they even bother in 2018” version of pornography!
The upside is tremendous: HBO has a knack for killer programming. Series like Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and Rome made binge-watching a thing. Their sports are the last bastion of boxing, and their biopics and documentaries are both watchable and fairly well respected. Their comedy is still fantastic; something that you might have forgotten as other providers came fast and hilarious with their own offerings. Unfortunately, that last sentence kind of sums up the downside.
HBO stuck to their guns when everything went streaming. They scoffed at Netflix and Amazon, happy to lease their award winning material out to them after a healthy delay. Their commitment to remaining a premium cable channel was an act of hubris that let a lot of competitors match and sometimes overtake them at their brand’s best aspects. Hulu and Netflix have comedy that is just as good. Amazon has original movies that are finally up to snuff with HBO productions. And probably the worst blow was that HBO gave their competitors have time and space to build original series that are just as addictive as Game of Thrones. The lost ground to their rivals by denying a rivalry even existed.
What that means in the final tally is that HBO NOW is a great way to watch great things. But there’s at least three other great ways to watch similarly great things, and most of them are cheaper than NOW’s $14.99/month asking price. HBO NOW feels like the guy who came to the party way past fashionably late and still has the gall to poo-poo what liquor you are serving. While he’s still a fun time by the end of the party, he gave you time to meet his friends, and you might just call them instead next time.
HBO NOW is the standalone provider for HBO content. If you already have HBO on cable, and just want to watch it on mobile, you should use HBO GO; it’s the free for subscribers version (I won’t spend any more time than that on GO; other than the access requirements, they are functionally identical). NOW is available on Android, Apple, and Windows, as well as any smart TV, PS4, or Xbox One. I tested it on two phones, Windows 10/7, and both the Xbox and PS4. All behave very similarly; the aesthetic is very uniform. That is where the compliments end.
The content is buried behind a bunch of needless prettiness. It’s nearly impossible to see every movie or series or sporting event they carry in one easy page. I went the first week wondering why HOME BOX OFFICE had only 8 movies to their name until I cracked their labyrinthine layout. The search feature is competent (except on PS4; I hate their input system), but since so much of HBO’s content comes and goes regularly, having a better browsing format would be a much smarter design decision.
The last complaint: HBO NOW is a no-go outside of the USA as of my last check. Boo, ya tossers!
$14.99/month gets you unlimited access with just the barest hint of in-house advertising before you get to watch things uninterrupted. Still pricier than Netflix. Just Sayin. It does have a one month free trial, though. Just Super-Saiyin.
This is where HBO has always shone. Since their inception they have always been the crème de la crème of content. Their originals get the A-list talent, writers, and directors. The diversity is fantastic: dramas, romance, comedy, sci-fi/fantasy; you get it all. That hasn’t changed. They add new series fairly regularly, so if you have never watched a lot of HBO productions you’ll have a binge backlog for days. Probably 182.5 of them, if not the whole 365.
I binged a ton of stuff (got sick/snowed in at as close to the right time as either of those can be), using high-speed Wi-Fi, 4G data, and my work’s free connection (read: bare minimum bandwidth). Never once did I not get dazzling HD; only once did it buffer. Surprisingly, that was when I used my good Wi-Fi in the basement. It seems as long as you get decent bandwidth, HBO NOW is going to look pretty darn pretty.
I didn’t bury the lede; my opinion is up top. All I’ll do is streamline the message: HBO NOW offers great content at a slightly higher than market rate. It is mostly exclusive content, however, so if they are offering your particular catnip, they are still worth that slightly higher price. If you already have HBO coming through your TV, HBO GO is a no-brainer for on the go and binge watching.
You won’t feel like a loser for going with HBO NOW. You just might not feel like as big a winner than if this service had come out years before it did.