The new HBO Now streaming video service for iOS and Mac is now live, and you can try it out free for 30 days. After that it, it costs $14.99 month, easily charged to your iTunes account. So how does it work? How well does it work? And is HBO Now worth it?
The first two questions are easy to answer, and the third, well, that will depend on you.
The key is that if you ever wanted HBO content but didn’t want to pay for cable or satellite service, too, HBO Now is your best option. Better yet, if you’re an Apple tech user, HBO Now works with its own app on your Apple TV, iPad, iPhone, and through a web browser on your Mac (or most any other PC). This means you can get HBO Now content easily to your HDTV in your living room as well as while you’re on the go.
How Does HBO Now Work?
The simplest way to get started is to go to the App Store on an iOS device, download the HBO Now app, enter in your email address and create a password to make your HBO Now account. The billing is all through Apple, so you’ll be automatically paying (most likely) through your iTunes-connected credit card, assuming that you keep the service after thirty days. The process only takes a few minutes and it’s intuitive.
Once in, the app is simple and clean, easy to use. Your home screen on the app shows a full-width list of featured movies and shows, with large teaser graphics. If you started watching a video, it will be listed at the top with a small link for you to return to it.
The menu lets you break down your options into Series, Movies, Comedy, Sports, Documentaries, Collections, and Late Night content. You can add any of this content to your Watchlist. It’s pretty straightforward, really.
How Well Does HBO Now Work?
For me, the app on my iPhone worked great — it launched streaming video quickly, plus delivered it in a crisp stream. To test it, I took it to the room farthest away from my WiFi router where I tend to get the weakest WiFi connection to my iPhone 6. Despite the poor connection, the app managed to stream a sharp video with only a small amount of pixelation and hiccups right at the very beginning of the movie. After a few seconds, the picture came in sharp and clear.
In fact, it tended to deliver slightly better video quality — with this less than stellar connection — than Amazon Prime video on my iPhone (and I’m generally pleased with the overall Amazon Prime video quality).
On two occasions the app inexplicably hiccuped back in time in the movie by a few minutes, leaving me wondering if I had touched the screen to rewind — but I don’t think so. I think it was some anomaly with the stream. (Since I rarely get to watch anything these days without some sort of interruption anyway, this didn’t bother me much.)
Is HBO Now Worth It?
Each month HBO will bring you several newish movies — and if you watch four movies a month through HBO Now, that will cost you less than if you rented them via iTunes. Where HBO shines, though, is in its original programming. If you’ve been wanting to get into Game of Thrones, you can binge through the first several seasons and catch up to the latest season. As for brand new shows, while you won’t be streaming the TV shows live, you can stream them at essentially the same time they air through traditional satellite and cable. With most non-HBO TV shows on iTunes, you can’t buy the latest episode until the next day. Of course, with HBO, you couldn’t buy the TV shows from iTunes until months after they originally aired on HBO anyway.
For instance, when True Detective came out, I almost signed up for HBO via my satellite provider, but got busy and ended up just waiting to purchase the series from iTunes later.
If you’re a fan of any series on HBO, you can end up getting the content while it’s hot, potentially sharing the moment with other fans around the world. If that’s worth something to you, well then, definitely get HBO Now.
The other way HBO Now can pay off for you is if you wait until a series is over, then subscribe to HBO Now and binge your way through it in a month . . . then unsubscribe. Luckily, HBO isn’t playing games with your subscription, so that’s cool. The only hiccup is that you’ll need to remember to cancel the recurring monthly charge via your iTunes account . . . and not via the HBO Now app itself.
How Many Devices?
HBO does not put a limit on the number of iOS devices (versions for Android will come in the future) or computers that can use one account, but it does seem as if HBO is limiting the number of simultaneous streams to three, which shouldn’t be a hardship for most households — unless you’ve got four fans of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver who are unwilling to sit near each other in the living room.
All-in-all, the app works great, the setup is seamless, and the content streams cleanly. If you’re not sure if $14.99 a month for HBO is right for you, take advantage of the free 30-day trial period. Then you’ll know.
What About an Apple TV?
You might be wondering if you should buy an Apple TV? That’s a tough choice. While Apple has dropped the price down to around $69, it’s very likely that Apple will release a new Apple TV version in June during its annual developer’s conference. If that’s the case, should you wait? That depends on what you want to watch on your HDTV between now and then. . . .