Max houses some of the very best movies and TV shows around, both new and existing, inside an excellent streaming app. While the marriage of HBO and Discovery+ content has watered everything down and the increased price for 4K is a bitter pill to swallow, the addition of live sports and news adds to the proposition.
- Unrivalled HBO archive of shows and movies
- Now with live sports and news
- 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos
- Ads are often very limited
- Excellent app
- More expensive for ad-free and 4K
- HBO seems in a bit of a slump
- Discovery addition dilutes line-up
- Terrible branding decision
- 4K HDR Dolby Vision and HDR 10, support on new movies. Dolby Atmos support too.
- The best of HBO and WarnerDecades of great TV and movie content from HBO and Warner that’s being added to all the time.
- TNT Sports and CNNWarner Brothers Discovery is bolstering the proposition with Bleacher Report Sports and CNN Max
Warner Bros. Discovery took a huge risk by dropping one of the most recognisable and trusted entertainment brand names from its streaming service. Following the merger between the two entertainment giants, HBO Max and Discovery+ are now just Max.
To this reviewer, the decision was utterly baffling. HBO is a by-word for quality. The home of dramas like The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, The Wire and, more recently, The Last of Us. I can’t think of a simple good reason to disassociate.
Now, in a packed streaming arena, it doesn’t have the prestige or established brand name to stand up against, oh, you know, little-known entities like Disney, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Paramount, and the like.
Yet it is what it is. Max is largely the same as HBO Max app in terms of established content (with more added from the Discovery empire) and has made efforts to boost the proposition by including live sports and bringing in a version of CNN for news.
The app is available on many platforms (at least in the US), the library is constantly growing, and there is some support for the 4K HDR and Dolby Atmos. There are ad-supported and ad-free options, but is it still enough to justify your monthly dues in a streaming saturated climate?
- Wide support on mobile, smart TV and web
- AirPlay and Chromecast support
It’s much the same as it was with HBO Max. Max is available in most major places with a functioning app store, and on the web. When watching on your television set, you can download the Max app for the major set-top box and streaming stick operating systems:
- Amazon Fire TV – Running FireOS 5.1 or later
- Apple TV 4K or HD – 4th-Generation or later
- Android TV (Android OS 5 or later) and Chromecast with Google TV
- Roku – Roku OS 10.0 and later
Beyond that, native Smart TV interfaces from LG, Samsung, Sony, Vizio offer the app, but many other manufacturers are missing. If your TV doesn’t have a native app, but supports Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast, you can cast directly to the set from another device. Otherwise, it’s the old HDMI from laptop to telly job.
There are apps for the PS4/PS5 and Xbox One/Series S/X. On mobile: iPadOS, iOS and Android and Amazon Fire TV, while Windows, PC and Mac are supported through the major browsers.
- Slick TV interface with prominent artwork
- Thoughtful categories and collections
- No easy way to find 4K HDR/Dolby Atmos content
Not a huge amount has changed since the brand amalgamation. The TV app has a clean interface with large artwork, but things have been simplified somewhat with a top loaded menu for Home, Series, Movies, HBO (so the brand remains prominent!), B/R Sports and News. I found myself heading straight to the HBO menu to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The side menu is simply Search, Home, My Stuff, and Settings. Previous iterations of the app delved much deeper into the content on offer, but thankfully, the app still does a pretty good job of serving-up your regular content, recommended content and collections.
The homepage has a specific suggested pick, perhaps a new film or documentary. There are rows for For You recommendations, Featured content, Continue Watching, My List, Just Added and more Because you watched… recommendations. There’s also a Brand Spotlight which enables you to dive into specific content from DC, Max Originals, Discovery, and Adult Swim, etc. Quite often you’ll see Top 10 lists for what’s being enjoyed currently.
You’ll also get some curated collections, depending on the time of year or current events. Right now, there’s a focus on Back-to-School movies on the home page. Or there’s collections like Popular TV, Family Movie Night and plenty of others. Go all the way down to the bottom and you can Browse By Genre. That option should be higher, or at least available via the side or top menus.
As you browse the menus, you can click and hold to add a title to My List. Search has predicted results as you type, and you can use voice search where it’s available on your device as it is on an Apple TV 4K.
What’s missing is 4K, HDR and Dolby Atmos specific menus. The content is there (more on that later), but you’ll have to go into the title itself to find out. Max automatically plays the highest quality video and audio (depending on the plan you subscribe to) but it’d be good to see a specific menu for supported titles.
The title page itself depicts available quality (including Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos Audio), as well as the length, age rating, year, and synopsis. There’s also an indicator showing Audio Description accessibility support.
You can watch a trailer before playing or add to your watch list. You can also see a You May Also Like menu below the fold showing related titles.
Cast and crew listings are now available within an expanded synopsis menu, rather than below the fold. The interface is similar for TV series, with accommodations for seasons and episodes. Max doesn’t offer Rotten Tomatoes ratings or the chance to review. I missed that but also welcomed the absence of a dominant recommendations algorithm.
The playback interface is standard, but no longer conforms to the house style of the device you’re watching on. For example, the Apple TV app now offers a simpler playback interface, with spaced-out sections for ads (if you have the cheaper plan) and one option for audio and subtitled options.
- Unmatched HBO line-up of archive shows
- The home of LOTR, DC Universe and Harry Potter
- Original shows with weekly episode drops
- Discovery stuff feels meh.
HBO always felt like the anti-Netflix, with at least one can’t-miss original show that entices you to keep your subscription going. It was the combo of the big budget dramas with the high production values, like Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos and incorrigible comedies like Eastbound and Down, Veep, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Sex And The City. More recently, it’s been Succession, The White Lotus, The Last of Us, The Righteous Gemstones, Last Week Tonight, Curb (again), etc.
Post Succession, I feel HBO in a bit of a lull in terms of those cultural touchstone shows and it may be a sign that HBO, in the new merged era, isn’t quite keeping pace with its own standards. The Idol, for instance, plumbed new depths for a HBO show. Winning Time, the big budget basketball dramatisation, was recently cancelled.
The TV line up has been bolstered by the other properties that weren’t made by HBO. Past seasons of Rick and Morty, South Park, Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Chappelle Show and more. Again, that’s just the stuff that I like!
The HBO originals have been boosted by Max originals exclusive to the service. They’re kind of the supermarket brand tier shows, in the most cases. Like that latest Sex and The City reboot (more like The Golden Girls, amirite?), The Peacemaker and The Sex Lives of College Girls. However, of these Max Originals, I’ve really enjoyed The Flight Attendant and Love & Death.
In my opinion, the integration of Discovery content is only worthwhile for Reality TV junkies who love The Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay and Iron Chef, Discovery properties like Sharkweek, Mythbusters, and Deadliest Catch. TLC also brings content 90 Day Fiance, 7 Little Johnsons, and 1000lb Best Friends. Not for me, but popular stuff nonetheless.
All first run shows are released on an episodic, weekly basis, which is my absolute preferred method for watching television. If you like to sit down and blitz through a whole series, you’ll have to wait until it’s all aired.
Movies are a different story because under its various umbrellas, Warner Bros. has a massive slate of properties and major franchises new and old. If Disney+ is the home the home to everything Marvel and Star Wars; HBO Max is the only place to be for the DC Universe and Harry Potter. This is before you get to other Warner-owned properties, like New Line Cinema and Turner Classic Movies (all-timers like Gone with the Wind, Casablanca) and Adult Swim.
Max is also the US distributor for Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese animation studio behind Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.
There’s simply loads to watch. However, most of what existed before Max Originals and the integration of Discovery was prestigious. Now it all feels a bit watered down. Less is more, WBD, less is more.
The TNT network has access to some premium sporting action. The weekly Inside The NBA show, which includes two live games, is one of the most entertaining evenings of sport on television anywhere. TNT does a great job of covering the NHL and has 62 games live throughout the season. The annual NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament is a huge draw too. It also housed TBS’ MLB play-off games recently.
Now as part of an expansion into Max, subscribers can watch all of this without the need for cable. It’s a big step forward for those who otherwise don’t want a live TV service. It’s free with a Max subscription for a limited time but will become a $9.99 a month add-on thereafter.
Another former Turner-now-Warner-owned network in CNN had a stab at its own standalone streaming service called CNN+. It was a miserable failure and spewed millions of dollars into the ether. Now we’ve got CNN Max, which was added in August 2023.
It’s a 24/7 live feed that includes flagship shows from the regular CNN network, including The Lead with Jake Tapper, The Situation Room, Anderson Cooper 360, joined by some original programming. Again, this frees some of those shows from the cable providers and, unlike the live sports, won’t eventually come at a cost. It’s free with the subscription cost.
- Offline downloads on mobile apps
- 4K HDR / Dolby Atmos supported, but limited
- Plenty of profiles and parental controls
Another change with Max means it’s now more expensive to access the 4K HDR (Dolby Vision or HDR10) movies and TV shows and the Dolby Atmos immersive audio standard. It’s now part of a new Ultimate Ad-Free Plan that costs $19.99.
At least Max has done a better job than HBO Max of hitting the high notes with more than 100 titles offering 4K Dolby Vision (HD Report does a good job of keeping tabs on this). Since I last reviewed HBO Max, the service has rectified open goals like the Lord of the Rings franchise not being in 4K.
As for TV series, The Last of Us, House of the Dragon, Winning Time, and Game of Thrones are available in 4K HDR. And Euphoria and Succession have now joined them after being strangely HD-only.
However, previously 4K only cost $15.99/month or $149.99/year as part of the regular ad-free plan. With the Ad-Free plan you get only get 1080p at the aforementioned price $15.99/month. That’s annoyed me to the point I dropped to the ad-supported plan and only because they offered me a few months at $4.99 (usually $9.99/month) if I didn’t cancel. I won’t go as far as $19.99/month.
Of course, you’ll need compatible A/V equipment as well as the top plan to access the A/V standards. The ad-supported plan is $9.99 /month and you’ll deal with some invasive ads before and during all programming and films. You’ll get HD, but no offline downloads. With Ad-Free you get up to 30 downloads, with Ad-Free Ultimate it’s a healthy 100 pieces of content free from the confines of a broadband connection.
Within the mobile apps, content expires 29 days after it has been downloaded, if you’re on the Ad-Free plan or Ultimate Ad-Free plan. It’s worked ever so well for me on long flights.
Since this is HBO, you can barely go five minutes without seeing genitalia or some kind of romp, so it’s strange to see the PIN protected parental controls are no longer available for age-rated content in the TV app, instead you’ll have to go to the settings at the Max website to set one up.
However, within the the app you can set up a Kids profile for viewers 17 and under. Then you’ll need a parental code to exit this profile, rather than the other way around.
The option to “Clear Continue Watching” has also disappeared which is a bit unfortunate for those who like to enjoy some of HBO’s racier offerings.
- 4K HDR content looks amazing
- App works perfectly
4K HDR content looks utterly spectacular in Dolby Vision on my 2021 65-inch OLED LG C1 with Apple TV 4K (2021). Dolby Vision and those extra pixels really shine on that blindingly colourful intro to Wonder Woman ’84, for example. While even the greyscale HDR in the black and white (well, grey) version of Justice League benefits from those deep, deep blacks. Some of the older stuff, not so much.
Max recommends at least a 25Mbps internet connection with 50+ recommended, so my average speeds of around 90Mbps certainly helped that. I don’t have a Dolby Atmos setup at home right now, but the Sonos Beam soundbar delivered an excellent performance with crystal-clear dialogue.
I haven’t experienced any crashes with the app since the transition to Max, offline downloads work as advertised, and you’ll always be able to pick up your show where you left off.
In terms of ads, the experience is much better than other services like Hulu, which absolutely overwhelms users with minutes upon minutes of advertisements. Sometimes, the ad breaks in movies are about five seconds long.
Should you buy it?
For its excellent content: Max offers truly premium, big-budget TV, an unrivalled archive and some of the biggest movies in the history of the medium, spanning an entire century. The 4K HDR experience is fantastic and there’s so much content from a great variety of recognisable brand names now Discovery properties are in the mix. If you want some live sports, and news without having a Pay TV service, Max provides this.
4K HDR tier is expensive: If you feel $19.99 a month feels offensive for 4K HDR, $15.99 too offensive for HD and $9.99 too offensive for putting up with ads. Or just wish you could have HBO back and its various properties back without paying for reality TV trash from Discovery.
I once wrote that “if I had to cancel all my streaming services, HBO Max would probably still be the last one to go” even amid content cuts and price increases. I don’t feel that way anymore.
The inclusion of Discovery content has watered down the quality of the service and it even feels like HBO itself could struggle to have another truly great series for a while with Succession and Barry now over, The Last of Us Season 2 ages away and new House of The Dragon a poor relation to GOT. The Hollywood strikes didn’t help matters either, but that’s not entirely the fault of Max.
As with most streaming services now, the price either feels too expensive for the premium experience, or the ads too intrusive to make it worth saving a buck. Even though Max joined two services together, it doesn’t help and Max no longer feels a must-have.
The recent addition of live sports (free for now, but soon to come at a $9.99 a month add-on) helps, as does access to a 24/7 news service. Both of these liberate the viewer from cable.
However, there’s usually a great series or movie to watch and the quality of the archive content is second to none, especially with the expanded Warner universe. Now the buzz-worthiness of Disney+ series is pretty non-existent and with Netflix series feeling ten-a-penny, there’s plenty to be said for good ol’ HBO.
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No, it is a United States-only subscription service at this time
No. There is no free trial for Max