HBO Max Debuts With A Magical Surprise, But Is It Enough?

As the streaming wars continue, HBO hopes to attract new subscribers with both original and classic content.

A new streaming player has entered the game. 

After months of anticipation, HBO Max arrived on Wednesday to amp up the streaming wars with fellow newcomers Disney+ and Apple TV+, as well as field dominator Netflix. The stand-alone service ― which is a separate beast from HBO Go and HBO Now ― costs $14.99 a month for non-HBO subscribers. (HBO Now and HBO cable subscribers receive HBO Max at no additional cost.)

The service already features 10,000 hours of premium content. Everything from series like “The Sopranos” and “Game of Thrones” to Max Originals like “Love Life” and beloved sitcoms and movies, including “Friends” and “A Star Is Born,” are available on the platform, guaranteeing a big splash this summer. 

At the last minute, HBO Max also secured the entire “Harry Potter” catalog. That magical addition was up in the air for the last few weeks since NBC Universal had locked up TV and digital rights to the movies based on J.K. Rowling’s fantasy book series back in 2016. But the team at HBO Max pushed hard to give the Boy Who Lived a life on their platform and so all eight of the Warner Bros. films appeared on the homepage at launch time. (NBCU will reportedly continue to air the films on its linear networks.)

Corporate negotiations aside, fans couldn’t contain their excitement. 

But what else does HBO Max have to offer? HuffPost entertainment reporters Leigh Blickley and Bill Bradley walk through the streaming service and let potential viewers in on what they need to know. 

The Bottom Line 

HBO Max draws you in with “Friends” and “Harry Potter,” but it still might not be worth spending your hard-earned cash on. 

Actor Daniel Radcliffe as the title character in the Warner Bros. film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," now available
Actor Daniel Radcliffe as the title character in the Warner Bros. film "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," now available on HBO Max.

How To Get Started

Leigh Blickley: Bill, HBO Max has arrived and I, for one, am impressed. No Baby Yoda, but no glitches! And lots of “Harry Potter.” All I had to do was sign in with my cable package, and I was good to go. How about you? 

Bill Bradley: Leigh, HBO Max reminds me of the first time I watched “Inception.” It’s confusing. If you have HBO Go and HBO Now already, why are you trying to make another entry in the HBO Cinematic Universe? Also, it’s not on certain devices, such as Roku and the Amazon Fire.

I signed in with my HBO Now account, but honestly I didn’t know if I’d have access until recently. If you don’t have HBO Now or a cable package, you can also just separately purchase a $14.99-per-month subscription to HBO Max. Even though I don’t get it (and my credit card and I both agree we don’t need more streaming platforms), I like what I see. I don’t need to know what dream level I’m on. I just need to know “Harry Potter” will be there. 

LB: Yes, I was also confused by the Go, Now, Max of it all, but as HBO explains it, Max is a WarnerMedia platform bundling all of the network’s content together with new originals plus classic movies and TV series. (Go is a free streaming service for HBO subscribers; Now is a stand-alone service for cord-cutters.) Still puzzling, but whatever. 

Once you sign in to HBO Max, the homepage is easy to navigate. As you scroll down, you see categories like “Featured Series,” “Max Originals,” “Featured Movies,” “HBO Series” and “Rom-Com Favorites,” and then can add titles to your watchlist. (Similar to Netflix.) For those interested, I added all of the “Harry Potter” movies, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Bachelor” franchise to my docket with plans of watching them marathon-style one quarantined day. Yes, Bill, if you’re into it, a few of the “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” seasons are available to binge, including some international installments. This platform truly has something for everyone! 

Season 20 of "The Bachelor" with Ben Higgins is available on HBO Max. 
Season 20 of "The Bachelor" with Ben Higgins is available on HBO Max. 

What To Watch

BB: I tried to watch the “Bachelor” live premiere before, and even the audience members were proposing to each other. TBH, I’m not sure if I’m ready for that type of commitment.

The HBO Max library is, in a word, strange. In two words, very strange. There’s obviously not a ton of original Max content due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s got a lot of cartoons and children’s shows, and it lists the “Police Academy” movies as a “blockbuster franchise.” That being said, this is basically an add-on to my HBO Now account, which I was already paying for. So I’ll take it.

Like you mentioned, having the “Harry Potter” movies, which weren’t previously announced, is a riddikulusly magical surprise. There are also a lot of other great random things like movies from Studio Ghibli and “Adventure Time.”

LB: And Turner Classic Movies! But good point on the strangeness of selections. I know it’s based on a novel, but “The Town” seems like an odd choice for the category “Book Club.” I digress. I’m looking forward to watching “Singin’ in the Rain” followed by “Jaws,” because that’s just who I am these days. 

BB: That’s re-leigh Leigh. Bringing it back to commitments, I already have Netflix, Hulu, YouTube TV, Disney +, even Quibi. (Yeah, I still have Quibi.) How do you think HBO Max compares, and is it worth it as a stand-alone streamer?

HBO Max vs. Other Streaming Services

LB: I’m pretty sure nothing can compare to Netflix. Their library is just always stocked and constantly refreshed. It’ll be interesting to see whether production shutdowns affect their upcoming schedule, but for now they stand pretty tall above Hulu and Amazon. As for the newbies, HBO Max features both family-friendly and adult content so it has a leg up on Disney+, and unlike Apple TV+, it has more than just originals. In truth, I’m more so leaning toward Max when considering those three. In terms of Quibi, well, what’s there to say? That’s just a riot. And we’ll have to see what NBC’s Peacock delivers this summer. 

Bill, do you have a preference when it comes to the big streamers? 

BB: Oh, wow. With all this talk about HBO Max, for a second I lived in a world where Peacock didn’t exist and I was still overwhelmed.

Interface-wise, it’s easy to use. I’ve never loved HBO’s video player, but as long as you’re using it in a browser, the platform doesn’t seem to have the connectivity issues Disney + originally had at launch.

But HBO Max has a weird mix of things, dude. Are Cartoon Network fans also the demo that’s binge-watching “Friends”? Maybe. But at this point, it almost feels like buying a whole CD just to listen to one song, whichever song that is. You have to really love “All Star” to buy all of Smash Mouth’s “Astro Lounge.” But that is something I did (“All Star” was slapping way before “Shrek”).

If HBO Max was separate from HBO Now, I just wouldn’t have subscribed. But since it’s an add-on, I actually think this puts it right behind Netflix, because you still get your HBO and now you’ve just discovered a Room of Requirement filled with all the lost TV shows and movies that didn’t have another home.

LB: Great way to put it. I’ve been looking to watch the rom-com “Something Borrowed” for weeks and finally found it on HBO Max. It’s the little things, Bill. 

Now, I’m with you on streaming fatigue ― there are almost too many services to sign up for/check out/scroll through all day. And that’s on top of your cable bill, if you have one. So, do you think HBO Max is worth it for non-HBO subscribers? Would you pay $14.99 a month? 

Is It Worth It?

BB: Well, as a matter of fact, I am paying $14.99 lol. So I guess I’m going to have to say yes? Again, if it was separate from my HBO account, not a chance. Wait, so I have to pay $14.99 a month for the privilege of watching the Snyder Cut? No, thanks. But since it’s included with HBO, I guess I’ll see director Zack Snyder’s “darker” vision for “Justice League” finally realized. Whatever. As long as everybody’s moms aren’t all named Martha

I know you’re the one “Lord of the Rings” fan to rule them all, so what do you think? Should people watch it?

LB: In my opinion, if you’re an HBO subscriber or have HBO Now, enjoy Max. (And “LOTR.”) If not, maybe wait a bit and decide if it’s really essential to your no doubt already stocked lineup of streaming services. (I’d personally hate to shell out more of my coveted paycheck for yet another platform.)

But how much content does one person need these days? A lot, apparently. So everyone do you