HBO Now has officially launched. Right now, it is only officially available from the Apple TV and iOS devices, however it can also be accessed through your web browser. We have had some quality time with HBO Now and here are our experiences with the apps, content, picture quality etc.
Hands-on with HBO Now
HBO Now is a lot like HBO Go, just without the cable TV subscription. You can sign up for HBO Now just like you sign up for Netflix. It is a bit more expensive than Netflix at $14.99 per month, but if you love the HBO shows it will probably still seem like a resonable price.
We signed up through the iOS app on iPhone and it was smooth sailing for us. No issues whatsoever and we started streaming right away. HBO Now is only available in the US right now, which also means that it is blocked if you travel (there are ways to unblock it). HBO is also planning an international launch but no details have been announced yet.
The Apple TV user interface (above) looks almost exactly like the existing HBO Go. That is not a bad thing because it works, but it is not the fastest user interface to date. It looks a bit generic, too. Let us hope that the updated Apple TV with apps will change that in the near future.
As you can see in the photo there are categories at the top and right below that you have featured content. It is easy to control with the Apple TV remote or the Remote app for iPhone/iPad. Once you click something you will be able to select the season and watch previews/trailers for each movie or TV show.
Airplay works fine, too. It is often easier to find what you want from a tablet or phone touch screen, and that is possible with Airplay. Just press the Airplay icon to get in over to the big screen. To be clear; this is real Airplay – not mirroring - so the Apple TV box takes over the stream for best possible picture quality.
We streamed a full episode of Game of Thrones without any hick-ups or drops in quality. Picture quality is OK, but not great. HBO has not provided any details but it looks like HD 720p to us (on Apple TV). It looks slightly better than HBO Go, so HBO Now might be using a better encoding or slightly higher bitrates. We are not sure at this point, but when comparing HBO Now to Netflix’s 1080p streams it is clear that Netflix still looks better. HBO’s servers are probably pretty crowded today and things could change, so we reserve final judgment.
The user interface on iPhone and iPad is pretty good. It is wrapped in a dark, black theme and you can pull out a menu box from the left that categorizes content into series, movies, comedy, sports, documentaries, collections, and late night. There is also a Watchlist that lets you save episodes for later. From the Watchlist you can continue watching episodes if you stopped the stream before it ended.
The video player on iOS and Apple TV lets you rewind and fast-forward. You can use the +10 or -10 to quickly jump 10 seconds. There is a closed captions (subtitle) icon, too,
Coming to more devices soon
HBO Now is exclusive to Apple devices at launch. HBO has not confirmed the exclusivity period, but reports say three months. After that you can expect it to hit many other devices, including game consoles, Chromecast, and Smart TVs. However, you can actually already watch HBO Now via an internet browser. The player is based on Flash so it is not the best experience, but it works. You can mirror the video to your Chromecast from the browser, but you need to be aware that it is mirroring; not native Chromecast support, so you need a fast WiFi network for a proper experience.
We were able to stream on all our devices at the same time so a family can easily share one HBO Now subscription at home, but the terms and conditions state that HBO reserves the right to change simultaneous streams later. That might happen if too many people share accounts.
The entire HBO content library is available from day one. There are also some interesting movies and documentaries, and HBO hints that it might add exclusive content to HBO Now that will not be available on the TV channels. That should come as no surprise; HBO Now is the future of HBO.
So what are we missing?
Better picture quality – let us enjoy the amazing HBO series in amazing picture quality
Support for more devices – game consoles, Smart TV, Android TV, Chromecast etc.
Game of Thrones season 5 :)
HBO Now is more expensive than Netflix but it is everything we had hoped for. $15 dollars per month is still a fair price for some of the best TV series ever made. The best part is that there are no long-term commitments. You can basically sign up now, watch everything, leave, and return when there is fresh content – if you want.
Right now you need an Apple device but that will change soon and when it does HBO Now will be a strong competitor to Netflix. And many people will probably just decide to subscribe to both services. The first month on HBO Now is free so go ahead and sign up now! This could be big.