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HBO Max: Dune is streaming 'free' now -- and everything else to know

Dune is the latest big movie streaming on HBO Max at the same time it's in theaters. Here's what to know about it, other movies, shows, prices and everything else.

HBO Max logo on a phone
Angela Lang/CNET

HBO Max is the premium network's subscription streaming service that bundles together all the movies and shows on regular HBO with an extra streaming-only library of more shows, movies and originals. One of HBO Max's biggest draws during the pandemic has been new theatrically released movies streaming at no extra charge at the same time they hit theaters -- and the latest one, Dune, just landed on Max on Thursday.

It joins The Many Saints of Newark, a film prequel to mobster series The Sopranos, as the latest same-day movies available to stream. The Matrix 4 is set to arrive on the service before year's end. 

But keep in mind, HBO Max killed off its weeklong free trial. And if you want to watch the same-day movies, you need to be on HBO Max's pricer tier. 

Here's all the details to know.

Can all subscribers stream Dune on HBO Max? 

No. To stream Dune, like all the same-day releases of theatrical movies on HBO Max, you must be subscribed to the service's ad-free, premium tier. This tier costs $15 a month if you subscribe directly to the app, and it's also the level of the service included at no extra cost for most people who pay for regular HBO through a traditional TV provider. See sections below for full details on HBO Max's tiers, prices and other deals. 

Note that the same-day movies, like Dune, are available only for HBO Max's ad-free subscribers in the US. Though HBO Max as a service has rolled out in other areas of the world, the same-day movies are still limited to US-based members. 

How long will Dune be available on HBO Max? 

Dune will be available to stream on the service through Nov. 21. Typically, these same-day movies are removed from the service at 11:59 p.m. PT on the last day of availability.

What same-day movies are streaming on Max now, or set to arrive soon? 

Warner Bros.' 2021 movies are set to hit theaters and HBO Max on the following release dates: 

All these titles will be available on HBO Max in the US the same day they hit US theaters. 

Generally, most other new Warner Bros. movies become available to stream on Max at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on the day of their release. But the arrival timing for movies like Dune has varied, depending on when the first cinematic screenings take place at theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, became available at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET on Dec. 25 because that was the earliest theaters were open that day. Dune was in the same boat, arriving on the service at an atypical time on Thursday afternoon. 

All Warner Bros. movies released in this "hybrid" model on HBO Max will be available to watch in 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR image quality, even though those formats aren't yet standard for the full Max library.

These movies are available to stream on HBO Max for 31 days. Typically, they are removed from the service at 11:59 p.m. PT on the last day of availability.

But these Warner Bros. movies also return to HBO Max relatively quickly, usually about five months after their original premieres in theaters and on Max. Several movies have already come, gone and returned, including Mortal Kombat and Godzilla vs. Kong. 

But 2021 is planned to be the only year for this phenomenon of streaming new big-screen movies on HBO Max as soon as they hit theaters. Warner Bros. has said that 10 movies produced by the studio will go directly to HBO Max in 2022, but big franchise movies will have 45 days in theaters exclusively without any streaming option during that time starting next year.

Does HBO Max have a free trial? 

Not anymore. HBO Max eliminated its standard one-week free trial in December. But it does occasionally offer promotions and bundling deals. (See the next section.)

How much does HBO Max cost?

HBO Max is $15 a month without advertising or $10 a month supported by ads. It doesn't have a free trial, but the company occasionally offers discounts if you prepay for an extended period of time. For example, before launch, people who preordered the service at HBOMax.com unlocked a discount deal that lowered the price to $13 a month for the first year. Some customers can also hunt out specialized free trials, sometimes linked to the purchase of a television or other tech product. 

AT&T, the parent company of both HBO Max and Warner Bros., is also offering a complicated matrix of promos for HBO Max for its own customers. Some AT&T customers get Max at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year free trial. Your best shot at figuring out whether you qualify is to check your account or the my AT&T app, but CNET also lists AT&T's qualification terms for its HBO Max promos

Compared with rival streaming services, HBO Max's ad-free $15-a-month pricing may feel steep. Disney Plus is $8 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5, though it keeps extending free trials for anyone who's bought a new Apple gadget. But HBO Max's price is close to Netflix's most popular plan, which is $14. 

How do I get HBO Max 'free' if I already have regular HBO? 

Some people who already have an existing subscription to HBO are able to unlock HBO Max at no extra cost, but not everyone. About 33,000 regular HBO subscribers in the US still aren't eligible for an HBO Max upgrade; it all depends on which company provides your regular HBO subscription.

But many HBO Max distributors unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for current HBO and legacy HBO Now customers, thanks to deals HBO Max struck with them. You qualify for the HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost if you already pay for HBO through the following: 

And there are many more. HBO also has a full listing with additional providers that offer the upgrade to Max. 

If you previously paid for an HBO streaming subscription through Roku (that is, through The Roku Channel), you need to cancel that subscription and then sign up for HBO Max itself to be able to access Max.  

What do I need to know about HBO Max with Ads? 

HBO Max with Ads is the less expensive, ad-supported version of HBO Max. It launched in the US in June. This $10-a-month subscription is a $5 discount monthly compared with ad-free Max; in exchange, you'll see commercials with some programming and other advertisements elsewhere eventually, like when you pause playback or on pages that curate collections of shows and movies. 

You can watch almost everything on HBO Max as an ad-supported subscriber, with one major exception: The cheaper tier doesn't have any of the new Warner Bros. movies that are streaming the same day they hit theaters. If you want to stream those films during the 31 days they're available on Max during their initial theatrical runs, you have to subscribe to the pricier, ad-free level.

However, Warner Bros. movies do end up on Max relatively quickly after they're done in theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, was back on Max in May, about five months after it first premiered. 

The cheaper tier allows you to watch everything else on the service. 

HBO Max has committed to keeping the amount of advertising low. The company says that its ad load -- or the amount of advertising you watch every hour -- will be under four minutes on average. Different kinds of programming will have different ad loads, so the amount you see may vary depending on what you watch. But HBO Max has said it is committed to keeping average ad load below four minutes so that it will be the lowest in the streaming industry, and it plans to monitor user behavior and engagement to make sure it keeps below that threshold. 

HBO originals -- that is, programs created for the traditional HBO networks -- won't have commercial interruptions during playback. They may have short promos for other HBO programming before they start, which is standard even for people who pay for ad-free HBO Max, but you won't see commercial breaks shoehorned into them. And it's possible that some of the nonconventional ad formats, like pause ads, could show up with HBO originals, too. But HBO Max isn't going to disrupt HBO originals with traditional ad breaks. 

However, HBO Max originals -- that is, programs created for the service HBO Max but not for the traditional network -- may indeed have advertising breaks inserted in the shows. That would include things like the Friends reunion special, The Flight Attendant and others. 

And licensed shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory, which were originally created with ad breaks, will have ads. But HBO Max may not insert advertising into every ad break, according to Julian Franco, vice president of product management at HBO Max, who helped lead the tier's product development. 

How can I watch HBO Max on my TV? What devices support Max?

Because HBO Max isn't a channel, you need to have an internet-connected TV in order to watch it on the biggest screen in your house. But HBO Max has apps for a variety of devices, both TVs and mobile gadgets.

  • Most Apple devices that can stream video support HBO Max -- iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD. However, customers with second- and third-generation Apple TV models will need to stream HBO Max content from their iPhone or iPad to their TV with AirPlay.
  • Google's Android operating system for phones and tablets has an app for Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices will support HBO Max too. 
  • Sony's PlayStation 4 systems can download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation Store. 
  • Microsoft's Xbox One gaming consoles have the HBO Max app via the Microsoft Store.
  • Select Samsung internet-connected smart TVs -- models from 2016 through 2020 -- can download and purchase HBO Max directly.
  • Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire tablets have support for HBO Max's app.
  • Roku devices support HBO Max for streaming and for signing up to the service as a new user.

How can I sign up for HBO Max? 

The simplest way to get HBO Max is to sign up for it directly at hbomax.com

On Apple devices, HBO Max has an iOS app for iPhone and iPad, which allows you to sign up and pay through an in-app purchase. Apple also integrates HBO Max into its own TV app, which allows you to congregate certain streaming channels to watch them in one place. 

Through Google, HBO Max has an app for Android phones and tablets in the Google Play store, and you'll be able to sign up inside the app with an in-app purchase. You'll also be able to stream HBO Max on Android TV, Chromebook and Google Chromecast. If you previously subscribed to HBO Now through Google Play, you're automatically able to log in to HBO Max at no additional charge, and you'll continue to be billed through Google. And YouTube TV, the streaming pay-TV service operated by Google's YouTube, will also carry HBO Max. 

Roku also allows people to sign up for HBO Max directly on its devices using its payment system, Roku Pay. And people with Samsung Smart TVs that support the HBO Max app can sign up directly there too. 

What other shows and movies can I watch?

Generally, HBO Max includes all the shows and movies on HBO, plus a selection of high-profile licensed content, like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick & Morty and South Park. It layers exclusive original programming on top of that. And all of Warner Bros. 2021 theatrical movies will be released on Max the same day as they hit cinemas, available to stream for 31 days at no extra cost.

Again, an easy way to see what's available without signing up is third-party catalog-search services like Reelgood

The simplest part of the catalog to understand is HBO itself. HBO Max includes everything on regular HBO, so that means all the theatrical movies that come and go from the channel; new episodes from all HBO series, like Euphoria and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; and the past seasons of those programs as well as the full HBO back catalog, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep and The Wire; plus all of HBO's original films, documentaries and specials. 

Movies are a crucial part of the catalog. And any movie that's available to watch on the traditional HBO network will also be available to stream on HBO Max. 

Beyond that, HBO Max has padded itself with more content than you'll find on regular HBO, for basically the same price. The service has been pouring billions of dollars into its budgets for original programming and into expensive deals to stream titles from DCStudio Ghibli and the Criterion Collection, as well as popular shows like FriendsSouth ParkThe Big Bang TheoryRick and MortyDoctor Who and new episodes of Adventure Time

The service's Max Originals also offer new, exclusive shows and movies. Some of the most popular Max originals so far: Justice League Snyder Cut, which was released in March; The Flight Attendant, a comedic thriller series starring Kaley Cuoco; Raised by Wolves, a sci-fi series from famed filmmaker Ridley Scott; and The Witches, a reboot of the classic Roald Dahl book and 1990 film, starring Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway. 

HBO Max also has podcasts in its library linked to its programming, along the lines of last year's podcast companion to the miniseries Chernobyl. Raised by Wolves, for example, has a podcast available now on Max and other podcasting platforms. Max will be adding original, exclusive podcasts later this year, like a scripted Batman podcast in the fall. 

What countries have HBO Max now? When does HBO Max launch internationally elsewhere?

HBO Max launched May 27, 2020, in the US. 

Friends

HBO Max brokered a reported $425 million deal for all episodes of '90s hit Friends, which exited Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launch.

NBC

HBO Max's first international expansion was into 39 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean in late June. Those territories include Anguilla, Antigua, Argentina, Aruba, B.V.I., Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Uruguay and Venezuela.

After that, HBO Max will launch in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Spain and Andorra on Tuesday, widening the streaming service into Europe. It'll move forward to Central Europe, Eastern Europe and Portugal in 2022. 

What product features does HBO Max have? 

In a long-anticipated feature for anyone who previously used HBO Go, HBO Max has downloads for its mobile apps. 

HBO Max allows you to stream to three different devices simultaneously. By comparison, Disney Plus allows four simultaneous streams, and Netflix allows between one and four depending on how much you pay each month. 

You can also create up to five profiles to keep recommendations separate for different members of the household, and it also has kid accounts that are unlocked by entering a PIN. These parental controls allow moms and dads to set the maturity levels of the programming each kids' profile can access, based on ratings like PG and TV-14. 

Another missing element: HBO Max doesn't offer 4K resolution nor high dynamic range image quality for most of its catalog. The exception is all the theatrical movies that Warner Bros. is releasing on HBO Max the same day as cinemas; all those films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.