Best Prime Day 2021 deals Prime Day 2021 live deals Brave Search Child tax credit portal Bitcoin, Dogecoin, Ethereum crash NFL's Carl Nassib
Sarah Tew/CNET

HBO Max questions linger: When are these missing features coming, exactly?

HBO says HBO Go is going away, but without Roku and Fire TV deals, the move just raises more questions.

Listen
- 08:07
HBO Max
Sarah Tew/CNET

HBO Max is here and streaming to subscribers now, serving up episodes of Friends and The Big Bang Theory, movies from Joker to Casablanca to Howl's Moving Castle and tons of kid-friendly shows including a new Elmo series and Looney Toons. There's a lot we already know about the service, including the fact that it's still maturing and adding new features, shows and platforms at some point.

The main thing we don't know, however, is "when."

HBO's responses have been vague on timing for most of the biggest questions. Some could be resolved soon, while some depend on factors like coronavirus lockdowns that are out of HBO's control. And while the company addressed one of our original big post-launch questions last week by ending HBO Go and renaming HBO Now -- its two original streaming apps -- the move has raised another question: Can Roku and Fire TV owners who rely on HBO Go stream HBO at all? Here's what we don't know about the service right now. 

Now playing: Watch this: HBO Max: How to get it
4:24

1. When will we get apps for Roku and Fire TV?

The fact that a service as big as HBO Max launched without an app for Roku and Amazon Fire TV streamers and smart TVs was the biggest surprise of day one. And the fact that nearly three weeks later the companies still haven't reached a deal is another head-scratcher.

Roku and Amazon Fire TV streaming devices and smart TVs are incredibly popular, with a combined 70% of the streaming player market. Both platforms have apps for HBO Now and HBO Go (for now), and both have channel stores that offer subscriptions standard HBO programming. The latter fact likely remains a sticking point in negotiations, although Apple, which runs a similar channel store with its Apple TV app, was a launch-day partner.

Of all the major questions below I expect this one to be resolved first, giving all those Roku and Fire TV users a way to stream Max too. It basically comes down to money and negotiations, just like other TV carriage disputes, and everyone involved wants to make it happen. HBO inked a last-minute deal with Comcast, another huge customer base, so either of these deals could get done soon too. And the apps are ready to go immediately once that happens.

Read more: Best free TV streaming services: Roku, Sling TV, IMDb, Pluto TV, Tubi TV, Plex and more   

2. Will Roku and Fire TV users who rely on HBO Go lose access to HBO streaming on July 31?

On June 13 HBO announced that the HBO Go app would be disappearing by July 31. That app has been around for a decade, offering customers who subscribe to HBO via cable, satellite or a live TV streaming service a way to stream HBO shows on phones, computers, smart TVs and streaming devices. With the launch of HBO Max many of those subscribers have been upgraded to the new HBO Max app, so HBO is retiring Go.

And that's a potential problem for Roku and Fire TV users because they don't yet have an HBO Max app. Once HBO Go goes away, people who use HBO Go with a Roku or Fire TV won't have a simple app to stream HBO programming. To watch on TVs, these HBO pay-TV subscribers will need to watch HBO through their cable, satellite or other input, or through their pay-TV operator's own app, if one exists. 

HBO's announcement also said that the other legacy app, HBO Now, would be renamed "HBO." Nothing else about the app will change aside from the name. Millions of HBO Now subscribers have already been upgraded to HBO Max automatically, and the remainder (which includes Roku and Fire TV users who don't have a Max app) will stream HBO shows via the new HBO app.

When these changes take effect HBO will have just two apps: HBO and HBO Max. 

Read more: HBO Max vs. HBO Now vs. HBO Go: What's the difference? 

joker-14104r-high-res-jpeg-promo

You can rent Joker in 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos on Apple and Vudu, but not on HBO Max.

Niko Tavernise

3. When is 4K HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support coming?

Other streaming services such as NetflixDisney Plus and Amazon Prime support all those high-quality audio and video formats, but they're absent from HBO Max. This one doesn't depend on negotiations with another company. HBO has plenty of content in 4K HDR already, including Game of Thrones and lots of Warner movies like Joker. You just can't watch them on HBO Max.

Executives at HBO Max acknowledge it's a shortfall. 4K HDR is "a super-high priority," said Andy Forssell, the product chief of HBO Max, in an interview on the day it launched. He said the decision was a matter of prioritizing certain features over others during the development process. "Just know it's a tough calculus. In the end we've got to make the right calls, and I think we made the right calls for launch." 

Read: RuPaul's Drag Race star D.J. 'Shangela' Pierce opens up about her HBO show We're Here

A spokeswoman for HBO Max told CNET that "4K HDR, Dolby Vision, HDR10 Plus and Dolby Atmos are on our roadmap," but neither she nor Forssell would specify when those advanced audio and video formats would be available.

Read more: No 4K HDR streaming for HBO Max. Here's why that should matter to you

016-hbo-max-profiles-parental-controls-and-carousel

You can watch old Friends on Max now, but there's no firm date on the reunion special.

Sarah Tew/CNET

4. How long until HBO Max breaks down and just shoots its Friends reunion as a Zoom call?

When HBO Max was originally announced, the marquee original at launch was supposed to be the Friends reunion. Then came the novel coronavirus. In early March HBO announced that the reunion has been delayed. 

Bob Greenblatt, an executive at AT&T's WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, said the reunion could be filmed by the end of the summer. However he left open the possibility of doing it virtually "if it is delayed too long." Yes the country is beginning to reopen now but other ensembles, including Saturday Night Live, have made do with putting a bunch of people on a video chat instead of getting them together in person.

Justice League Snyder Cut

Among the many big DC projects slated for Max, Snyder Cut is one of the few with a (rough) ETA.

Warner Bros./HBO Max

5. Has coronavirus delayed Green Lantern, the various J.J. Abrams projects and other big originals?

Beyond that Friends reunion, HBO Max has plans for an impressive list of original series. The company spokeswoman told CNET that its early plans are "mostly unaffected by COVID-19" but that "some projects that were in production have been suspended and may debut later than expected." 

The service has announced timing on new originals through the summer. They include Adventure Time: Distant Lands-BMO, the first of four specials resurrecting Cartoon Network's franchise Adventure Time (coming June 25), and American Pickle, the Seth Rogen comedy that is HBO Max's first original film, about a 1920s immigrant who gets preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (coming Aug. 6). The highly anticipated Snyder Cut of the movie Justice League will be coming to Max sometime in 2021. 

Beyond that, however, HBO didn't provide any specific dates. Other big projects that could be delayed include Green Lantern, a secretive series that producer Greg Berlanti, "promises to be our biggest DC show ever made" and a handful of projects by hitmaker J.J. Abrams, including a TV show based on Justice League Dark, a 1970s crime show called Duster and a thriller based on Stephen King's The Shining and set in the Overlook Hotel.

6. How much will the ad-supported version coming in 2021 cost? How will it differ from the current version?

HBO Max is currently ad-free, just like HBO's channel, Netflix and Disney Plus. But HBO also plans a version with ads that will be available "within a year of launch." No other details have been revealed.

The idea of an ad-supported HBO Max is to appeal to people who aren't willing to pony up HBO's current $15 monthly fee. A cheaper HBO Max would compete with other ad-supported services, which include HuluNBC's Peacock and many others.

HBO Max

It's easy to imagine a free version of Max without some of the big-budget titles from HBO and DC.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The biggest questions about ad-free Max (MiniMax, perhaps?) are how much it will cost and how much it cuts out. It might be tempting to look at Hulu for a guess -- its no-ads version is twice as much as the basic ad-supported service -- but it all depends on how Mini the service ends up being. 

If it's basically "everything on HBO Max, but with ads" it could be on the expensive side, say $10 a month. But if it's missing large chunks of HBO Max programming too -- for example those big-name originals or even new HBO shows -- it could be a lot cheaper or even free. 

Over the coming weeks and years we'll learn answers to a lot of these questions and more will arise. In the meantime, leave a comment and tell us your burning questions about HBO Max.