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HBO Max vs. HBO Now vs. HBO Go: What are the differences and how do you upgrade?

HBO Max gives HBO subscribers a third streaming app, but Now and Go are still around for lots of subscribers. Let's sort it all out.

Friends

HBO Max has reruns of Friends and lots of other stuff you can't watch on HBO Now or HBO Go.

Warner Bros./HBO Max

If you're a fan of Game of Thrones -- or Westworld, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, True Detective, Silicon Valley, The Sopranos, The Wire or Veep -- you've previously had two major ways to (legally) stream episodes. Confusingly, they have similar names: HBO Go and HBO Now. Now a new HBO app is available -- HBO Max -- but the other two aren't going away for millions of subscribers. Meanwhile, millions more saw their HBO Now apps disappear to be replaced by HBO Max at the end of May. With three different HBO apps for different users and devices, the situation is even more confusing than before. 

First off, HBO Max is a separate service from the HBO you know already, although it costs the same at $14.99 a month. Max is HBO parent company AT&T's answer to Netflix, Disney Plus and other combatants in the current streaming wars. AT&T has billed HBO Max as a sort of supercharged version of HBO, giving you everything that service offers as well as lots of other shows and movies you can't watch on HBO: Friends, The Big Bang Theory and Rick and Morty. There are also originals such as Love Life, starring Anna Kendrick, and tons of Warner Bros. movies as well as new, exclusive films, including Zack Snyder's director's cut of Justice League coming in 2021. 

Read more: HBO Max review: 10,000 hours of great TV and movies but still incomplete

So how else is it different from HBO Now and HBO Go, exactly? 

The short version

  • If you pay for HBO already via your cable, satellite or cord-cutter live TV subscription, you can use the HBO Go app to stream those shows on other devices like your phone, tablet or another TV.
  • If you don't pay for HBO already through an existing TV provider, you can use the HBO Now app for streaming. 
  • If you want to stream all of HBO plus all the new Max goodness, you need the HBO Max app which came out on May 27. 

The good news is that, for millions of current HBO subscribers, the upgrade to Max happened automatically. HBO Now users who pay via HBO Now, Google or Apple get an app update that transforms the HBO Now app into the HBO Max app. HBO Go users from a number of TV providers (including Verizon, Comcast, Altice, Charter, YouTube TV and AT&T's own TV services) are able to use the same username and password to log in to the new HBO Max app. 

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

If you're one of those millions of subscribers, you should be able to access Max without having to change anything with your HBO subscription.

Now playing: Watch this: HBO Max: How to get it
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Millions more HBO subscribers won't qualify for the upgrade, however. To see if your pay TV provider is upgrading you to HBO Max, or if you qualify for the automatic upgrade from HBO Now to HBO Max, check out our story breaking it all down

If you don't qualify for the upgrade and still want Max, our advice is to simply cancel your HBO subscription from wherever you're getting it now and subscribe to HBO Max directly.

Looking for more details? Here's the longer answer.

HBO Go: 'Free' with HBO from a provider

hbo-go
HBO

Launched in 2010, HBO Go is a separate free app that's designed for cable, satellite and live TV streaming service subscribers who already get HBO's channel(s) as part of a TV subscription. 

To use it you'll need to sign in to the app (or "authenticate") using the user name and password provided by your cable, satellite or live TV service. Access to the app is tied into your main TV subscription, so if your TV subscription doesn't include HBO, you can't use HBO Go.

On Friday, AT&T announced that now that most cable users can upgrade to HBO Max it would be getting rid of the HBO Go service. The app will be retired on July 31 while the HBO Go website will be shut down on Aug. 31. 

HBO Now: $15 per month

hbo-now
HBO

Launched in 2015 as a standalone subscription independent of your cable or live TV streaming service, HBO Now costs $14.99 per month, the same price as HBO Max. To watch, you can sign in to the HBO Now app or go to hbonow.com.

A subscription to HBO Now works just like Netflix, Hulu or any other pay TV streaming service. You'll use a dedicated username and password, there's a free trial and you can cancel anytime (no contract). For most, HBO Now has become HBO Max, with the big exceptions being those on Roku and Amazon Fire TV

As part of HBO Go going away, HBO announced that it will rebrand HBO Now as simply HBO. 

HBO Max: $15 per month

hbo-max-logo
Screenshot by Gonzalo Jiménez/CNET

HBO Max is the successor to HBO Now. Signing up is the same as it would be for HBO Now, with Max offering all the same content as HBO Now, plus that aforementioned catalog of hit shows, movies and originals that are exclusive to this new platform. 

A subscription to HBO Max works just like any other pay TV streaming service, with a dedicated log-in and password. You also can cancel anytime as there is no contract. 


Which devices have apps for HBO Max, HBO Now and HBO Go?

While nearly every platform has access to apps for both Now and Go, not every major device is confirmed to get an HBO Max app at launch. 

As of Friday, the Max app is still not available on Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two of the largest streaming TV platforms. Both have previously issued statements indicating that negotiations are ongoing.

Device support for HBO apps


HBO Now HBO Go HBO Max
Apple iOS iPhone and iPad Yes Yes Yes
Android phones and tablets Yes Yes Yes
Apple TV Yes Yes Yes
Roku Yes Yes No
Amazon Fire TV Yes Yes No
PlayStation 4 Yes Yes Yes
Xbox One Yes Yes Yes
Chromecast Yes Yes Yes
Android TV Yes Yes Yes
Computer browser Yes Yes Yes
Samsung smart TV Yes Yes Yes

Correction: Originally the chart above indicated that LG smart TVs have apps for HBO Go and HBO Now. That is not the case.