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HBO Max: 5 things to know about how the new streaming service works

Check out big features and tricks we've found, including parental controls, managing devices and downloads.

HBO Max works on multiple devices.
Sarah Tew/CNET

HBO Max, HBO's hot new streaming service, launched in May with 10,000 hours of content. For $14.99 a month, subscribers can find almost every Studio Ghibli film, the Harry Potter movies, classics like Casablanca, all 10 seasons of Friends (and a promised reunion episode) and cult favorites such as Rick and Morty -- along with all the HBO movies and series you know and love. Though HBO Max's price tag is the same as HBO and HBO Now through most pay-TV subscribers, it's on the steep end when compared to the basic plans from Netflix ($8.99 a month) and Hulu ($5.99 a month).

Despite its sprawling catalog, CNET's review of HBO Max shows it still comes up short, with no app on Roku or Amazon TV. The service doesn't have 4K HDR capability, and you can't import your watch history or personalized recommendations. HBO Max is still in its infancy, so there's time for those shortcomings to turn around. 

If you've subscribed to HBO Max, here are a few tips and tricks that we've found so far to help you get the most out of the streaming service.


HBO Max has almost the full catalog of Studio Ghibli animated movies, streaming in the US for the first time. 

Studio Ghibli/GKids

1. Add on HBO Max to your Hulu plan

If you want to subscribe to HBO Max or even just try the seven-day free trial, you can do that as an add-on to your Hulu plan. It won't lower your price, so you'll still be paying for your Hulu subscription and the HBO Max subscription, but you can watch both in one place, along with any other add-ons you've got on Hulu. 


HBO Max has a fairly intuitive user interface.

Sarah Tew/CNET

2. Navigate like a pro

I explored HBO Max on a Mac web browser, and the interface was fairly intuitive if you're used to streaming services. A few titles are in a scrolling marquee across the top signifying new episodes, exclusives and movie collections on the service. 

If you hover over a title, you can click Explore (which takes you to the show or movie page for a synopsis, list of seasons and episodes) or Add (which will add the title to your watch list). After you start adding titles, My List will populate, and after you start watching, Continue Watching will appear. You can also clear your Continue Watching section so no one knows how long it's been since you've seen the light of day after you binged all the Harry Potter movies. Or, set up your own profile to keep your streaming list separate from others who you share an account with (or mooch one from).

I liked that HBO Max has a Just Added, Last Chance and Coming Soon section in the sidebar so there's minimal work on the user's part to find out how long you have to watch (or wait to watch) something. For even less scrolling, the service sorts films into collections like Studio Ghibli, DC, Turner Classic Movie and Looney Tunes. 


Nothing like a classic movie.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Also, if you don't mind more emails, you can set up notifications for show and movie recommendations, updates and special offers by clicking your profile icon, clicking Notifications and checking the Yes, send me updates box. 

3. Prevent moochers by managing devices

HBO Max offers a way to keep track of the devices that have signed into your account. This is helpful if you think someone might be using your account without your permission. Click your profile icon and choose Manage Devices. From there, you'll be able to see all devices that are signed into your account and have the ability to sign them out individually and en masse. When I signed in on my phone and then chose to sign out of it on a desktop browser, HBO Max said it might take up to four hours to do so. 

Right now, you can't use HBO Max on Roku or Amazon Fire devices, but the app is available on a wide selection of other devices. It's available on Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Mac and Apple TV), Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices like Vizio TVs, the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and recent Samsung Smart TVs. 


You can also search for movies by collection.

Sarah Tew/CNET

4. Download content on mobile 

HBO Max has the option to download movies and shows to your mobile device so you can watch offline. After you've downloaded the HBO Max app on your device -- I tested this on a Google Pixel 3 -- just scroll through and pick out what you want to watch later. When I tapped Pokemon Detective Pikachu, I saw the option to Preview (watch the trailer), Add to My List and Download

If you're watching a TV series, you can scroll through to find a specific episode that you want to download. After it finishes, you can find the episode or movie under Downloads on your profile. So far, HBO Max only lets you download each episode individually, but if you tap on multiple episodes, they'll queue up and download as the last one finishes. 

5. Set parental controls

Despite HBO's reputation as a home of many adult shows, HBO Max has a ton of content for kids as well. But you'll still probably want to make sure that your young ones can't access the service's more mature titles. Luckily, HBO Max offers stronger parental control options than many other services, including Disney Plus.

If you're on your profile, choose the profile icon and select Switch Profiles. From there you can choose Add Kid on the Who's Watching screen. (You can have up to five user profiles and three simultaneous streams going at once.)


HBO Max will recommend content based on your child's age range.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Enter your child's name and birthday, choose a color and select Next. You can select content ratings that you're OK with your child watching, as well as what ratings they can't watch -- down to G, PG, PG-13, R and NC-17 for movies and TV-Y, TV-Y7, TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-MA for television shows. HBO Max will suggest a few default ratings based on the birthday you entered. You'll also be able to set a PIN to prevent your child from switching to another profile. Click Save when you're finished customizing.

For more, check out how HBO Max compares to Netflix, and find out whether or not you can get a free upgrade to HBO Max

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