HBO's standalone service arrives on Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick (hands-on)

The HBO Now streaming app, which allows subscribers to watch all of HBO's movies and TV shows over the Internet without requiring a cable subscription, debuted first on Apple TV. We give it a spin on Amazon's Fire TV.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
3 min read

David Katzmaier/CNET

Slowly but surely, like the creeping realization that Season 2 of "True Detective" just wasn't that good, HBO Now is making its way to more devices.

Today the app appeared for download on Amazon's $39 Fire TV Stick and $99 Fire TV box . They're the second family of dedicated living room devices, after the Apple TV, to get a native HBO Now app.

HBO Now delivers all of HBO's programming, including original series and new shows at the same time they air on television. Instead of a TV channel, the service consists of an app that streams the videos over the Internet on-demand, similar to Netflix. After a free 30-day trial, HBO Now requires a $14.99/month subscription fee for access. Unlike the HBO Go streaming service, HBO Now does not require a cable subscription.

In addition to Amazon's Fire TV and Fire tablets, HBO Now is also available on iPhones and iPads, as well as Android phones and tablets. It also works with Google's Chromecast and the 'cast function of Android TV devices like the Nexus Player .

On the other hand, the HBO Now app is still not available on Roku, CNET's favorite streaming devices. That's unusual because Roku boxes and TVs are usually among the first streaming devices to receive new apps.

When asked for information about when it may launch, Roku's representative told CNET: "I don't have any more details to share, however, you may have seen that a HBO spokesperson recently said 'I don't have specific details to share about Roku timing, but our goal has always been to make HBO Now have parity with HBO Go in terms of devices supported.'" For that reason, we expect it to come to Roku soon too.

The HBO Now app on the Fire TV (left) compared to the Apple TV (right) David Katzmaier/CNET

Hands-on with HBO Now

I gave the app a quick spin in CNET's lab and it was mostly a fine experience. I prefer the look and feel of the app on Fire TV, with its full-screen images and slicker menu structure. The Apple TV version, with its staid rows of thumbnails, seems dated in comparison. Maybe the new Apple TV , expected to be announced next month, will get an updated version of the app.

As usual with Fire TV, using the voice search function booted me out of the app and into Amazon's search interface, and the results screen prioritized Amazon's own content. The result for "True Detective" led first to Amazon's own pay-per-view options for Season 1 (at $3.99 per episode or $30 for the season). There was no indication that I could watch the series, including Seasons 1 and 2, "for free" as part of my HBO Now subscription.

I clicked "more ways to watch" and eventually found a link to HBO Go, but HBO Now was a no-show. Perhaps it will be added later -- although results from Netflix, after more than a year of waiting, are still omitted from Amazon's search.

Unlike on the Apple TV, the HBO Now app on Fire TV doesn't appear to support surround sound. A couple of titles I checked on Apple TV offered 5.1-channel audio, but on the Fire TV (via both HDMI and the optical output on the box) they were sent to my AV receiver in stereo only. Video quality between Apple and Amazon's devices was, as expected, basically identical.

In my quick tests the app also appears to be pretty lenient about the number of simultaneous streams allowed. I was able to get six devices streaming different HBO programs at once from my single subscription; I gave up after that. HBO does say "the number of videos you can watch simultaneously across all your devices is limited for security reasons," but I guess that number is something higher than six.