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HBO Max vs. Netflix: How to Choose Between Two Great Services

With heavy catalogs and similar prices, HBO Max and Netflix vie for your attention and money. We weigh them both.

HBO Max has solidified its spot in the streaming wars as a destination to stream more than 13,000 hours of TV shows, films, and originals. Renowned hits like Euphoria and The Sopranos found their streaming home here along with Elmo and Friends. The platform continues to climb the ranks with its catalog of Warner Bros. fare, exclusive film releases and Max Originals like Peacemaker. As people weigh which streaming service is the best, it boils down to content, cost, and your viewing needs.

Disney Plus, Hulu, Paramount Plus and Peacock are all competitors to HBO Max, but its chief rival is Netflix. After its latest price hike and shocking news about losing subscribers, it may seem like Netflix could lose its crown. However, its content and interface still make it top dog. Squid Game is one of its many viral hits and with global studio productions back on track, there's no end in sight to its firehose of original shows.

But paying for both Max and 'Flix may be a stream too far. How are you supposed to choose? We break down Max itself in our full review, but if you want a direct comparison to Netflix, read on.

James Martin/CNET

HBO Max is the biggest Netflix competitor to launch since Disney Plus. It has everything on "standard" HBO, its own exclusives and originals such as Peacemaker, The Righteous Gemstones and The Flight Attendant, and a big back catalog of favorite shows -- including Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty and South Park. Additionally, its cache of Warner movies include The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Harry Potter franchises, Lego and DC movies, including Joker, and even beloved anime titles from Studio Ghibli. And like Netflix, it has an assortment of kids' content to stream.

Downsides? Unlike Netflix, new episodes will generally drop every week instead of being available all at once for easy binge watching. And HBO Max is expensive. There are two plans: $10 with ads and $15 for the ad-free version. Most subscribers will likely choose the $15 option, as the cheaper subscription does not include downloads for offline viewing or 4K streaming. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Netflix is the gold standard for streaming, the top TV and movie service in the world and our Editors' Choice at CNET. It includes a wide variety of familiar network shows but its real draw is the hundreds of original series, films, documentaries and specials -- more than any of its myriad competitors. Its huge library of commercial-free content remains easily accessible across different devices. Read our Netflix review for a detailed list of features.

Netflix offers three different pricing options at $10, $15.50 or $20, depending on which features you want. And recently, the streamer announced plans to introduce ad-supported price plans in the next year or so. However, Netflix created stiff competition for itself with HBO Max after its recent rate increases.

Quick comparison

Netflix HBO Max
Monthly price $10 for basic $10 with ads, $15 for ad-free
Top titles Squid Game, Stranger Things, Seinfeld, Ozark, Bridgerton Euphoria, Game of Thrones, Our Flag Means Death, Sesame Street
Mobile downloads Yes Yes (for $15 plan)
Number of streams 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 3
User and kids profiles Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes (on $20 plan) Yes (for select titles)
Devices All major platforms All major platforms

Netflix wins for new originals, but HBO's got game and quality

The first thing to know about HBO Max is that it has everything on HBO. That includes not only Game of Thrones but every newer show, including Euphoria, Barry, Winning Time and The Gilded Age. And this year, the buzzy House of the Dragon and The Time Traveler's Wife will also arrive on the platform.

Max also has exclusive originals that "normal" HBO subscribers won't be able to watch. One of its biggest award winners in 2021 was Hacks, a dramedy series starring Jean Smart, while series like The Flight Attendant, Minx and Julia are among its most popular. 

More than two dozen family-friendly Max originals sit on the platform, including a Tom and Jerry series, dog-centric reality shows, chef specials, and animated faves like Infinity Train. HBO Max also houses exclusive reality competitions like Legendary and Finding Magic Mike, documentaries, movies and a spinoff of the popular Cartoon Network show Adventure Time. Upcoming projects include a CoComelon drop, a Nicki Minaj docuseries and a drama featuring Elizabeth Olsen. 

Read more: HBO Max: The 28 Best TV Shows to Watch

HBO Max subscribers get all of HBO plus new original series and movies.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HBO Max is also taking advantage of successful limited series by housing them on the platform for binge-watching. The Flight Attendant and The White Lotus were originally released as one-and-done short orders for HBO. However, their popularity led WarnerMedia to greenlight second seasons. New seasons of Peacemaker and And Just Like That... are also in the pipeline, and you can stream all limited series episodes back-to-back on HBO Max.

Netflix's slate of originals, meanwhile, continues to churn. Mega-hits Squid Game, Money Heist Part 5 and Cobra Kai tallied more than 1.5 billion hours viewed at the end of 2021, according to the company (PDF). This year, Russian Doll, The Umbrella Academy and Grace and Frankie return with new seasons, and Heartstopper and The Tinder Swindler scored top ratings on the streamer. Bridgerton is just one of its pop culture mainstays, and in the vein of a summer blockbuster release, Stranger Things 4 arrives in May 2022.

In terms of back catalog, HBO Max wins for familiarity and big names: It leans heavily on shows like Friends, South Park and Doctor Who, as well as HBO favorites including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Sesame Street and The Sopranos. Its movie list is deeper than Netflix too, thanks to being part of the Warner Bros. family. You can stream titles such as Free Guy, Nightmare Alley, Dune and The Wizard of Oz, in addition to HBO's normal rotating slate of movies. 

While 2021 saw HBO Max doing hybrid day-and-date theatrical releases for films such as Dune, King Richard and The Matrix Resurrections, that is not the case in 2022. Previously, subscribers could watch the movies for free on the streamer, but they were only available for a limited time. Moving forward, HBO Max will receive new movies such as The Batman, Black Adam and Aquaman 2 approximately 45 days after their theatrical premieres. 

Netflix also has plenty of well-known TV shows and movies, but its strength is in its original programming and exclusives. Series such as The Witcher, Ozark, Lucifer and You continue to garner praise and devoted fan bases. In 2022, Knives Out 2, Pinocchio and The School for Good and Evil are among the exclusive movies landing on the platform. Unlike HBO Max where movies hit the theater first, Netflix original films arrive and live on the streamer -- forever.  

Henry Cavill holding a sword in The Witcher

Henry Cavill stars in The Witcher on Netflix.


Tough to beat the king

There's a reason Netflix is the most popular subscription streaming service in the world. But WarnerMedia is one of the biggest brands in media, period. The massive Max service comes closer than any other to matching the breadth and depth you get from a Netflix subscription, and its library is growing. Chances are you'll find plenty to watch on both services, however, and HBO Max is definitely worth the audition if you're curious. You also have the option of switching between the two if you feel the content has dried up or if your wallet needs a break.

Now's the time to try something new, particularly if you've watched everything good on Netflix already.

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