HBO Max vs. Netflix: The Pros, Cons and How to Pick One
One of these services may be your go-to, but does one come out on top? We compare their features, catalogs and more.
Alison DeNisco RayomeManaging Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Kourtnee covers TV streaming services and home entertainment news and reviews at CNET. She previously worked as an entertainment reporter at Showbiz Cheat Sheet where she wrote about film, television, music, celebrities, and streaming platforms.
ExpertiseKourtnee is a longtime cord-cutter who's subscribed to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus, HBO Max, Crunchyroll, Sling, Spotify and more. As a real-life user of these services, she tracks the latest developments in streaming, the newest reCredentials
Though Kourtnee hasn't won any journalism awards yet, she's been a Netflix streaming subscriber since 2012 and knows the magic of its hidden codes.
HBO Max has become a premier destination to watch more than 13,000 hours of TV show and movies, and a worthy competitor in the streaming wars. Renowned hits like Euphoria, The Sopranos and Elmo found their streaming home here along with titles from Cartoon Network and DC. The platform continues to climb the ranks with its catalog of Warner Bros. fare, exclusive film releases and Max Originals like Our Flag Means Death. Not to mention the highly anticipated Games of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon, which will air on HBO and HBO Max. 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. But after a price hike, active testing of extra fees for password sharing and shocking news about losing subscribers for the first time, it may seem like Netflix is losing its crown. However, its content and interface still make it top dog. Stranger Things, Squid Game and The Umbrella Academy are just some of its many viral hits, and with 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.
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, Our Flag Means Death 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 Dune, Lego and DC movies, including The Batman and Joker, and even beloved anime titles from Studio Ghibli. And like Netflix, it has an assortment of kids' content to stream. To top it off, its user interface is sleek and easy to navigate.
Downsides? Unlike Netflix, new episodes will generally drop every week instead of being available all at once for easy binge watching. The service also experienced a wave of content cuts following the Warner Bros. Discovery merger. Batgirl, Gordita Chronicles and Raised by Wolves were among the casualties, with questions about the future of Max's scripted content lingering in the air. 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.
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 cheaper, ad-supported subscriptions in early 2023. However, Netflix created stiff competition for itself with HBO Max after its recent rate increases.
Euphoria, Game of Thrones, Our Flag Means Death, Sesame Street
Yes (for $15 plan)
Number of streams
1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium)
User and kids profiles
4K HDR available
Yes (on $20 plan)
Yes (for select titles)
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, Winning Time and The Gilded Age. And this summer, the buzzy House of the Dragon arrives on the platform. The new series -- along with Game of Thrones -- will be available to stream on the platform in 4K, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos in August.
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.
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 Warner 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, The Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things made highly successful returns with new seasons, and Heartstopper and The Tinder Swindler scored top ratings on the streamer. Bridgerton is just one of its pop culture mainstays that also dominated the conversation in recent months.
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 Games of Thrones, 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.
2021 saw HBO Max doing hybrid day-and-date theatrical releases for films such as Dune, King Richard and The Matrix Resurrections, but nowadays, new movies such as The Batman, Black Adam and Aquaman 2 come to the service approximately 45 days after their theatrical premieres. But on the bright side, they're no longer limited releases that only stay for a brief theatrical window.
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 always arrive live on the streamer.
About those monthly costs
When HBO Max first launched in 2020, its $15 price point was a full $6 more expensive than Netflix's most basic plan, and $2 more than Netflix's standard plan. But since then, the roles have reversed a bit: Netflix has steadily increased the cost of its basic and premium plans to $10 and $15.50, and HBO Max introduced a low-tier, ad-supported plan for $10.
That means in some respects, the two services are currently neck and neck. And while paying $10 for an ad-supported plan with HBO Max might not seem that glamorous, it does allow you to stream on up to three devices, as opposed to just one on Netflix's basic plan. However, Netflix's most basic plan also comes with the ability to download content, something HBO Max's ad-supported tier doesn't offer.
Summed up, with a range of Netflix subscriptions now surpassing the cost of HBO Max's most premium tier, price itself is no longer a factor that weighs in Netflix's favor nearly as much.
Tough to beat the king
There's a reason Netflix is the most popular subscription streaming service in the world. But Warner Bros. Discovery 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. 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.