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Like it or not, another subscription streaming service has entered the chat.

This one—HBO Max—debuts across the United States on Wednesday, and it comes from the combined AT&T-Time Warner media empire. After taking shape in 2018, the new "WarnerMedia" cluster of film and TV content has since put together a streaming library of exclusive content—particularly by yoinking content away from Netflix and other partners, in apparent defiance of AT&T's antitrust pledge to US Congress.

WarnerMedia didn't make the service available to Ars Technica ahead of the launch, so I jumped into the fray by claiming a free seven-day trial on launch day and picked through its first day's content and interface. I did so to answer the following question: has WarnerMedia pulled off a service worthy of a $15/month fee?

Not necessarily.

Theyre still running three services simultaneously

The easiest sales pitch is for anyone who already happily paid $15/mo for HBO Now as a standalone service. HBO Max kinda-sorta replaces HBO Now, because the former has all the same content as the latter. Pay the same, get more. If you thought HBO Now's selection of HBO-specific series and films was worth its high price, you're the luckiest potential user. And if you were using HBO Now on Android or iOS, its app has simply turned into HBO Max. Easy peasy.

That makes us wonder: why does HBO Now still exist? One reason is that existing set-top boxes and services support paid subscriptions to HBO Now, sometimes as a bundled package. Another reason is that some set-top boxes, particularly every single Roku and Amazon Fire TV device, currently work with HBO Now, but do not work with HBO Max.

Confusing things further, HBO Go also still exists, but this is a holdover attachment to cable-TV subscriptions that offer HBO Go as a perk. WarnerMedia had to produce the following video to try and explain things, and the result is unintentionally hilarious:

HBO Max vs. HBO Now vs. HBO Go… yes, WarnerMedia officially made this video.

And the question of whether you might get HBO Max for free with your existing cable or streaming services remains a bewildering mess. HBO Now continues to direct users to the older apps, in spite of HBO Max being advertised as an included option from providers like Charter, Verizon, Cox, and (unsurprisingly) AT&T and its subsidiaries.

There's also the matter of WarnerMedia's last-minute announcement of a lower-priced, ad-supported tier for the service. But how much will it cost, and when will it arrive? The industry giant isn't saying yet beyond a vague "2021" window.

Not quite the theme park wed hoped for

  • The opening splash screen.
  • Sidebar.
  • More sidebar.
  • On its first day of operation, HBO Max already has a "last chance" page of expiring content.
  • The opening page for any series has a massive sample screen.
  • You have to scroll quite a ways to pick through more episodes, though at least the season-skipping interface is nimble enough.
  • When watching videos on a desktop web browser, the interface largely resembles HBO Now, complete with the "rewind 15 seconds" button. You won't find that convenient toggle on every platform, however.

Once you actually get into the service, HBO Max looks like it germinated from a different era, when the streaming universe hadn't fractured into a zillion pieces. Its landing page looks as simple as "Netflix, but with our exclusives."

Comparatively, Disney+ showed up late last year with smart ideas about how to crash the streaming-subscription party. The most brilliant is its first-impression divide into five major categories: Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Opening Disney+ feels like walking up to a theme park, seeing five enticing gates, and knowing they'll each have a ton of content behind them. (Of all the companies to get that right, this one makes sense.)

HBO Max can't make up its mind about whether to hew to that archetype or to the massive-dump-of-content standard seen on the past decade of most other streaming services. The top of the interface is an unsurprising scroll of "featured" content, and this sees HBO Max puffing its chest about major exclusives: the '90s NBC series Friends (duh, it's still one of the world's most popular TV series), some HBO Max exclusives, and some HBO-produced series. Below those are some "featured" scrolls of TV series and films, arguably based on popularity, then a clever "every Harry Potter film in order" block—again, a hugely popular streaming exclusive, so that's good for HBO Max to highlight.

You'll need to tap your remote six times (or more if you've built any "previously watched" and "my watchlist" libraries) to scroll down and reach the "HBO Max hubs." These massive buttons resemble Disney+'s intro splash, and they do a better job attaching a personality to the service… but not by the same margin. Small buttons are assigned to DC (as in, DC Comics), Sesame Workshop, Turner Classic Movies, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, and Looney Tunes. "HBO" gets a stupidly oversized button.

Hub hopping

  • HBO Max's hubs. HBO
  • The 25 series in the Cartoon Network hub, as of launch. HBO
  • The 9 series in the Adult Swim hub, as of launch. HBO
  • A visit to the Sesame Street hub reveals a peculiar organizational issue: categories that link to entire episodes. Those "spoofs and parodies" are tucked into longer episodes, and HBO Max doesn't use timestamps to let watchers skip directly to the relevant bits. It's an unwieldy attempt to guide viewers. HBO
  • I created a "child" account to see what the interface looks like for kids under 13. It's harder for them to find "hubs," and they are instead shoved into age-gated clumps of content. HBO

Clicking on HBO takes you to a less polished, less neatly organized version of HBO Now. Pick the "series" tab, and it's an alphabetical dump of a most every HBO series with zero additional narrowing. If you're in the mood for "every HBO comedy series," you're out of luck; you'll have to pick through every drama and thriller on your way to find beloved comedic fare like Mr. Show and Silicon Valley, let alone to figure out which series count in which category. Curiously, stand-up comedy gets a dedicated tab within the HBO-specific interface, yet the "series" tab also includes a bunch of separate stand-up comedy.

The only genre-specific tabs generate a massive list of content from every hub. The overlap between bright-and-cheery Cartoon Network content and HBO's darkest comedies feels less than ideal. (If you're wondering, you can easily set parental controls to make sure Adventure Time isn't a few clicks away from Barry.)

Some of the other hubs lead to clearly incomplete collectionRead More – Source

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