HBO is one of the most important original content creators in the world — on par with top movie studios and Netflix. Many people can’t live without it. In the past, some people could only get HBO via cable. But that just isn’t necessary anymore. Read on to learn all your options.
In a hurry? If you are focused on HBO and don’t care to dive into the weeds of your streaming options, these will give you everything you need:
- HBO Max: Go right to the source and get it add free for $14.99/mo or $9.99/mo with adds.
- Hulu + Live TV: Provides a $14.99/mo add-on to its industry-leading live TV package. Try it free for a week!
- DIRECTV STREAM: Get HBO Max for $14.99/mo extra are go up to its Premier Plan for $139.99/mo that includes 19 channels from HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz!
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From its launch November 8, 1972 in Allentown, Pennsylvania to its first Academy Award in 1987 (Down and Out in America, “Best Documentary Feature”) to its first one-hour dramatic narrative series, Oz, in 1997, to its current status as the undisputed king of television storytelling (137 nominations in 2019, the most for a single TV network in a single year), HBO has always been synonymous with amazing-quality entertainment.
HBO is the oldest and longest continuously-operated TV subscription service in the US. Beginning with a slate of theatrically released movies punctuated by the occasional special, it would become the model for “premium channels” to follow — commercial-free, uncut, unmodified programming that generated revenue from monthly subscription fees.
But you don’t need to pay those fees to a cable company. Read on to find out how to get premium entertainment without premium contract lengths and fees.
HBO Offerings and Other Premium Channels
HBO’s current lineup combines blockbuster movies with its award-winning original fictional series and documentaries. They also air some comedy specials, concerts, and making-of-featurettes.
HBO and its WarnerMedia sister-network Cinemax pioneered the concept of “multiplexing,” or splitting a digital TV signal into multiple channels, so HBO actually consists of the East and West feeds, a total of 7 channels:
- HBO 2 (mostly the same as HBO)
- HBO Comedy
- HBO Family
- HBO Latino
- HBO Signature (aimed at a female audience)
- HBO Zone (aimed at 18 to 45-year-olds).
Similarly, Cinemax consists of 8 total channels, including ActionMax and MovieMax. Other premium channels for film fans are Starz and Showtime, while AMC and FX are giving the premium channels some heavy competition on superb original series.
HBO was the first TV channel to transmit by satellite, but you can’t pick it up with just an antenna. When it first came out, anyone with a TV satellite dish could pick it up, until 1984, when HBO and Cinemax both became the first networks to encrypt their signal to prevent pirating.
But instead of subscribing to a cable or satellite company, you can get HBO through an Internet streaming service that can provide the same channels but at a fraction of the cost, with no hidden fees or contracts. Read on to find out which services offer HBO.
HBO vs HBO Go vs HBO Now vs HBO Max
HBO has had several streaming services over the years, and unfortunately, they all have similar-sounding names that can be difficult to keep straight. Adding to the confusion, HBO Max is mostly an on-demand service. But depending on the agreement can give you access to the live channels on those services.
And if that weren’t enough, “max” is kind of Cinemax’s thing (ActionMax, MovieMax, etc), so HBO Max sounds kind of like a combination of the two.
On the bright side, you can delete HBO Go and HBO Now from your brain. HBO Go was HBO’s on-demand streaming app for people who already had HBO subscriptions through their cable provider. HBO Now was their streaming app for everyone else. You can’t sign up for either one anymore because they were replaced by HBO Max.
Basically, HBO took everything HBO, everything original from Cinemax (so Cinemax is back to just movies), a heaping dose of parent WarnerMedia’s movies and shows, and added some exclusive HBO Max-only shows, specials, and movies for seasoning. Then they put it all together in a $14.99 package and made it available to everyone.
Whether you have a cable subscription, a stand-alone Max subscription direct from HBO, or you have your HBO Max account through Roku, Hulu, Amazon, or your Xbox, the HBO Max app will still have all the same movies and shows on demand whenever you want.
So where does that leave the original HBO channel? It’s still there, along with its multiplexed siblings, available from virtually all traditional cable companies, and now, through the techno-wizardry of internet live-streaming services, you can also watch the same channels through Hulu, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
Bottom line: if you want to go radical and toss your TV schedule out the window along with your cable bill and just stream whatever you want whenever you want, all you need is HBO Max.
If you’re intrigued but don’t quite want to take that plunge yet, get Hulu + Live TV or DIRECTV STREAM; then you can watch on-demand on the HBO Max app or watch traditional linear HBO through the Hulu Live TV or DIRECTV STREAM app.
Streaming Services with HBO
Of the seven major streaming services, only three of the biggest carry HBO as a live TV station, and even they do so in conjunction with HBO’s on-demand streaming service, HBO Max.
Hulu + Live TV
Hulu has an amazing on-demand streaming library, which it offers at a very modest monthly fee. You can add HBO Max to any Hulu plan and get all seven linear HBO channels. So you can get it for as little as $6.99 (Hulu’s starting cost) + $14.99 (for HBO Max) per month.
You can also get just HBO with their HBO Classic add-on, but then you won’t get access to any exclusive HBO Max content, like Hacks or The Flight Attendant. You can also get Cinemax, separately: all eight channels for $9.99 more per month. Hulu also has the best FX library around.
If you want a cable-replacement service, though, Hulu can be that too, with their Live TV plan ($64.99/mo with a 7-day free trial). This provides you with over 85 live channels (including all your local networks), plus 50 hours of cloud DVD storage in addition to allowing you to watch on two different devices at a time.
You can’t stream AMC live, but the on-demand library currently streams 8 shows, including Fear the Walking Dead. Starz and Showtime also both have add-on premium packages for Hulu, containing several channels each.
See our Hulu + Live TV review for more information.
DIRECTV STREAM (formerly AT&T TV) has a scaled-down version of Hulu’s premium add-ons. HBO Max is available as a $14.99 per month add-on to their basic Entertainment package, which is $69.99/mo.
Like Hulu, HBO Max with DIRECTV STREAM gives you access to live channels too, though Stream only offers HBO, HBO2, HBO Family, and HBO Latino. If you decide to go with the Choice or Ultimate packages, it’s still an add-on, but you get the first 3 months free.
If you go for the deluxe all-in Premier package for $139.99/mo, all the premiums — the HBO channels listed above, Cinemax, ActionMax, Showtime, Showtime 2, Showtime Extreme, and over a half-dozen Starz channels — are all included.
For more information, see our DIRECTV STREAM review.
Other Ways to Stream HBO
As indicated above, there are other ways to stream HBO:
- YouTube TV: Their HBO package is the same as Hulu’s. You can get HBO Classic for HBO by itself, or HBO Max for all of HBO Max plus all seven multiplexed HBO linear channels.
- HBO Max: HBO Max is available as a stand-alone service directly from HBO, or through most standard streaming platforms (like Amazon Prime Video or Roku). You can only get the live channels, though, through Hulu (with or without Live TV), DIRECTV STREAM, and YouTube TV.
Streaming Devices to Watch HBO
You need a TV or other streaming device to watch HBO. Luckily, the streaming services provide good support for the devices that people currently use.
Hulu + Live TV and DIRECTV STREAM both support the following devices:
- Amazon Fire TV
- Android mobile devices
- Apple TV
- Google Chromecast
- iOS devices
- Samsung Smart TVs (various models)
- Web browsers.
You can use HDMI “stick” devices or simply cast if your TV isn’t directly supported.
Hulu + Live TV supports a number of other devices: Android TV compatible devices, Fire tablets, LG and Vizio smart TVs, and Xfinity X1 TV boxes. They also support the gaming systems Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch.
DIRECTV STREAM also has its own streaming device, which costs $120 or $5/mo for 24 months. It may make the transition from cable easier.
So whether you want to check out the new limited series Scenes from a Marriage or you need to know what happens next on Succession, you don’t need cable to experience HBO.
Just sign up for one of the services listed in this article, and leave your cable-bill drama in the past.
What kind of shows can I watch on HBO?
HBO has something for everyone: movies, series, documentaries, news commentaries, talk shows. No joke, the Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo (HBO Max exclusive) is a talk show about bedtime routines for kids. From the Wild West to the exclusion zone around Pripyat, Ukraine to 123 Sesame Street to King’s Landing to polygamists in Sandy, Utah, it would be tough for someone to not find a single show on HBO they enjoy.
A shortlist of some top shows, spanning 1999 to 2021:
- Big Love
- Boardwalk Empire
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- Game of Thrones
- I May Destroy You
- The Larry Sanders Show
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
- The Leftovers
- Real Time with Bill Maher
- Sex and the City
- Silicon Valley
- Six Feet Under
- The Sopranos
- True Blood
- The Wire.
Does Sling TV carry HBO?
Sling TV does not currently offer HBO. WarnerMedia, HBO’s parent company, and Dish Network, Sling’s parent company, got into a carriage dispute a few years back. But stay tuned, because Dish Network and WarnerMedia recently hugged it out, corporately speaking, and now Dish Network has HBO. No word on when (or if) Sling TV might start carrying HBO, but a future deal is certainly possible.
What is the cheapest way to get HBO?
The cheapest way to get HBO content is to sign up for HBO Max. Plans directly from HBO start at $9.99/mo (with commercials). But if you want to watch HBO as a channel like back in the good ol’ days, the cheapest way would be to sign up for Hulu’s basic package ($6.99/mo) and get HBO Max through it.
That gives you access to all seven multiplexed channels, and all the HBO stuff on demand (what do you mean, you’ve never seen The Wire?), and all the HBO Max-exclusive content, plus Hulu’s day-after-it-airs-you-can-stream-it library of tons of shows, all for about $22.
What happened to boxing on HBO?
HBO used to be a big player in the boxing world but that just isn’t true anymore. This is due to too much competition from dedicated sports channels and their streaming services combined with issues with promoters, declining ratings and interest, and new parent company AT&T being of the opinion that HBO is “not a sports channel.”
HBO aired their last boxing matches in 2018, and then, after 45 years of boxing and other live sports events, ended their live sports coverage. They still have a sports department, which now focuses on documentaries and magazine-style shows like Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.
How can I watch other entertainment channels besides HBO?
If you are looking for information on how to watch another channel without cable, check out the articles below.