Disclosure: Your support helps keep our site running! We earn referral fees for some of the products & services we recommend. Learn more

HBO Max Explained: What It Is, Why It’s Different & How to Watch Online

Last Updated:

HBO fans don’t need to worry about cutting the cord thanks to HBO Max. It’s easy to get whether as a standalone service or as part of another service. Read on to learn your best options.

In a hurry? If you would prefer to have HBO Max integrated with a live TV streaming service, these are our favorites:

  • DIRECTV STREAM: Gives you at least 80 channels with many options for more. A 5-day free trial is now available for DIRECTV STREAM.
  • Hulu + Live TV: Provides the outstanding Hulu on-demand library along with 85+ channels. Try the Hulu Live free 3-day trial.

Get DIRECTV STREAM Free for 5 Days

HBO Max: you can barely change channels without seeing an ad for it. Or a service hyping its introductory free period when you subscribe to it. Or your more TV-savvy friends gushing about it.

What’s all the fuss? HBO’s been around since the seventies. OTT (over-the-top) streaming’s been going on since before 2010 (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, etc.). So they’ve combined. Big deal.

Yes, big deal! If you want entertaining, compelling, funny, moving, and thought-provoking things to watch on that TV, then you absolutely want HBO Max. And the good news is that it is really easy to get and you can subscribe for as little as $9.99/mo (if you’re cool with ads).

From your big-screen TV to your phone and everything in-between, pretty much all you need to watch HBO Max are an internet connection, a screen, and an HBO Max subscription. If you’re reading this, you have the first two, and you can get the third by going to HBO’s website right now.

But there are so many more ways, which we’ll discuss below. First, though, let’s go back to the entertaining, compelling things to watch.

About HBO Max

Since its launch in 1972, HBO has continually been a ground-breaker for television. It’s the original “premium channel” with several firsts:

  • Oldest and longest continuously-operated American TV subscription service
  • First TV channel transmitted by satellite
  • First pay TV service to win a Peabody Award
  • First to “multiplex” its channels
  • First American cable network to air an HD simulcast.

HBO was a pioneer in digital compression technology and has been innovating the way Americans watch TV for almost fifty years.


In 2015, HBO showed its ability to reliably roll with the times by launching HBO Now, a standalone streaming video-on-demand (SVOD) service. It already had a streaming app, HBO Go, but that was for people who already had a subscription to HBO from their TV provider.

Now was different — it didn’t require a cable or satellite subscription with HBO in order to access it. For the first time, you could directly order HBO from HBO and pay HBO, cutting out the insufferable cable middleman. It was one of the first cable channels to do so, and arguably the most successful.

Get DIRECTV STREAM Free for 5 Days

HBO Max Begins

HBO is owned by WarnerMedia, which also owns Warner Bros Studios, DC Films, Castle Rock Entertainment, New Line Cinema, plus all the Turner channels (TNT, TBS, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, and Adult Swim), The CW, and Cinemax. In 2020, new corporate overlords AT&T wanted to get all that sweet, sweet Warner content on their own SVOD platform instead of licensing it to Netflix.

So they combined all the Warner content together with all the HBO and Cinemax content.

This included theatrically released movies and original movies (eg, Deadwood: The Movie), specials, and series and documentaries. They sprinkled it generously with original productions you could only watch on HBO Max and then made subscriptions available to everyone.

How HBO Max Works

If you already have an HBO subscription through your cable, satellite, or OTT streaming TV provider, you can log in with those credentials. If you don’t, you can go to HBO’s website or app and get one there.

HBO Max subscriptions through a live TV provider will give you access to both the library of on-demand content and some number of live HBO channels (there are 7 in total).

If you get it on its own and access it through the HBO Max app, then you’ll “only” get the on-demand content. Live or “linear” TV channels are the old-fashioned traditional TV channels where you have a set schedule of programs. If you want to watch any given show you need to tune in when that show is scheduled to be on.

On-demand content means you have a selection of programs and you can pick what you want to watch from everything that’s available and watch it, whenever you want.

HBO Max homepage.

Live Streaming Services

Of the major live TV streaming services, three offer live HBO channels you can stream from within their app if you subscribe to HBO Max. They vary on which of the 7 HBO channels they provide, and one (YouTube TV) gives you both HBO East and West (which is just time-delayed by three hours).

You also get all the on-demand HBO Max content (see below in the HBO Max section).



DIRECTV STREAM (formerly AT&T TV NOW) is pricier than Hulu, but they also have more channels available. They offer four tiers of service, similar to a cable company, starting with the Entertainment package at $79.99/mo.

Stream only gives you access to four live channels: HBO, HBO2, HBO Family, and HBO Latino. But you get all the on-demand HBO and HBO Max content. The price is the same, $14.99/mo.

The middle two tiers, Choice and Ultimate, currently offer three months free on HBO Max (and several other premium channels), and the Premier “everything” package includes all the premiums (HBO Max, Cinemax, Showtime, and Starz) in its $164.99/mo price tag.

You get unlimited cloud DVR storage as long as you sign-up online in all DIRECTV STREAM plans. You also get the ability to stream on unlimited devices.

Our DIRECTV STREAM review has the details.

Get DIRECTV STREAM Free for 5 Days

Hulu + Live TV

hulu logo

Hulu + Live TV gives you the standard Hulu on-demand library along with over 85 live TV channels for $76.99/mo. These include all of your local channels and a broad selection of entertainment, information, family, and sports.

You can subscribe to HBO Max alongside Hulu + Live TV for $14.99/mo. Hulu offers all seven linear HBO channels.

It also provides unlimited cloud DVR (9 month storage) and the ability to simultaneously stream on two devices.

See our Hulu + Live TV review for more information.

Try Hulu + Live TV for 3 Days Free!

YouTube TV

youtube tv

YouTube TV has basically the same package as Hulu + Live TV: 85+ channels for $72.99/mo, and HBO Max is an optional additional $14.99/mo. It does, however, provide all 7 of the HBO channels.

On-Demand Streaming Services

You can also get HBO Max with on-demand streaming services. Let’s start with HBO Max itself.



Wait– what?? Isn’t this whole article about HBO Max? Well, yes, but here’s where it gets a little tricky: you need the HBO Max app, separate from your other TV provider(s), to access the Max-exclusive content (such as all the non-HBO Warner shows and movies and the HBO Max-exclusive programs).

For example, if you want to watch Game of Thrones or The Sopranos, you can do that from your TV provider, whether it’s live, like DIRECTV STREAM above, or on-demand, like Apple TV below.

But if you want to watch Raised By Wolves (an HBO Max original series) or binge South Park or Friends (both Max exclusives), you’d need to use the HBO Max app. The HBO Max app is free, widely available, and runs on almost anything, so it’s not really a problem, other than having to switch apps. (You will also need to log in through your TV provider the first time.)

You can also just go straight to the source and subscribe to HBO Max right in the app or on the website. It’s still $14.99/mo ($9.99/mo with ads). But you should check with your TV provider, some have promotions, free trials, or money-saving bundles you won’t get if you don’t subscribe through them. (deal details)


hulu logo

You can subscribe to HBO Max through Hulu’s original, cheaper on-demand service. In theory, you can get the linear channels with or without Live TV. And, of course, you get all the HBO plus all the Max extras, on-demand, available to watch whenever you want.

The base Hulu plan is $7.99/mo. And HBO Max is an extra $14.99/mo.

Our Hulu review has more information.

Try Hulu Free for 30 Days!

Apple TV

Apple TV

You can subscribe to Apple TV Channels in the Apple TV app, including HBO Max for the usual $14.99/mo. You’ll still need the separate HBO Max app for watching the Max-exclusive content, but you wouldn’t need to change apps for the original HBO stuff, and it’s a way to watch if you have a device that doesn’t support HBO Max but does support Apple TV.

Devices to Live Stream HBO Max

HBO Max and most other streaming services support the major streaming devices currently in use. Here are the devices HBO Max supports. They are also supported by Hulu + Live TV and DIRECTV STREAM (exceptions are in parentheses).

  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android TV (Stream)
  • Apple TV
  • Cox Contour (Hulu,Stream)
  • Chromecast
  • LG Smart TV (Stream)
  • PlayStation (Stream)
  • Roku
  • Samsung TV
  • VIZIO Smart TV (Stream)
  • Xbox One (Stream)
  • XClass TV (Hulu,Stream)
  • Xfinity (Stream).

Wrapping Up

HBO Max is widely available for cord-cutters — it was created for cord cutters! Any of the services we’ve discussed above are good options.

Get DIRECTV STREAM Free for 5 Days


What original series does HBO Max offer?

HBO Max offers a lot of original series. And they are varied — from science fiction and fantasy to comedy and teen drama to documentaries and reality contests. HBO Max, unlike Netflix, doesn’t believe in bingeing new shows in one fell swoop, so current series are released: One. Episode. Per. Week. Here are a few original titles you can find in the HBO Max library.


  • The Flight Attendant
  • Gossip Girl
  • Raised by Wolves
  • Love Life
  • Made for Love
  • Close Enough.


  • Looney Tunes Cartoons
  • Tom and Jerry Special Shorts
  • Jellystone!
  • Aquaman: King of Atlantis
  • Craftopia
  • The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo
  • Mo Willems and the Storytime All-Stars Present: Don’t Let the Pigeon Do Storytime Shorts!


  • Legendary
  • Selena + Chef
  • Friends: The Reunion
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion
  • Baketopia
  • Ellen’s Next Great Designer
  • The Big Shot with Bethenny
  • FBOY Island.


  • An American Pickle
  • Charm City Kings
  • The Witches
  • Superintelligence
  • Locked Down
  • Zack Snyder’s Justice League (AKA “The Snyder Cut”)
  • Let Them All Talk
  • No Sudden Move.


  • Expecting Amy
  • Equal
  • Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults
  • What Happened, Brittany Murphy?
  • On the Record
  • On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries
  • LFG
  • Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground.

How many channels does HBO Max have?

HBO Max offers 7 live channels. Plus HBO Max is kind of a channel unto itself. It’s one of the new broad streaming services that are ostensibly based on a channel but encompass a lot more. Linear channels are a component, but not the main focus; the on-demand content is the star.

The seven multiplex channels are:

  • HBO
  • 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).

But, as mentioned, HBO Max is more than just HBO. Max includes movies, series, and specials from HBO, plus all these sister brands from WarnerMedia:

  • Adult Swim (adult animation)
  • Boomerang (classic animation)
  • Cartoon Network
  • The CW (co-owned with Paramount Global)
  • DC Entertainment
  • New Line Cinema
  • Rooster Teeth (makers of Gen:Lock)
  • TBS
  • TNT
  • TruTV
  • Turner Classic Movies
  • Turner Entertainment
  • Warner Bros.

And HBO Max licenses content — usually exclusively — from these companies:

  • Bad Robot Productions (JJ Abrams’s company)
  • Comedy Central (South Park)
  • The Criterion Collection
  • Crunchyroll (anime)
  • Sesame Workshop
  • Sky (UK).

Ditch “Big Cable” Now – 3 Simple Steps to Cut the Cord

  1. Pick the right streaming service
  2. Get the content you deserve with the best VPN.
  3. Supercharge your internet provider

That’s it — you’ll save money, take back control, and enjoy TV more!

Page Updates

  1. Added buttons for streaming services. Pricing updates. Put related links. Misc changes.

  2. Put related links.

  3. Updated some sub-sections. Image changes. Pricing updates.

  4. Pricing updates. Added a few links. Misc changes.

  5. Cross linking. Various content updates.

  6. Updated one section.

  7. Added some more links.

Alanna Baker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap