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Our HBO NOW review for 2020: Is it worth it?

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Allconnect

Feb 27, 2020 — 9 min read

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ProsConsVerdict
✔ Unrivaled catalog of award-winning originals

✔ Ad-free

✔ Sleek desktop interface

✔ Easy-to-use app
✘ Selection is limited

✘ More expensive than competitors

✘ Can’t download content for offline viewing

✘ No 4K or HDR titles
HBO NOW is unmatched when it comes to high-quality original content, but it doesn’t have the massive libraries of its competitors.

HBO NOW review summary:

  • One plan for $14.99/mo.
  • No TV subscription required
  • Seven-day free trial
  • No commercials
  • Stream programs at the same time they air on-network

In the battle of the streaming services, high-quality content is king. And for the discerning content consumer, HBO NOW certainly delivers on this front.

Long lauded for its award-winning programs, HBO NOW presents viewers with a compelling array of original content, as well as a decent back catalog of critically acclaimed and crowd-pleasing movies.

Indeed, HBO’s standalone streaming platform is a small slice of heaven for viewers who are fans of its noteworthy shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective, Ballers and Westworld. You can also access past HBO classics like The Sopranos, The Wire and True Blood.

However, the service leaves a few things to be desired. It doesn’t offer live TV or permit users to download content for offline viewing, and its overall library is much smaller than competitors like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.  

HBO NOW plans and pricing

At $14.99/mo., HBO NOW is more expensive than its closest competitors, Amazon Prime Video ($8.99/mo.), Hulu ($5.99/mo.) and Netflix ($8.99/mo.). That said, an HD Netflix plan isn’t much cheaper at $12.99/mo.

Not included in the $14.99/mo. price tag are features like being able to download content to watch offline, the option to add multiple accounts, and HDR or 4K streaming — all of which are offered by Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Netflix.

Still, the content alone is reason enough for many viewers to fit this service into their monthly budgets. HBO NOW works well as part of a larger media diet — accompanied by another service like Netflix or Hulu + Live TV, depending on users’ preferences.

How does HBO NOW’s content compare?

As a network in and of itself, HBO NOW’s model has never leaned heavily on licensing and distributing third-party shows or movies. That said, users will be met with a hearty selection of comedies, dramas and documentaries.

However, this also means viewers are limited only to HBO-centric content and will have a more limited selection than with other services. So if it’s the greatest amount of shows and movies for the least amount of money that’s the goal, users would be better off looking into services like Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime Video.

To compare HBO NOW’s library against other major streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, we conducted our own research and evaluated content from all the major streaming networks based on two categories: original programming and licensed content.

We evaluated the number of licensed shows in HBO NOW’s library against its closest competitors. We also looked at how HBO NOW’s original content stacks up against other industry giants by exploring critic and viewer reviews and ratings using IMDb’s list of the top 250 movies and TV shows, which factor in user ratings and popularity to determine rankings, plus critic reviews from Rotten Tomatoes.

Finally, we counted how many nominations each service has from the Emmys and Academy Awards to get a sense of the quality of each service’s original content offerings.

Overall, HBO has done a fine job of establishing itself as a purveyor of excellent programming over the past several years. While HBO NOW’s library is significantly smaller than most of the bigger streaming services, what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in an unrivaled lineup of superb original shows and documentaries.

For a more in-depth explanation of how we evaluated streaming services, you can find our full methodology here.

Licensed content

HBO NOWHuluNetflixPrime VideoDisney+
Number of movies*1,0541,0713,74723,933732
Number of shows*1951,2361,5922,303187
Movies in IMDb Top 25027332114
TV Shows in IMDb Top 250266269474

Most users won’t have issues finding something to watch in HBO NOW’s content library. It has 1,054 movies and 195 TV shows, including 26 shows in IMDb’s top 250 list.

The service’s lineup includes many critically acclaimed HBO Originals like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Silicon Valley, Veep and Big Little Lies. Users can also opt for binge-worthy crowd favorites like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City, The Wire, Girls and Eastbound and Down.

Where HBO NOW struggles is its movie selection. At the time of writing, it only had two movies in IMDb’s top 250 list, The Usual Suspects and Amelie. That’s not to say you won’t find any good movies to watch on HBO NOW — just don’t expect the same breadth as Netflix or Prime Video.

Original content

HBO NOWNetflixHuluPrime VideoDisney+Apple TV+
Number of titles5211,177732223623
Average IMDb user ratings7.36.87.27.27.17.2
Tomatometer Critic Score85%73%77%76%83%78%

HBO NOW most closely mirrors Netflix in that both streaming services heavily emphasize delivering high-quality original content. HBO NOW features several categories of content, including documentaries, sports, comedy and drama. Plus, HBO NOW offers an expansive back catalog of beloved premium shows from their past.

HBO NOW’s original content consistently scores well among audiences and critics alike. While audiences like those on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes can be fickle, HBO NOW has received high marks for content from both. Average IMDb user ratings netted out to a respectable 7.3, more than any service but STARZ, which received a 7.5 from audiences for its 40 original shows.

Unsurprisingly, HBO NOW was also a favorite among Rotten Tomatoes critics, dominating the competition with a score of 85% — a full two percentage points higher than its next-closest competitor, Disney+.

Awards won

HBO NOWHuluNetflixPrime Video
Emmy Nominees (2013-2019)2712614739
Emmy Wins (2013-2019)5562116
Oscar Nominees (2014-2020)705311
Oscar Wins (2014-2020)3083


It’s no secret that HBO has been something of a “king maker” (GoT pun definitely intended) when it comes to developing high-impact, award-winning TV shows and series, earning a staggering 271 Emmy nominations and 55 wins over the past six years.

This is all the more impressive considering HBO has a comparatively small number of offerings when measured against Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video. At the time of this writing, HBO’s content has also earned seven Oscar nominations — fewer than Amazon Prime Video and the category front-runner for Oscar wins, Netflix.

Content budgets

201720182019
Netflix$8.9 billion$12 billion$15 billion
Prime Video$4.5 billion$5 billion$6 billion
HBO$2 billion$2.5 billion$3.5 billion
Hulu$2.5 billion$2.5 billion$3 billion
Disney+N/AN/A$2.5 billion
Apple TV+N/AN/A$6 billion


Unlike Prime Video and Netflix, HBO hasn’t been as quick to sink billions of dollars into original content over the past few years. The network invested a comparatively small $3.5 billion in 2019 compared to Netflix’s $15 billion. By the same token, HBO doesn’t have to play catch-up to the same degree as Netflix, since HBO never relied on third-party content. As a result, the service already has a library of top-notch originals.

User experience and navigation

HBO NOW presents users with a clean, attractive desktop interface, with featured shows and movies housed in eye-catching mastheads. Like Netflix, HBO NOW’s interface features a black background with a prominent banner and rows of programs categorized by genre. Users can scroll horizontally through movies and TV shows using the carrots at either end of every row and add shows and movies to their watchlist to view later.

Similar to Hulu, shows are available to stream simultaneously as they air on cable channels, this means users cannot binge an entire new season of a program at once. Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, on the other hand, both drop entire seasons at one time. 

The HBO NOW app offers the same sleek interface and design as the desktop app, with a clean and simple layout that includes thumbnails for each title, as well as details pages with additional information.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video all have similar features pages. All provide information such as the rating, a brief description of the episode and more. HBO NOW doesn’t include a section guiding users to similar content on its details pages.

A hamburger menu in the top left corner opens a drop-down list where users can explore content categories including series, movies, kids, comedy, sports, documentaries and collections. Or, users can search for things to watch by actor, series or title via the search bar at the top of the page.

Account settings can be adjusted by clicking the icon/username in the top right-hand corner of the screen. From here, users can adjust their profile settings and billing information, as well as manage their list of saved shows, connected devices and notifications. There’s also a parental controls menu that allows you to set the maximum ratings allowed for TV and movies, which can only be unlocked with a four-digit PIN you choose. This could prove more cumbersome for users with children than, say, services like Hulu and Netflix, which provide the option of setting up a designated children’s profile.

Unfortunately, HBO NOW doesn’t allow users to download content for offline viewing. What’s more, it doesn’t yet support high dynamic range (HDR) or 4K content — a disappointment considering it has a number of shows with sweeping vistas (think: Game of Thrones and Westworld) that would look even more breathtaking with that type of detail.

Additionally, it’s important to note that HBO NOW does not include any live TV offerings. So if live sports, news and live TV events are on a viewer’s list of non-negotiables, a platform like Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV or AT&T TV might be a better fit.

HBO NOW FAQs

What devices is HBO NOW compatible with?

HBO NOW is compatible with most streaming devices, smart TVs and gaming consoles. Here’s the full list:

  • Amazon Fire tablets
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Android phones and tablets
  • Android TV
  • Apple TV
  • Chromecast
  • iPhone, iPad and iPod touch
  • PlayStation 4
  • Roku
  • Samsung Smart TV
  • Web browsers
  • Xbox One

What’s the difference between HBO NOW and HBO GO?

With a couple of similar offerings floating around the market, it’s easy to get HBO’s digital offerings mixed up. HBO NOW is a stand-alone streaming subscription while HBO GO provides users who subscriber to HBO through their TV provider a way to watch programs “on the go.” For more information, you can check out our full article on the two services here.

How many simultaneous streams does HBO NOW allow?

The short answer is that we don’t know. HBO NOW has not been forthcoming with the information. The service’s website doesn’t specify how many simultaneous streams are allowed. In HBO’s words, “For security reasons, the number of simultaneous streams is limited.” And that’s as specific as it gets.

What internet speed do I need for HBO NOW?

Like most other streaming services, HBO NOW recommends a high-speed internet connection of 3 Mbps or faster for streaming standard definition content and 5 Mbps or faster for high-definition videos. It’s important to note that the more devices connected to a network, the higher the speed will need to be to provide everyone with a smooth experience.

A speed test is the easiest way to verify internet connection speeds.

The bottom line

There’s no question that HBO NOW presents a veritable powerhouse of original content and movies. The service has multiple award-winning shows and series viewers simply won’t be able to find anywhere else. What’s more, all content on HBO NOW is ad-free and available on a variety of devices. If having access to HBO’s content library and keeping up with HBO shows as they are released are a viewer’s top priority, this service is a must.

However, there are a few key areas where HBO NOW falls short. The service won’t let viewers watch live TV, download content or set up multiple user profiles. And at $14.99/mo., HBO NOW is comparatively expensive when measured against Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Hulu, which all offer larger libraries and more features for lower monthly fees.

HBO NOW is a good stand-alone service for viewers who want access to a deep well of high-quality original content. And with several shows that have cleaned up at the Emmys over the past several years, there’s more than enough content to keep even the most voracious and discerning TV-watchers satisfied for a while.

However, if users are looking for a cable alternative, HBO NOW is best accompanied by a service like AT&T TV or Hulu + Live TV, where users can access a large library of on-demand content in addition to live TV programs.