HBO Max, explained: In the Heights, Conjuring 3, streaming ‘free’ and everything else to know – CNET

HBO Max logo on a phone

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HBO Max, after a bumpy launch a year ago, has been building momentum. In the Heights started streaming on Thursday, joining The Conjuring 3 as the latest film to stream at the same time it’s in theaters. Its cheaper, $10-a-month subscription tier supported by ads arrived last week, and the long-delayed Friends reunion landed the week before that. 

HBO Max has also killed its weeklong free trial. That means if you want watch absolutely everything — the Friends reunion, other Max originals and the new Warner Bros. movies, including Matrix 4 or Dune later this year — you’ll either need to pay for a full-price Max subscription or figure out if your regular HBO subscription includes a free upgrade to a Max account. 

Here are answers to the latest big questions about HBO Max. 

How can I stream In the Heights and The Conjuring 3? 

In the Heights and The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It are now available at no added cost to subscribers to HBO Max’s $15-a-month ad-free tier. 

Anybody who is a subscriber to the service’s new $10-a-month ad-supported tier can’t watch the In the Heights, The Conjuring 3 or any of the same-day movies that’ll be on Max through the rest of the year. They’re the only part of the library unavailable to people on the HBO Max with Ads tier. 

What other movies hit HBO Max and theaters at the same time? 

Warner Bros.’ 2021 movies are set to hit theaters and HBO Max on the following release dates: 

All these titles will be available on HBO Max the same day they hit theaters in the US. 

Any title listed with a “TBD” doesn’t have a confirmed release date yet, but it’s placed on the list in loose chronological order for when it’s expected to come out. 

Several movies have already come and gone, including Mortal Kombat most recently. But all these Warner Bros. movies will return to HBO Max to stream a few months after their release. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, is already back on HBO Max to stream, after it left the service in January during its theatrical window. 

But it looks like 2021 will be the only year for this phenomenon of streaming new big-screen movies on HBO Max as soon as they hit theaters. Warner Bros.’ recent deals with theaters suggest this so-called “day-and-date” release strategy — when a movie premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day — won’t continue into 2022. For example, Warner Bros.’ deal with Regal Cinema’s parent company arranged for a 45-day theaters-only “window” starting in 2022, which means theaters will get at least a month and a half to screen new movies without any competition from a streaming service.  

What time do new Warner Bros. movies arrive? When do they disappear?

Generally, most of the new Warner Bros. movies become available to stream on Max at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET on the day of their release. But the timing for other movies may vary, depending on when the first cinematic screenings take place at theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, became available at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET on Dec. 25 because that was the earliest theaters were open that day. 

The movies will be available to stream on HBO Max for 31 days. They’re generally expected to be removed from the service at 11:59 p.m. PT on that 31st day. 

All Warner Bros. movies released in this “hybrid” model on HBO Max will be available to watch in 4K Ultra HD resolution and HDR image quality, even though those formats aren’t yet standard for the full Max library.

Does it cost extra to watch these new theatrical movies on HBO Max? 

No. Everything on Warner Bros.’ 2021 slate of new movies will be available on HBO Max at no added cost to subscribers — in other words, feels like free. Since HBO Max doesn’t have a free trial, you’ll either need to sign up with a paying membership or upgrade an existing HBO subscription to include Max. 

If you already have HBO from a TV provider or a tech company, or you paid for HBO Now, you may be able to upgrade to Max at no added cost — it depends whether HBO Max has struck a deal with your specific provider. And some AT&T customers have deals to get Max included in their service plans. See the section on “How do I get HBO Max if I already pay for HBO?” for more details. 

What do I need to know about HBO Max with Ads? 

HBO Max with Ads is the less expensive, ad-supported version of HBO Max. It launched in the US on Wednesday. This $10-a-month subscription is a $5 discount monthly compared with ad-free Max; in exchange, you’ll see commercials with some programming and other advertisements elsewhere eventually, like when you pause playback or on pages that curate collections of shows and movies. 

You can watch almost everything on HBO Max as an ad-supported subscriber, with one major exception: The cheaper tier doesn’t have any of the new Warner Bros. movies that are streaming the same day they hit theaters. If you want to stream those films during the 31 days they’re available on Max during their initial theatrical runs, you have to subscribe to the pricier, ad-free level.

However, Warner Bros. movies do end up on Max relatively quickly after they’re done in theaters. Wonder Woman 1984, for example, was back on Max in May, about five months after it first premiered. 

The cheaper tier allows you to watch everything else on the service. 

HBO Max has committed to keeping the amount of advertising low. The company says that its ad load — or the amount of advertising you watch every hour — will be under four minutes on average. Different kinds of programming will have different ad loads, so the amount you see may vary depending on what you watch. But HBO Max has said it is committed to keeping average ad load below four minutes so that it will be the lowest in the streaming industry, and it plans to monitor user behavior and engagement to make sure it keeps below that threshold. 

HBO originals — that is, programs created for the traditional HBO networks — won’t have commercial interruptions during playback. They may have short promos for other HBO programming before they start, which is standard even for people who pay for ad-free HBO Max, but you won’t see commercial breaks shoehorned into them. And it’s possible that some of the nonconventional ad formats, like pause ads, could show up with HBO originals, too. But HBO Max isn’t going to disrupt HBO originals with traditional ad breaks. 

However, HBO Max originals — that is, programs created for the service HBO Max but not for the traditional network — may indeed have advertising breaks inserted in the shows. That would include things like the Friends reunion special, The Flight Attendant and others. 

And licensed shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory, which were originally created with ad breaks, will have ads. But HBO Max may not insert advertising into every ad break, according to the Julian Franco, vice president of product management at HBO Max, who helped lead the tier’s product development. 

Does HBO Max have a free trial? 

Not anymore. HBO Max eliminated its standard one-week free trial in December. But it does occasionally offer promotions and bundling deals. (See the next section.)

Do I get HBO Max ‘free’ if I already have regular HBO? 

Some people who already have an existing subscription to HBO are able to unlock HBO Max at no extra cost, but not everyone. Nearly 200,000 regular HBO subscribers in the US aren’t eligible for an HBO Max upgrade; it all depends on which company provides your regular HBO subscription.

But many HBO Max distributors unlock an HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost for current HBO and legacy HBO Now customers, thanks to deals HBO Max struck with them. You qualify for the HBO Max upgrade at no extra cost if you already pay for HBO through the following: 

If you previously paid for an HBO streaming subscription through Roku (that is, through The Roku Channel), you need to cancel that subscription and then sign up for HBO Max itself to be able to access Max. 

How much does HBO Max cost?

HBO Max is $15 a month without advertising or $10 a month supported by ads. It doesn’t have a free trial, but the company occasionally offers discounts if you prepay for an extended period of time. For example, before launch, people who preordered the service at HBOMax.com unlocked a discount deal that lowered the price to $13 a month for the first year. Some customers can also hunt out specialized free trials, sometimes linked to the purchase of a television or other tech product. 

AT&T, the parent company of both HBO Max and Warner Bros., is also offering a complicated matrix of promos for HBO Max for its own customers. Some AT&T customers get Max at no extra cost, while others qualify for a one-month, three-month or one-year free trial. Your best shot at figuring out whether you qualify is to check your account or the my AT&T app, but CNET also lists AT&T’s qualification terms for its HBO Max promos

Compared with rival streaming services, HBO Max’s ad-free $15-a-month pricing may feel steep. Disney Plus is $8 a month, and Apple TV Plus is $5, though it keeps extending free trials for anyone who’s bought a new Apple gadget. But HBO Max’s price is close to Netflix’s most popular plan, which is $14. 

How do I watch the Friends reunion special?

The Friends two-hour reunion special is only available to watch by streaming it on HBO Max, which requires a subscription to access. 

If you aren’t already a subscriber, see the section below for info on how to sign up and whether you qualify for Max at no added cost as part your regular HBO subscription. 

If you’re already a member, the special is easy to find on Max — it’s getting heavy promotion within the app. But if for some reason you don’t see it plastered all over your personal interface, simply search for Friends and tap on Friends: The Reunion. 

What channel is the Friends reunion special on? 

It’s… not on a channel. The Friends reunion is only on HBO Max, which is a streaming service that doesn’t have any channel on regular TV or cable. 

However, HBO Max’s owner, WarnerMedia, is experimenting with putting some other HBO Max originals on channels like TBS and TNT over the summer, a strategy it’s calling Front Row. The Friends Reunion Special isn’t among them, and WarnerMedia hasn’t even hinted that the Friends reunion would widen to regular TV in this way (or in any other way). But Front Row does set some precedent for other HBO Max exclusives widening to regular TV channels. 

How can I watch HBO Max on my TV? What devices support Max?

Because HBO Max isn’t a channel, you need to have an internet-connected TV in order to watch it on the biggest screen in your house. But HBO Max has apps for a variety of devices, both TVs and mobile gadgets.

  • Most Apple devices that can stream video support HBO Max — iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD. However, customers with second- and third-generation Apple TV models will need to stream HBO Max content from their iPhone or iPad to their TV with AirPlay.
  • Google’s Android operating system for phones and tablets has an app for Android TV devices, Chromebooks, Google Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices will support HBO Max too. 
  • Sony’s PlayStation 4 systems can download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation Store. 
  • Microsoft’s Xbox One gaming consoles have the HBO Max app via the Microsoft Store.
  • Select Samsung internet-connected smart TVs — models from 2016 through 2020 — can download and purchase HBO Max directly.
  • Amazon Fire TV devices and Fire tablets have support for HBO Max’s app.
  • Roku devices support HBO Max for streaming and for signing up to the service as a new user.

How long is the Friends reunion available on HBO Max? 

The Friends reunion special will be available to stream on Max indefinitely. In other words, you don’t need to worry about missing it. As a so-called Max Original, it’s supposed to persist on HBO Max for the foreseeable future. 

It’s easy to get confused, though. The “same-day” movies that hit Max and theaters simultaneously are only available to stream for 31 days. But that’s unique to the Warner Bros. new movie releases in 2021. The Friends reunion isn’t subject to the same limitation. 

How can I sign up for HBO Max? 

The simplest way to get HBO Max is to sign up for it directly at hbomax.com

On Apple devices, HBO Max has an iOS app for iPhone and iPad, which allows you to sign up and pay through an in-app purchase. Apple also integrates HBO Max into its own TV app, which allows you to congregate certain streaming channels to watch them in one place. 

Through Google, HBO Max has an app for Android phones and tablets in the Google Play store, and you’ll be able to sign up inside the app with an in-app purchase. You’ll also be able to stream HBO Max on Android TV, Chromebook and Google Chromecast. If you previously subscribed to HBO Now through Google Play, you’re automatically able to log in to HBO Max at no additional charge, and you’ll continue to be billed through Google. And YouTube TV, the streaming pay-TV service operated by Google’s YouTube, will also carry HBO Max. 

Roku also allows people to sign up for HBO Max directly on its devices using its payment system, Roku Pay. And people with Samsung Smart TVs that support the HBO Max app can sign up directly there too. 

Shows and movies: What else can I watch?

Generally, HBO Max includes all the shows and movies on HBO, plus a selection of high-profile licensed content, like Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick & Morty and South Park. It layers exclusive original programming on top of that. And all of Warner Bros. 2021 theatrical movies will be released on Max the same day as they hit cinemas, available to stream for 31 days at no extra cost.

Now that the service is live, an easy way to see what’s available without signing up is third-party catalog search services like Reelgood

The simplest part of the catalog to understand is HBO itself. HBO Max includes everything on regular HBO, so that means all the theatrical movies that come and go from the channel; new episodes from all HBO series, like Euphoria and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver; and the past seasons of those programs as well as the full HBO back catalog, like Game of Thrones, Silicon Valley, Veep and The Wire; plus all of HBO’s original films, documentaries and specials. 

Movies are a crucial part of the catalog. And any movie that’s available to watch on the traditional HBO network will also be available to stream on HBO Max. 

Beyond that, HBO Max has padded itself with more content than you’ll find on regular HBO, for basically the same price. The service has been pouring billions of dollars into its budgets for original programming and into expensive deals to stream titles from DCStudio Ghibli and the Criterion Collection, as well as popular shows like FriendsSouth ParkThe Big Bang TheoryRick and MortyDoctor Who and new episodes of Adventure Time

The service’s Max Originals also offer new, exclusive shows and movies. Some of the most popular Max originals so far: Justice League Snyder Cut, which was released in March; The Flight Attendant, a comedic thriller series starring Kaley Cuoco; Raised by Wolves, a sci-fi series from famed filmmaker Ridley Scott; and The Witches, a reboot of the classic Roald Dahl book and 1990 film, starring Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway. 

HBO Max also has podcasts in its library linked to its programming, along the lines of last year’s podcast companion to the miniseries Chernobyl. Raised by Wolves, for example, has a podcast available now on Max.

When will HBO Max launch elsewhere?

HBO Max launched May 27, 2020, in the US. 

FriendsFriends

HBO Max brokered a reported $425 million deal for all episodes of ’90s hit Friends, which exited Netflix to start streaming on HBO Max at launch.


NBC

HBO Max’s first international expansion is set for June 29 with 39 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean. Those territories include Anguilla, Antigua, Argentina, Aruba, B.V.I., Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Montserrat, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Uruguay and Venezuela.

After that, the HBO-branded streaming services in Europe — including the Nordics, Spain, Central Europe, and Portugal — are scheduled to be upgraded to HBO Max later this year. 

What product features does HBO Max have? 

In a long-anticipated feature for anyone who previously used HBO Go, HBO Max has downloads for its mobile apps. 

HBO Max allows you to stream to three different devices simultaneously. By comparison, Disney Plus allows four simultaneous streams, and Netflix allows between one and four depending on how much you pay each month. 

You can also create up to five profiles to keep recommendations separate for different members of the household, and it also has kid accounts that are unlocked by entering a PIN. These parental controls allow moms and dads to set the maturity levels of the programming each kids’ profile can access, based on ratings like PG and TV-14. 

Another missing element: HBO Max doesn’t offer 4K resolution nor high dynamic range image quality for most of its catalog. The exception is all the theatrical movies that Warner Bros. is releasing on HBO Max the same day as cinemas; all those films will be available in 4K Ultra HD and HDR.


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