Max Review | PCMag

HBO Max is no more. Thanks to a baffling rebranding campaign, the Warner Bros. Discovery video streaming service is now simply called Max. However, the service has received much more than a new name. Max still includes an excellent mix of premium HBO shows, new originals, a trove of popular and classic movies, and cartoons and anime. In addition, it now features live news and sports, as well as a large library of terrifically trashy reality shows from sibling service Discovery+. Better still, the pricing hasn’t dramatically changed, whether you want the affordable ad-supported tier or the Ultimate plan featuring a beefed-up 4K library. With its massive mix of highbrow, lowbrow, and middlebrow material, Max is a well-rounded streaming video service that’s worth your time and money. It’s just slightly outclassed by Editors’ Choice winners Hulu, Netflix, Peacock, and Tubi.HBO Max vs. Max vs. Discovery+HBO Max’s branding confusion has persisted for years, thanks to previous streaming services with the HBO name. So let’s clear it up. If you’re an HBO Max subscriber or have HBO through your cable provider, you can use your same credentials to log into Max without changing your subscription or paying any extra. Annoyingly, you may need to download entirely new apps.

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(Credit: Max/PCMag)

Max fully replaces HBO Max. However, Max doesn’t replace Discovery+. While Max has the vast majority of Discovery+ content, it doesn’t have everything. At only $4.99 per month, Discovery+ is also cheaper than the cheapest Max tier, so it still has some standalone appeal. What Can You Watch on Max?Max’s content library is deep and expansive. The service combines current and classic HBO shows, new originals (called Max Originals), and select shows and movies from other brands, including CNN, DC, Looney Tunes, New Line Cinema, Rooster Teeth, the Turner library, and Warner Bros. For an updated list of streaming content, check out our feature on everything coming to Max.
Starting with HBO’s original shows, the list of available titles includes Barry, Big Little Lies, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Chernobyl, Deadwood, Game of Thrones, Insecure, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Mare of Easttown, My Brilliant Friend, Oz, Real Time with Bill Maher, Sex and the City, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, Succession, The Sopranos, The Wire, Veep, and Watchmen. This premium content trove is the backbone of the service and may be tempting enough on its own to attract subscribers.Max includes several Max Originals, including the Clone High revival; Looney Tunes Cartoons, a collection of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and Wile E. Coyote cartoons animated in the classic style; Love and Death, starring Elizabeth Olsen; and On the Record, a documentary about the sexual abuse and assault allegations against Russell Simmons. Other original shows include entries in the Adventure Time: Distant Lands series, The Dog House, Doom Patrol, Frayed, the rebooted Gossip Girls series, and Perry Mason.Are these original titles enough to compete with the massive and ever-growing number of original series created by Netflix and Amazon Prime? Maybe. Unlike Apple TV+ or the late Quibi, Max can rely on its past content to attract potential subscribers.Other Max shows from the wider mediascape include Adam Ruins Everything, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Conan Travel Specials, and Rizzoli and Isles, among others. Max also has streaming rights to other big-name shows such as Friends, Luther, Rick and Morty, South Park, The Big Bang Theory, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Whose Line Is It Anyway? Friends, in particular, should appeal to all the Netflix subscribers who bemoaned the loss of the show. Babylon 5 Remastered is available for streaming on Max, too.No video streaming service is complete without a library of on-demand movies. Max is no slouch in this category either, thanks to content partnerships with in-house (New Line Cinema and Warner Bros.) and external content sources (such as Studio Ghibli and The Criterion Collection). The lineup is always changing, but popular films on the service at the time of our latest review include Blade Runner 2049, Dune, The Fast Saga, Joker, The Matrix, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Ponyo, Shazam!, and Spirited Away.Warner Bros. debuted more than a dozen films on Max the same day they hit theaters in the US in 2021. Think Dune, Godzilla vs. Kong, The Matrix Resurrections, and the new Suicide Squad movie, among others. However, this hasn’t continued. For example, The Batman premiered in theaters in March, but viewers waited until April to stream it. On the plus side, Max won’t charge you extra to watch these latest Warner Bros. films. Max features classic films too, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Streetcar Named Desire, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Gone with the Wind, Rebel Without a Cause, and The Wizard of Oz. Film fans should check out our roundup of the best movie streaming services and explore options such as Curiosity Stream and Mubi.

(Credit: Max/PCMag)

Classic and contemporary animated series also make an appearance on Max, including Adventure Time, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, and Steven Universe. Over time, we hope more of the classic cartoons make their way onto the service.With Editors’ Choice pick Crunchyroll no longer part of an AT&T- or Discovery-owned subsidiary, Max hasn’t retained all its anime content. Dedicated anime streaming services offer far more content. Even Netflix and Hulu feature more expansive libraries of anime content. The Studio Ghibli movies are still a huge draw, though. Nearly all the shows and movies from DC Universe moved to Max, including Stargirl, Titans, and Young Justice. Some of the series currently on Max include Batman: The Animated Series, Doom Patrol, Harley Quinn, and Teen Titans. DC Universe still exists, but it is strictly a comic book subscription service now.The addition of Discovery+ series has only made Max’s catalog even bigger with cooking shows like Chopped, reality show masterpieces like 90 Day Fiancé, and all the Property Brothers shows you can imagine. With Max, there’s a seemingly endless amount of stuff to watch. However, the merger has dramatically changed Max’s future. Streaming libraries change all the time, with new content being added as old content leaves. Still, the controversial current regime has ruthlessly scaled back Max’s original output, removing episodes of Sesame Street and canceling Batgirl and other nearly finished films. Even recent HBO shows like Westworld have been removed from Max and sold to free rivals like Editors’ Choice pick Tubi.Live News and Sports on MaxCNN’s dedicated streaming service may no longer exist, but CNN streaming lives on as part of Max’s new live streaming initiative. For no extra fee, subscribers can watch 24/7 live news under the CNN Max section, which also includes on-demand CNN programs from Anderson Cooper, Chris Wallace, and other network hosts. Reports suggest that Max may introduce questionable and gimmicky functionality, such as interrupting whatever you were watching with breaking news, which can hopefully be turned off. This is no cable replacement, but if you’re intentionally seeking live news from one of the biggest names in cable news, CNN on Max is a fine option.Max is also expanding its live sports content. One new and upcoming avenue of content for Max is the result of the recent broadcast deal between Turner Sports (owned by Warner) and the NHL. Under this agreement, TNT and TBS gain NHL broadcast rights for 72 regular-season games and select postseason series, but more importantly, the deal extends streaming rights to Max, too. ESPN+ recently announced streaming rights to a significant number of NHL games, as well. In January 2023, Max began airing live women’s and men’s US soccer games under a similar eight-year deal. Other live sports on Max now include the MLB, NBA, and NCAA Men’s March Madness. Currently, live sports come with your subscription. However, starting in March 2024, you’ll need to pay extra for the additional sports tier at $9.99 per month.An increasing number of primarily on-demand streaming services have expanded into the realm of live sports over the last few years. For instance, Prime Video has Thursday Night Football, WNBA, and select Yankees games (Yankees games are only for residents of New York); Paramount+ includes Sunday afternoon NFL games, PGA Tour events, and NCAA basketball coverage; and Peacock streamed a live NFL playoff game last season, plus added IndyCar and WWE content to its lineup. Showtime, now included with Paramount, streams boxing and MMA events at no extra cost, but some events require a separate PPV purchase.How Much Does Max Cost?Max offers three tiers: an ad-supported plan for $9.99 per month, an ad-free plan for $16.99 per month, and an Ultimate plan for $20.99 per month. Subscribers to the ad-supported tier cannot download content for offline viewing on mobile devices, stream 4K content, or watch any of the same-day Warner Bros. movie releases. The Ultimate tier increases concurrent streams from two to four, gives you 100 offline downloads, and unlocks a library of more than 1000 4K UHD movies and shows, which is a big improvement over HBO Max. The standard ad-free plan no longer offers 4K programming.Like Disney+ and Netflix, Max no longer offers a free trial, but you can save money by paying for an annual subscription. An annual subscription to the Ultimate, ad-free, and ad-supported tiers costs $209.99 per year, $169.99 per year, and $99.99 per year, respectively. For comparison, Apple TV+ costs $99.99 per year. Netflix lacks annual plans, but you’d end up with similar (if not higher) prices than Max if you multiplied its monthly plans by 12. You can subscribe to Max directly, via a mobile app store (App Store, Google Play), another video streaming service (such as Hulu, YouTube TV), or cable and broadband partners (including AT&T, DIRECTV, AT&T U-Verse, Spectrum, and Verizon Fios).Several on-demand video streaming services we’ve reviewed, such as Amazon Prime Video ($8.99 per month) and Disney+ ($7.99 per month), cost less than Max and support 4K streaming. Netflix’s Standard plan (the minimum tier we recommend) is more expensive than Max’s ad-supported plan at $15.49 per month, but it is ad-free and lets you download titles for offline viewing. Netflix’s cheaper, ad-supported version is just inferior all around. Other ad-supported streaming tiers are cheaper, too. Hulu and Paramount+, for instance, start at $7.99 per month and $5.99 per month, respectively. Discovery+’s ad-supported plan is $4.99 per month, while NBC’s Peacock costs $5.99 per month. You don’t need to pay for your video-streaming entertainment. Our roundup of the best free video streaming services includes options with on-demand and preprogrammed content. Our top pick for the category is Tubi because of its large library of mainstream shows and movies.In addition to watching Max on a web browser, you can download Max on mobile devices (Android and iOS), media streaming devices (Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku), Samsung TVs, and gaming consoles (PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X).Max’s Web InterfaceMax’s web interface uses an elegant, dark design with blue and white accents. The large thumbnails of shows and movies stand out and aren’t overcrowded on pages. You navigate Max via a top menu. Sections include Home, Series, Movies, HBO, and New & Notable. Further down the page are hubs for all the other content on the service (such as CNN, DC, Food Network, and Studio Ghibli).

(Credit: Max/PCMag)

At the top of the page, you also get a persistent search bar and a profile icon. You can search by movie or show name, as well as by other terms that appear in a title’s description and details sections (such as cast members, directors, and writers). Clicking on your profile icon opens My List, a way to organize things you want to watch, and the Continue Watching sections. Here, you can manage your account and billing details, see what devices are logged in with your credentials, change parental control settings, and switch, edit, or create new profiles. Max lets you create up to five profiles. Disney+, by comparison, lets you create six profiles.When you see something on Max you want to watch, hover over it to add it to your list or to view details. Alternatively, you can just click on the show or movie thumbnail to get to its details page. For movies, this page includes the parental rating, basic audio and video streaming specs, a description, the release year, and the run time in the upper-right corner. The video player takes up most of the screen. A list of cast members, directors, and any other crew members appears beneath the player (vaguely referred to as “creators”). The landing page for TV shows looks identical, except that you can browse seasons and individual episodes at the bottom of the page.Max Mobile AppsWe downloaded the Max app on an Android smartphone and had no trouble logging into our account. The app matches the color scheme and design of the web interface. We didn’t encounter any performance issues or lag when browsing content or launching streams.You navigate the app via three icons in a menu at the bottom: Home, Search, and Profile. The Home section is functionally identical to the web version’s Home section; it displays featured shows and movies, plus curated categories of content as you scroll down the page.

(Credit: Max/PCMag)

The Search section recommends Series and Movies based on what you’ve already watched, but you can’t quickly add them to the My List or download them from that screen. The Profiles section is where you create, switch, and manage viewing profiles (including changing parental control settings). This section includes the My List feature, a list of all the titles you’ve downloaded for offline viewing, and a Continue Watching list. Max makes it easy to manage all the entries in these lists or to get rid of everything at once.Max’s offline downloads feature works similarly to those of other services, including Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Netflix. You can download up to 30 episodes or movies at one time. You get 30 days to start watching an episode or film and 48 hours to finish watching it after you begin playback. Max limits you to five copies of the same show or movie across all of your devices. We downloaded and watched an episode of The Wire without issue.The app’s Settings are accessible via the Profile section. From here, you can manage your account and billing details, set streaming and download preferences, opt out of notifications, and manage all the devices logged with your credentials.Playback and Ad ExperienceMax’s playback screen on the web is fairly standard. Aside from typical playback and volume tools, you get a 10-second rewind button and closed caption options. However, there’s no way to select a streaming resolution, which is disappointing.Most of Max’s content is available in 1080p, but select titles, such as The Little Things, Judas and The Black Messiah, and the 2021 film slate are available in 4K and HDR; these movies also support the Dolby Atmos and Vision standards. The Ultimate tier gives you access to the higher-quality versions.To watch 4K content and to take advantage of these standards, you need a supported media streaming device (Android TV, Apple TV 4K, Chromecast, Fire TV, Roku, or Xfinity) and a fast internet connection. You can read all the device requirements and troubleshooting steps on Max’s help site. Apple TV+, Netflix’s top-tier plan, and Amazon Prime all support 4K content and Dolby’s high-end specs on select platforms, too.Max says the total playtime of ads will not exceed four minutes per hour and that ads will not play during its own content. That’s more reasonable than many competitors’ ad experiences. Max’s mobile app looks similar to the web version. Again, there’s no way to select the streaming resolution. You don’t get anything similar to Prime Video’s IMDB-powered X-Ray feature that lists all the cast members that appear in a scene, along with other show details on either platformHBO Now was never clear about whether the service restricted simultaneous streaming, but Max supports up to four simultaneous streams at the highest tier, which we were able to confirm. Discovery+ and Starz support four concurrent streams per account. Max also supports a few co-watching features. An integration with Scener lets you chat with friends as you watch synchronized content. You can also watch pilot episodes of HBO series over Snapchat with friends.The service does specify that you need internet speeds of at least 5Mbps (download), which shouldn’t be a problem for most users. We tested streaming performance over a home Wi-Fi connection (140Mbps download) and, as expected, did not experience any issues with buffering streams. Vague video and audio streaming specs aside, an episode of Succession looked crisp and sounded great.Max Accessibility and Parental ControlsMax’s closed captioning options are available right from the playback screen on both the mobile and web interfaces, which is convenient. You can change options related to the font (style, color, and size), background (color and opacity), and window. BritBox makes the closed captioning settings available from the playback screen, too. Apple TV+ goes one step further with tons of language options.Max now provides audio descriptions for some of its content. The Audio Description Project lists more than 250 titles on the service that support this accessibility option. Currently, this feature is only available on the web and mobile devices. Apple TV+, Disney+, and Prime Video all offer audio descriptions, too. When you enable audio descriptions, a narrator audibly describes what is going on in a scene, including changes in setting and character movements. The service also recognizes your default language across accessibility features.

(Credit: Max/PCMag)

Parents should be pleased with Max’s parental control options. The first thing you need to do is create a Kids profile, which entails creating a secret PIN and adding your child’s birth month and year. Max then customizes the profile with suggested content restrictions, but you can manually specify what TV shows and movies your child can watch by rating on your own. This flexible approach is ideal and something that Netflix offers.Your child can’t switch profiles without entering the PIN you used to create the account. However, we noticed that Max only locked some content rather than omitting it entirely from the Kid’s experience. For example, if you set up an account for a very young child, the left-hand menu lets them browse (but not watch) titles available to different age groups, such as 13+.Can You Watch Max With a VPN?A VPN is an excellent privacy tool for protecting your internet traffic from the peering eyes of your ISP or any other malicious actors lurking on a network. An added benefit of a VPN is that you can use it to spoof your location online. This creates potential problems with video streaming services that offer geographically locked content. Max is currently supported in the US, 39 territories across the Caribbean and Latin America, the Nordic region, and Spain. So this poses a problem for any interested viewers in other regions.Nonetheless, we tried streaming content from Max while connected to a US-based Mullvad VPN server on both a desktop browser and an Android phone. We were able to stream content on both devices without issue. Even if you do find that your VPN and video streaming service exist in harmony, that doesn’t mean they will continue to do so. Video streaming services are constantly working on new ways to detect and block VPN traffic.

Video Streaming Services: What You Should Know

Verdict: It’s HBO to the MaxEven with its ongoing upheaval, Max offers a varied content library including classic HBO shows, popular movies, anime, live news and sports, and reality TV. Max’s apps are well-designed, the ad-free tier supports offline downloads, and the Ultimate tier has 4K streaming. We would prefer that the ad-supported tier had fewer restrictions, and all plans are relatively expensive compared with some competition services. Although Max is a better collective value than the standalone Discovery+ or HBO Now ever were, Netflix remains our Editors’ Choice winner for on-demand video streaming services due to its top-notch streaming features and popular originals. Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV are our top picks for live TV streaming because of their broad channel lineups and value. Peacock and Tubi are our recommendations for low-cost and free streaming, respectively.


Huge catalog of popular shows and movies from many sources

Attractive apps

User profiles and parental control tools

Ad-free tier lets you download content for offline viewing

Live news and sports

Ultimate tier includes far more 4K content than HBO Max


The Bottom Line
The rebranded Max streaming video service dropped HBO from its name, but still offers a great library filled with Home Box Office originals, fun Discovery+ reality shows, live news and sports, and an expanded 4K content catalog.

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