First Impressions – HBO Now
When I was a kid every few years we got cable for Christmas. It was usually a six month stint, but it was a dream come true for me. I got the Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon (for NIck at Night primarily), and a hundred other channels to surf. But we never got the premium package, which included that great mystery that was HBO. The cost was too high, and I was too young for a majority of the content anyway.
As an adult I’ve never had cable. I like to say that my cable consists of Netflix and Hulu Plus. Between those two I can watch the majority of the shows I want to with Netflix providing lots of past seasons, and Hulu Plus providing current programming. But I’ve added a third service to my “cable” and that is HBO Now. In March HBO announced that they would begin selling monthly subscriptions that could be accessed via Apple TV and devices running iOS (read iPhone, iPad, and newer iPod Touch). After a period of exclusivity, the service will certainly come to Android platforms as well, and smart televisions as well. I signed up on the first day (as of 4/28/15 the first month is still free!), and I haven’t looked back since. So let’s take a quick look at what HBO Now offers.
It has tons of content
I started by taking in all the offerings. I was a total newbie having never had HBO before. I’ve seen some shows through DVD (i.e. Sopranos, Game of Thrones), but the vast array of options was a total surprise. The service breaks it up into categories including: series, movies, comedy, sports, documentaries, collections, and late night. You can add most of the content to your “watchlist” and I immediately started adding movies I wanted to watch, which included many current films like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, and “A Million Ways to Die in the West”. I found several shows that I’d heard a lot about, like “Veep”, “The Comeback” and “Silicon Valley”. There were documentaries that looked interesting, like “The (Dead Mothers) Club” which explores the lives of famous personalities who lost their mothers at young ages. I even found a documentary on David McCullough, one of my favorite biographers. Bottom line, there is tons of stuff that looked interesting, and well worth the $15 monthly charge. And all of that content comes to HBO Now the same day as it broadcasts on HBO itself, so no worrying about Game of Thrones spoilers!
Parental Note: the service offers “parental controls” so you can limit what content kids can access with a passcode. I found plenty of content my kid would enjoy watching, but HBO is well known for plenty of Rated R type stuff (ahem…Game of Thrones). So it’s nice that there is a built in “firewall” of sorts.
If you have an Apple TV, that’s the best way to watch HBO Now. During Apple’s exclusive period you are stuck with either that or watching on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. I’ve watched a bit on an iPad MIni, and it works fine for that size screen. Though Game of Thrones isn’t quite as epic on an eight inch screen. The Apple TV interface is very similar to the other video streamers on the device, like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Crackle. Easy navigation, great summaries of shows. The majority of the movies offer the preview right on the selection screen, which is a great feature (missing from Netflix).
For Your Consideration: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
When John Oliver took over the Daily Show with John Stewart in the Summer of 2014 it was awesome. I kind of liked him more than Stewart. When he left the show shortly after Stewart’s return I was bummed out. The fact that he then started a weekly news show on HBO was a twist of the knife. So when I realized I’d finally get to watch his program “Last Week Tonight” with my HBO Now subscription I was thrilled. And the show lived up to the hopes I had in it. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. While it feels a bit like The Daily Show (leans pretty heavy to the left politically), it also feels like an irreverent 60 minutes. Oliver spends most of the program digging into specific issues, using good old fashion investigative journalism. Sure he swears like a sailor throughout, but he makes amazing points, and really makes you think (even if you don’t agree with him all the time). It’s a great show, and well worth the cost of the subscription. For me, everything after John Oliver’s program is just icing on the cake.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The dreams of my ten year old self have been fulfilled! Every time we start up a show and the static sound followed by the HBO icon appears I get a little excited. The grip of the cable companies on the premium content offered by HBO is starting to loosen. Or rather HBO is breaking free of their grasp.
For the time being you will need an Apple product to access HBO Now and an Apple TV to get the service off of your mobile device and onto the big screen. So if you don’t have those options, be patient for the service will certainly come to devices like Roku, Chromecast, and maybe even the Amazon Fire TV (they already have a deal to show older content after all). That’s not to mention an app for Android smartphones and Tablets. It should be mentioned that you can watch HBO Now on a web browser if that’s your only option, but that is certainly not optimal.
If you get in soon you can try the service out for 30 days at no cost, so what do you have to lose! And $15 is a pretty decent deal, since renting just 3-4 movies (which I found on HBO Now) would cost at least that much. So grab this link and give it a go.