HBO Max vs. Netflix: How to decide between the streaming services – CNET

Got time for 13,000 hours of TV, movies, Elmo and old episodes of Friends? HBO Max is rising up the streaming ranks with its catalog of Warner Bros. fare, exclusive film releases and Max Originals like Hacks. It’s a multibillion-dollar bet on the future of TV at a time when Americans are pondering which streaming service is the best.

Disney Plus, Hulu and Peacock are all competitors to HBO Max, but its chief rival is Netflix. The streaming king has been doing pretty good of late: Squid Game is one of its many viral hits and now that studio productions are back up and running, there’s no end in sight to its firehose of original shows.

But financial difficulties have struck millions of American families, so paying for both Max and ‘Flix may be a stream too far. How are you supposed to choose? We break down Max itself in our full review, but if you want a direct comparison to Netflix, read on.

HBO/Screenshot by Joan E. Solsman/CNET

HBO Max is the biggest Netflix competitor to launch since Disney Plus. It has everything on “standard” HBO, its own exclusives and originals, such as The White Lotus, Euphoria and The Snyder Cut, and a big back catalog of favorite shows — including Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Rick and Morty, and South Park. Additionally, its cache of Warner movies include The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Harry Potter franchises, Lego and DC movies including Joker, and even beloved anime titles from Studio Ghibli

Downsides? Unlike Netflix, new episodes will generally drop every week instead of being available all at once for easy binge watching. And HBO Max is expensive. There are two plans: $10 with ads and $15 for the ad-free version. Most subscribers will likely choose the $15 option, as the cheaper subscription does not include downloads for offline viewing or 4K streaming. HBO’s corporate parent AT&T has a bunch of other discounts for subscribers to its wireless phone, broadband and TV plans.

Read our HBO Max review.

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Netflix is the gold standard for streaming, the top TV and movie service in the world and our Editors’ Choice at CNET. It includes a wide variety of familiar network shows but its real draw is the hundreds of original series, films, documentaries and specials — more than any of its myriad competitors. Its huge library of commercial-free content remains easily accessible across different devices. Read our Netflix review for a detailed list of features.

Netflix offers three different pricing options at $10, $15.50 or $20, depending on which features you want. However, the streamer created stiff competition for itself with HBO Max after its recent rate increases.

Read our Netflix review.

Quick comparison

Netflix HBO Max
Monthly price $10 for basic $10 with ads, $15 for ad-free
Top titles Squid Game, Stranger Things, Seinfeld, Ozark, The Witcher Succession, Friends, Euphoria, Insecure, Sesame Street
Mobile downloads Yes Yes (for $15 plan)
Number of streams 1 (2 for Standard, 4 on Premium) 3
User and kids profiles Yes Yes
4K HDR available Yes (on $20 plan) Yes (for select titles)
Devices All major platforms All major platforms

Netflix wins for new originals, but HBO’s got game

The first thing to know about HBO Max is that it has everything on HBO. That includes not only Game of Thrones but every new HBO show, including Peacemaker, Station Eleven, The White Lotus and the Insecure series finale.

Max also has exclusive originals that “normal” HBO  subscribers won’t be able to watch. One of its biggest award winners last year was Hacks, a dramedy series starring Jean Smart, while kids get The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo and Looney Tunes cartoons. Max has launched more than two dozen originals, including reality competitions like Legendary and Craftopia, documentaries, movies and a spinoff of the popular Cartoon Network show Adventure Time. Upcoming projects include a Nicki Minaj docuseries and a drama featuring Elizabeth Olsen.

Read more: HBO Max: 16 of the best movies to watch

HBO Max subscribers get all of HBO plus new original series and movies.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HBO Max is also taking advantage of successful limited series by housing them on the platform for binge-watching. The Flight Attendant and The White Lotus were originally released as one-and-done short orders for HBO. However, their popularity led WarnerMedia to greenlight second seasons. While the jury is still out on a season 2 for Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That…, you can stream all limited series episodes back-to-back on HBO Max.

Netflix’s slate of originals, meanwhile, continues to churn. Mega-hits Squid Game, Money Heist Part 5 and Cobra Kai tallied more than 1.5 billion hours viewed at the end of 2021, according to the company (PDF). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

In terms of back catalog, HBO Max wins for familiarity and big names: It leans heavily on shows like Friends, South Park and Doctor Who, as well as HBO favorites including Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Sesame Street and The Sopranos. Its movie list is deeper than Netflix too, with titles such as A Star is Born, Crazy Rich Asians and The Wizard of Oz, in addition to HBO’s normal rotating slate of movies. 

While 2021 saw HBO Max doing hybrid day-and-date theatrical releases for films such as Dune, King Richard and The Matrix Resurrections, that won’t be the case in 2022. Previously, subscribers could watch the movies for free on the streamer, but they were only available for a limited time. Movies like Dune arrived, left for a period and then returned to HBO Max. Moving forward, HBO Max will receive new movies months after their theatrical premieres.

Netflix also has plenty of well-known TV shows and movies, but its strength is in its original programming and exclusives. Series such as The Witcher, Ozark, Lucifer and You continue to garner praise and devoted fan bases. Another recent example: Don’t Look Up with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence premiered on Netflix with a limited theatrical release. Unlike HBO Max where movies hit the theater first, Netflix original films arrive and live on the streamer — forever.  


Henry Cavill stars in The Witcher on Netflix.


Tough to beat the king

There’s a reason Netflix is the most popular subscription streaming service in the world. But WarnerMedia is one of the biggest brands in media, period. The massive Max service comes closer than any other to matching the breadth and depth you get from a Netflix subscription, and its library is growing. Chances are you’ll find plenty to watch on both services, however, and HBO Max is definitely worth the audition if you’re curious. You also have the option of switching between the two if you feel the content has dried up.

Now’s the time to try something new, particularly if you’ve watched everything good on Netflix already.

Now playing: Watch this: HBO Max: How to get it


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