- Editor's Rating
- Free to HBO customers
- Streaming of unlimited quantities of HBO content
- High-end hardware requirements
- Annoying log-in issues
Quick TakePuts all of HBO's temporarily available movies, along with all of its original TV series, at your fingertips.
Hello. My name is Adama, and I am an HBO addict. Seriously. I probably watch more programming on HBO than on any other channel. Rome, Carnivale, Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers, Deadwood…It’s like a sumptuous banquet of some of the finest TV series ever written, at least to my taste.
So naturally, I jumped on the availability of the HBO Go app for Android OS, which promises streaming HBO content directly to your smartphone or tablet. Yet as I found out in testing the app with four different mobile devices, the reality of using HBO Go doesn’t always live up to the promise.
For one thing, you need new, high-end hardware to get decent video streaming. Beyond that, after logging out of the service on one device, it will take you a least an hour to be able to switch the streaming over to a second gadget.
HBO Go is not your typical online TV streaming service. It is not free, the way Hulu is, nor can you pay for it, as you do with Netflix. In fact, it is only available to those folks who already subscribe to HBO through their TV providers. Not all TV providers are supported, although most of them are, including Dish Network, DirecTV, Comcast, and many others. Currently, those using Time Warner Cable and Cablevision aren’t able to sign up, since their TV providers haven’t worked out a deal with HBO yet.
HBO Go now offers most of the movies and shows available to those who watch HBO regularly, advertised by HBO as some 1400 titles. Most people think of HBO for movies, and HBO Go features plenty of those, You can also use HBO Go to access all of HBO’s high profile original series, and many of the less famous ones.
The content is split into categories such as movies, series, comedy specials, sports, documentaries, and “late night.” Each category offers both featured items and an A to Z list. For categories with a considerable amount of content, like movies, you can further break things down by genres or “collections.” Collections include blockbusters, movies, and “chick flicks” (HBO’s term, not mine — no angry letters, please). To look for something specific you can use the search feature.
Overall, HBO Go works pretty well, given the amount of content to sort through, The pages for each individual movie or show will give you almost anything you want to know: length, names of cast members, synopsis, and most critically, how long it’ll be available. After all, unlike Netflix, HBO doesn’t contract these movies indefinitely. So, you can avoid an unpleasant surprise by being able to learn in advance that, say, August 15th is the last day to catch a particular film. (If you want to find out more about a flick, you can always go to the Internet Movie Database.)
Playing a title is relatively foolproof. Just press the button, and go. The only playback controls you’re given are play/pause and seek, but a show or movie will automatically resume where you last stopped playback, even if that was on another device.
So theoretically, you could start watching something on your laptop, stop, and then move quickly to your smartphone, picking things up in the same place without having to do a seek or remember the time index. However, HBO Go won’t really let you do this, as I’ll get to in a minute.
I tested out the HBO Go application on these four Android OS devices: the 1GHz Samsung Nexus S; a cheap 700 MHz tablet; the 800 MHz Casio Commando; and the 1GHz T-Mobile Sidekick 4G. Of the four, only the Nexus S and Sidekick and Nexus S turned out to be capable of adequate streaming. The 800 MHz Commando suffered from significant performance troubles, and the HBO Go app refused to run at all on the low-end tablet.
It isn’t just that you don’t get as good an experience using a slower device, or that the streaming sometimes lags. It’s that with anything less than 1GHz, watching is almost impossible. Running on 800 MHz, the HBO Go app underwent long loading times and frequent hitches. Relatively often, it would cut out the video entirely and supply only audio. Mind you, this was on a 4.5 megabit Wi-Fi connection, so bandwidth was not an issue.
This problem might not seem that important to you, since most new Android devices meet or exceed the 1GHz barrier. However, the key words there are “most” and “new.” Users of older devices, or those who don’t buy the highest end phones and tablets, are unable to take advantage of the service, at all. It would be nice if HBO Go adopted a few different stream qualities to account for anything other than new, high-end devices, or if it simply used an adjustable stream, in the way that Slingbox devices have done for years.
This wasn’t the the only problem I encountered. If you configure HBO Go on multiple devices, such as a laptop and a smartphone, then you’re going to run into login issues. Only one device is allowed to stream at a time.
Beyond that, the HBO Go servers can’t seem to distinguish when a device has stopped streaming, even after logging it out of the service. If you’re viewing content on your PC, and you want to switch to your smartphone to finish it during your commute, you just can’t do that. I’ve tracked this effect ,and I’ve found it to persist for at least an hour.
If the login bug doesn’t inconvenience you, and you own powerful enough hardware to run the thing well, then HBO Go is pretty great. With this app, all of HBO’s temporarily available movies, along with all of its original TV series, are available right at your fingertips, Plus, HBO Go is free, and that is hard to beat.