HBO stands for “Home Box Office.” In a day and age where streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Prime are all the rage, HBO’s claim to being a kind of “home box office” hardly feels unique. There are a million different shows and movies at one’s fingertips on any number of streaming sites; one could spend whole weeks on YouTube alone. Yet there is something about HBO that continues to draw a steady fanbase to it, even though its selection is far less diverse than other television channels.
And sure, you can get “premium” content on HBO, but it it worth all the additional money you’d have to spend on it, since HBO is an additional cost to a normal cable package? Well, as of 2016, those interested in HBO need not break the bank in order to view what the network has to offer.
Beginning in 2016, HBO offers a standalone service called HBO NOW, wherein people can pay a monthly fee to view HBO content without paying for a cable package (in addition to other premiums that might come with said cable package). Here on Digital Recourse we’ve got a guide to help you in using HBO NOW on your desktop or laptop, as well as the pros and cons of the service, if you don’t have it but are considering it.
HBO NOW: What is It?
HBO began in the early ’70s; in 2016, the company is nearly 50 years old. Owned by Time Warner, HBO kicked off in late 1972, and has since become what is arguably the juggernaut in television programming. With programs like The Sopranos and the cult favorite The Wire under its belt, HBO is typically perceived as the spearheading force of the “television renaissance,” a movement of high-quality television shows that aim at cinematic heighs in their production quality, writing, and directing. Shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Oz are said to have influenced the development of prestige programs on other television networks, including AMC’s Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, and Showtime’s Masters of Sex. It is of note that the prestige format is not limited to what are called “premium” channels like HBO; while Showtime is a premium channel, AMC is a standard cable channel. The influence of HBO extends to all facets of scripted television dramas and comedies.
You might also know HBO as “the channel that shows new movies in hotel rooms.” This is also true of HBO when accessed in the home or via services like HBO GO or HBO NOW. HBO’s film database includes older films, including some classics, but it also has films that have either just left cinemas or are getting close to being released on home video. For example, here’s a sampling of the current HBO film roster (note that this is subject to change at any time):
- Ted 2
- State and Main
- 101 Dalamatians
- The Black Dahlia
- Dumb & Dumber
- Gus Van Sant’s Last Days
- Kung Pow! Enter the Fist
If you have HBO, you might never need to leave the house to go to a video rental kiosk like Redbox. There are more movies than you could ever watch in the HBO database (that is, unless you’re Martin Scorsese, and are able to watch a seemingly impossible amount of films).
It’s TV where HBO has made its biggest impact. If you have HBO, you have access to any and all of HBO’s television programming, past and present. You can even watch shows that didn’t last very long, even if it was only a season. Here are some examples of HBO’s much-lauded quality television programming:
- Game of Thrones: There are shows of HBO’s that are more lauded than Game of Thrones, but none have become so huge a phenomenon as Game of Thrones. Based on a popular series of fantasy books by George R.R. Martin that have only become more popular due to the show, Game of Thrones is a complex fantasy world rife with political intrigue, violence, and sex.
- The Wire: Also known as “that show your hip friend told you to watch,” The Wire is a rich, novelistic take on the city of Baltimore, examining multiple aspects of its social structure including the police department, criminal gangs, political circles, and public schools. Not an easy watch by any means, but a highly rewarding one.
- Big Love: A rare TV show to examine the lifestyles of the Mormon faith.
- Girls: This show, helmed by Lena Dunham, depicts the privileged lifestyles of young Brooklynites. To Brooklynites, the self-centeredness and faux-profundity of these characters will ring like true satire; to those unacquainted with New York’s hippest borough, these characters will be a point of annoyance.
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Though Samantha Bee’s TBS program Full Frontal is the best program influenced by the Jon Stewart Daily Show (Comedy Central), former Daily Show correspondent John Oliver has had the most success after leaving Stewart’s program. Last Week Tonight airs only once a week for 30 minutes, but each episode features a long-form (usually 15 to 20 minute) piece of satiric investigative journalism that has made Oliver a web and cultural sensation. The lengthy segments are always made available on YouTube the day after airing, but for full episodes you need to have HBO.
HBO NOW: How to Access
If any, all, or many of the above titles prove tantalizing to you, then you might be wondering how to sign up for an HBO NOW account. This is, fortunately, easy enough to do. Before explaining what you need to do to get HBO NOW, here are some important clarification points:
HBO GO and HBO NOW are not the same service. HBO GO is an extension of the normal HBO cable package; that is to say, to access HBO GO you already need to be a subscriber to HBO via your cable or satellite package. HBO NOW is the “Netflix version” of HBO, meaning that it is a standalone streaming subscription to HBO’s content. If you’re only looking to stream HBO’s content or don’t have a cable package, then HBO NOW is the way to go.
HBO NOW costs $14.99 per month. The service can be accessed through any of the following devices or operating systems:
- Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, or Kindle Fire
- Microsoft Android phone, tablet, or TV
- Apple TV
- iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
- Samsung Smart TV
- Xbox One and Xbox 360
You can also access HBO NOW via computer, with an operating system running Windows Vista or later for Microsoft computers, and Mac OS 10.6 or later for Apple computers. The following web browsers support HBO NOW:
- Google Chrome (version 37 or later)
- Mozilla Firefox (version 31 or later)
- Internet Explorer (version 10 or later)
- Apple Safari (version 7 or later)
There is one key distinction between using HBO NOW on a computer and any of the aforementioned devices, such as an Xbox One or an iPod Touch. For the latter devices, HBO NOW is accessed through a separate application (app) that is downloaded onto the device. To access HBO NOW in that case, you would click on the app and then enter your username/password.
When using HBO NOW on a computer, whether it be a desktop or a laptop, there is no app to access. To use HBO NOW in this way, you first need to set up your HBO NOW plan through one of the following providers (click on that link to be guided through the steps of signing up):
- Service Electric
Once you have set up your HBO NOW account, you access the service by logging in directly at hbonow.com. There is no separate download necessary to use HBO NOW on desktop or laptop computers.
Frequently Asked Questions
If I have HBO bundled with my cable, do I need to get HBO NOW in order to stream it on other devices aside from my TV?
No; this is where HBO GO comes in. If you have HBO with your cable, you get access to HBO GO for free. Accessing it is much like accessing HBO NOW, except instead of a standalone HBO NOW account, you sign in to HBO GO with the login you use for your cable provider.
Can I simultaneously stream my HBO NOW account on multiple devices?
Yes. Having an HBO NOW account allows you to use that account on several devices at once. It is possible that if you attempt to stream it on too many devices at once you will get a “simultaneous streams exceeded” warning from HBO, but HBO’s website is not clear on how many simultaneous streams it would take for that warning to kick in.
Who is the ideal customer for HBO NOW?
HBO NOW is best suited for two types of people: (1) those who want to access HBO shows without having a cable subscription, or (2) those who have a cable subscription, but who would incur less costs by having an HBO NOW subscription rather than bundling up HBO with their cable. Cable packages widely vary in cost across regions, meaning that in some situations, it could be cheaper to subscribe to HBO NOW rather than tacking on an additional cost to your cable bill.
As of now, HBO NOW may not have a desktop app, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to watch; in fact, far from it. HBO has made its streaming service extremely easy to use for those new to the network and those who have watched its programming for years.