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Cord-cutting seems to be the wave of the future, empowering viewers to watch their favorite programming how they want to without a massive cable package. No cable channel has anticipated the future of cord-cutters like HBO, first with its password-sharing friendly HBO GO, and then with the first standalone streaming option from a premium cable channel, HBO NOW.
Unless you’re already a subscriber, you may not understand the differences between these two seemingly identical services. But if you’re looking for the best way to stream HBO, it’s important. Here’s what separates these two great but slightly different services.
HBO GO vs HBO NOW: What’s the difference?
Both HBO GO and HBO NOW contain the same content. Every movie, documentary, series, and comedy special is there for your viewing on demand, no matter which service you use. Each app has a handy “Featured” content section that lets you know about standout new releases and a “Just Added” movies section that will show you everything that’s new on HBO. No matter if you watch on your iPad or TV both HBO GO and HBO NOW will remember where you left off, letting you pick up your shows at home or on the road.
The difference between the two is simple: HBO GO is streaming service that connects to your pre-existing HBO package from your cable provider. It allows you to watch HBO on-demand from any device you own. Simply put, if you (or, let’s be real, your parents) don’t have cable anymore, you can’t have HBO GO.
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HBO GO vs HBO NOW: Cost
How much HBO GO costs is up to your cable provider. Some cable providers may throw in a year or two of HBO for free. In some areas, it can be as little as $10 or as high as $20, depending on your package and service. That’s on top of your existing cable bill, which can add up to a hefty sum depending on which channels you buy.
HBO NOW, on the other hand, is $14.99 a month, period. It’s made for anyone who signs up—not just existing cable subscribers.
HBO GO vs HBO NOW: Devices and services
While HBO GO was originally just for Apple and iOS devices, the service has expanded over the years to work on almost every platform. For the most part, both HBO GO and HBO NOW work on the exact same devices, with just a few odd exceptions. HBO NOW does not work with Microsoft Edge or TIVO, so if those are your main viewing platforms, you’ll want to consider HBO GO.
You can also access HBO NOW from within the Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming apps as an add-on if you don’t want to juggle a new app. If you’re a cord-cutter, HBO NOW is also available via Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick, and Roku, as well as gaming consoles like Xbox One and PS4. In any case, you’ll pay $14.99 a month for the service; you’ll just miss out on HBO’s interface. Instead, HBO content is accessed just like any other channel within the app.
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HBO GO requires the most effort to set up. First, you need to deal with your cable company. That alone can be a nightmare. Once your HBO subscription is set up, you’ll need to download the app to whatever device you’re using. From there, you can authenticate the service with your cable or satellite provider and enter a code to register your device.
With HBO NOW, the process is fairly self-explanatory: make an account, sign-in with your information, and start streaming.
Up to three people can use the service at once, no matter where they’re located or which device they’re using. If you go over the number of authorized streams, your content will stop playing and you’ll see a message that says “I’ve exceeded the number of simultaneous streams” on your screen. When that happens, the app will keep you from watching until one of the other streams stops.
HBO GO vs HBO NOW: Which one is better?
In short, it depends on whether you already have cable. The hassle of setting up HBO GO is minor, and you may be able to negotiate with your cable or satellite provider to get HBO for a lower price than $15 a month. If you can’t get a price lower than $15 a month from your provider, it’s best to sign up for HBO NOW. Either way, you’ll get access to some of the best original programming on the market and a vast array of movies each month.
What if you only need access to HBO for a month? Maybe you want to binge-watch the new season of Game of Thrones or there’s a new HBO documentary you want to see. In that case, HBO NOW is the clear winner. You can get a one-month free trial, and you can quit anytime.
It’s nice to see how similar these two services are actually. HBO is dedicated to making sure that no matter how you stream their content, as long as you pay for it, you’ll have the same experience across both apps.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
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John-Michael Bond is a tech reporter and culture writer for Daily Dot. A longtime cord-cutter and early adopter, he's an expert on streaming services (Hulu with Live TV), devices (Roku, Amazon Fire), and anime. A former staff writer for TUAW, he's knowledgeable on all things Apple and Android. You can also also find him regularly performing standup comedy in Los Angeles.