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HBO Max vs Netflix: Who's top dog in the streaming wars?

Ads, picture quality, library titles, and more. We give you the details to choose your ideal streamer.
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Published onFebruary 14, 2023

With recent price hikes and a controversial move to crack down on account sharing, Netflix is still the king of streamers, but people are looking for alternatives. One of the biggest streaming success stories of the last few years has been HBO Max. Both services position themselves as one-stop streamers with huge, varied catalogs of content to watch, including their slates of original shows and movies. So, HBO Max vs Netflix: who comes out on top?

Read on for a breakdown of the two services, with all the details you need to make an informed choice about which streamer is right for you. Or, if you’re all set to subscribe, you can hit the links below to sign up for HBO Max and Netflix.

hbomax
Max
Max, formerly HBO Max, is your home for HBO titles, Warner Bros-made movies and TV shows, the DC Comics superheroes, and more. It's also the home for new and original movies and shows available nowhere else.
Netflix icon
Netflix
Netflix is still the leading premium streaming service, with over 200 million worldwide subscribers. It offers thousands of movies and TV shows to binge watch, including its always growing list of original films and series, including Stranger Things, The Witcher, Bridgerton, and many more.

HBO Max vs Netflix: Ads and pricing

netflix ads plan
Netflix

HBO Max keeps its account options pretty simple. You have two options, and the big difference between the two is ads.

An HBO Max plan with ads comes in at $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. The ad-free plan bumps you up to $15.99 per month or $149.99 per year. Other plans with varying features are available through third-party providers, but those vary by region.

Over at Netflix, you get four subscription streams, with more complicated differences between each tier.

A Basic with Ads plan is $6.99 per month, while a Basic plan without ads is $9.99 per month. In the higher tiers, a Standard subscription is $15.49 per month, and a Premium plan is $19.99 per month.

So, the two services are in similar ballparks, with Netflix offering both cheaper and more expensive options than HBO Max, but the two meeting somewhere in the middle.

That pricing needs a bit of extra context though. Each tier at both HBO Max and Netflix comes with its own unique features beyond ads. These include offline downloads, picture quality, concurrent streams, and more. We break all of that down in the next section.

How do streaming plan features stack up?

Cost is really only one factor in choosing a streaming service. Some services like Apple TV Plus and Discovery Plus are on the cheaper end of the scale, and some like Tubi and Pluto TV are completely free. But these are niche streamers with certain limitations. They’re all great in their own ways, but they don’t cover as much ground as HBO Max and Netflix. Below is a breakdown of the features you can expect from the two.

HBO Max

Whether you choose an ad-supported or ad-free plan with HBO Max, you can expect certain common features:

  • Three simultaneous screens
  • Over 13,000 hours of content including shows, movies, and Max Originals
  • Exclusive Warner Bros. movies
  • Ad-free HBO titles
  • HD streaming quality

A few features are only available to ad-free HBO Max subscribers. For the extra cost, you obviously get rid of ad breaks, but you can also download content for offline streaming, use your account when travelling outside the US, and watch select titles in 4K or ultra HD.

Netflix

Netflix is a bit more variable. Each subscription tier really does its own thing. Below is a quick breakdown of what to expect at each level.

Basic with Ads

  • Ad breaks
  • Streaming on one device at a time
  • Access to most of the Netflix library, with a few exceptions
  • Access to all mobile games
  • HD picture quality

Basic

  • No ad breaks
  • Streaming on one device at a time
  • Access to the whole Netflix library
  • Access to all mobile games
  • HD picture quality
  • Downloads for offline viewing on one device

Standard

  • No ad breaks
  • Streaming on up to two devices at a time
  • Access to the whole Netflix library
  • Access to all mobile games
  • Full HD picture quality
  • Downloads for offline viewing on up to two devices

Premium

  • No ad breaks
  • Streaming on up to four devices at a time
  • Access to the whole Netflix library
  • Access to all mobile games
  • Ultra HD (4K) picture quality
  • Downloads for offline viewing on up to six devices

What to watch on HBO Max and Netflix

The Last of Us - hbo max vs netflix
HBO

HBO Max and Netflix have tons of titles available to watch. With the exception of Netflix’s ad-supported subscription tier, all subscribers have access to the full libraries.

Netflix used to have a more robust catalog of third-party titles, and it has lost some major fan favorites over the years like Friends and The Office. Having said that, it is still home to huge hits like Breaking Bad, Community and more. On top of that, it has its own original programming, which includes Emmy Award-winning shows like Stranger Things, The Crown, and Ozark, and major award-winning films like Roma, The Power of the Dog, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.

Over on HBO Max, you get access to a ton of Warner Bros. titles, including classic shows like Friends and Seinfeld; new movies; HBO programming like The Last of Us, Game of Thrones, and Succession, available to stream as they air; and HBO Max originals like Station Eleven, Our Flag Means Death, The Sex Lives of College Girls, Doom Patrol, Peacemaker, and Hacks.

HBO Max vs Netflix: Which is the better streamer

HBO Max and Netflix are probably the closest to each other out of all the streamers in terms of quality and value. Hulu may be the one exception.

Both services have huge libraries of great content at comparable prices.

Having said that, HBO Max has emerged as our preferred choice. It’s hard to compete with its mix of hot new releases, iconic library titles, exciting new Max Originals, and the prestige of HBO. The streamer offers all of that at two reasonable price points, letting subscribers have more concurrent streams than Netflix and offering 4K picture quality at a lower tier.

Now, if your main goal in picking a streamer is to have access to Netflix originals like The Witcher and Orange Is the New Black, it’s obvious which service you should go with. At the end of the day, streaming services sink or swim on the quality of their catalogs. That means you’ll want to look and see what’s right for you.