HBO Max is dead, long live Max. The streaming service, which relaunched on May 23, has a spiffy new interface, tons of new content, and even a new font that's most noticeable on the "M". I'm not loving it.
Maybe we started off on the wrong foot. One thing HBO Max neglected to mention in the runup to this rebranding and relaunch: even if you're already a customer and logged in, you still have to download a brand new app (on your best streaming device of choice) and log in again. If you have a name on your avatar, you have to re-enter it. At least Max has like a billion different show-related avatar characters to choose from.
I was also surprised to see myself as a "Legacy Ad-Free" subscriber. This identified me as a long-time paying customer, paying $15.99 a month (in the US) for ad-free content. The good news is that this means I still have 4K shows and movies. The really bad news is that this also means there's a clock on that quality.
Six months from now it will disappear unless I pay $19.99 a month for "Ultimate Ad-Free." I have no plan to pay this much. I know, Netflix now costs just as much for a similar quality service, but they got there slowly and I'm allergic to big price bumps just to hold onto what I had before.
The new Max interface is relatively clean and workable and it's amazing how quickly I was happy to forget the older interface that I used for years. As with most streaming services, Max is now a combination of vertical and side-scrolling content.
Max front-loads For You. If you had HBO Max before, For You is based on your previous watching habits. I was pleased to see Succession and Barry sandwiched between the now-finished (for the season) Last of Us and South Park (one of my son's favorites).
The Featured section is almost all new content that appears to be a mix of new Max offerings like Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai (a cartoon for kids who probably never heard of Gremlins), and old Discover and HGTV content like Windy City Rehab and The Property Brothers Celebrity IOU home renovation series.
If I select 'Series' I see an entire section devoted to Food and Home. Considering all the similar content on Netflix, this should not bother me, but I think I have a sort of whiplash. The original HBO was a source of premium, scripted content, through its various iterations as HBO Now, HBO Go, then HBO Max.
On just Max, HBO's premium position seems somewhat downgraded behind a mix of cooking, DIY and other less-premium fare.
Perhaps this is a me problem and not a you problem. New Max customers may not even remember the days when HBO, with shows like The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm, was only available with a cable subscription. This was long before content conglomerates sought to suck up every bit of IP across every genre and dump them all into one gated space.
Max is very maximalist. It's no longer the best place for the movies and scripted content. It's the place for everything and every taste. This new app and design have to carry a lot of water trying to make everyone feel like the service is built just for them.
The problem is that Max, even with For You, doesn't feel like it was built just for me. I'm wandering around and spotting a lot more "Nah, that's not for me" than "I've got to watch that."
Netflix can feel like this too, but I never wanted HBO to turn into Netflix. Now it comes close, or something like Netflix but more or, um, Max.
I don't hate the new Max and I'm just grumpy about the fact that even the stuff I like watching will, in 6 months' time, look worse because I don't want to pay more. But what if I do fork over another $48 a year? Is Max worth it? Do I need all this extra stuff or would I be content to watch another season of Last of Us in 4K and forget the rest?