Netflix vs. HBO

Netflix and Home Box Office (HBO) are two of the most popular online streaming services, both offering viewers the choice of thousands of on-demand movies and TV shows. Both excel in providing award-winning original programming and provide excellent user experiences. Deciding between Netflix vs HBO can come down to price, the number of streams users want per account, or whether they prefer the content on one service to the other.

Netflix was initially founded as a DVD rental and sales company that expanded into the streaming media market in 2007. It’s now the biggest player in the on-demand streaming industry, not only providing a resource for people to watch content but also producing its own original documentaries, movies and TV shows. As of the second quarter of 2020, Netflix had 192.2 million paying subscribers around the world. For more information about the streaming service, read our Netflix review.

HBO is a television network owned by WarnerMedia. It originally launched two streaming services, HBO Go and HBO Now. But the launch of HBO Max in May 2020 saw HBO Go discontinued, while HBO Now is simply known as HBO. For more information about the network’s original streaming service, read our HBO review.

HBO Max launched with more than 10,000 hours of movies and TV shows, which more than doubled the content available on the legacy HBO services. This includes the entire back catalog of HBO original programming in addition to blockbuster movies and other popular TV series from WarnerMedia brands like Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, Crunchyroll, DC Comics, Looney Tunes, New Line Cinema, Studio Ghibli and Warner Bros. It’s available to previous HBO customers at no extra cost. As of June 2020, HBO and HBO Max had a combined 36.3 million subscribers, which was an increase of 5 percent from December 2019.  Discover everything you need to know about the new streaming service in our HBO Max review.

Compare Netflix vs. HBO plans

 Netflix BasicNetflix StandardNetflix PremiumHBOHBO Max
Monthly price$8.99$12.99$15.99$14.99$14.99
Free trial length30 days30 days30 days7 days7 days
Number of titles5,5065,5065,5061,4542,364
Number of simultaneous streams124UnlimitedUnlimited
Cloud DVR storageNoNoNoNoNo
Offline viewingYesYesYesYesYes
Ad-free optionYesYesYesYesYes
User profiles555Unlimited5
Original contentYesYesYesYesYes

Which streaming service is right for you?

Netflix and HBO both provide viewers with a large back-catalog of classic movies, Hollywood hits, binge-worthy TV series and brand new original programming. They also offer strong service experiences and features, such as multiple simultaneous streams, offline downloads and high-quality video streaming.

Netflix is best for people who want a wide choice of viewing and the option to select a budget streaming plan. In addition to original content, Netflix is home to thousands of movies and TV shows. The best films on the service include the original Jurassic Park trilogy, Liam Neeson in the epic Schindler’s List, Anthony Hopkins in the classic thriller The Silence of the Lambs and Jake Gyllenhall, Murk Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. hunting for a serial killer in Zodiac. While the service also offers plenty of non-Netflix produced TV shows such as Breaking Bad, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Community, New Girl and Spaced.

HBO is best for people who are committed to the provider’s own original content and want near-immediate access to its latest shows. In addition to that, it’s also home to new movie releases like Brad Pitt starring in science fiction epic Ad Astra, Ewan McGregor in the film version of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep and Christian Bale and Matt Damon in motor racing biopic Ford v Ferrari.

User experience

Netflix

Netflix subscribers can watch the service via desktop browsers, mobile phones, tablets and streaming devices. Mobile users can watch Netflix via apps for Android, Apple and Windows phones and tablets. Netflix has apps available for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast and Roku streaming media players. It’s also available on PlayStation 3 and Playstation 4, Nintendo WiiU and Xbox 360 and Xbox One gaming consoles. Netflix also has apps for smart TVs from Hisense, LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, Toshiba and Vestel, as well as Blu-ray players from LG, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba.

HBO

HBO’s streaming services are available to watch on desktop browsers for Macs and PCs. HBO and HBO Max are also available through apps for mobile phones, tablets and streaming devices.

HBO can be watched through apps for Android and Apple phones and tablets. It also has apps for Apple TV, Android TV and Samsung TV, as well as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

HBO Max has apps for Android and Apple phones and tablets. It’s also available on Apple TV, Google Chromecast, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Personalization

Netflix

Netflix offers a choice of three separate plans that impact the user experience. The Netflix Basic ($8.99/mo.) plan offers one stream per account and only enables users to register one device at any time. Netflix Standard ($12.99/mo.) ups that to two simultaneous streams per account. And upgrading to Netflix Premium ($15.99/mo.) enables users to watch the service on four separate devices. 

Netflix subscribers can save movies and TV shows they want to watch by clicking the Add to My List button on any title. This content is accessible via the My List button in the header bar at the top of the Netflix homepage. Netflix also suggests content that users might like based on genres and titles they’ve recently watched, as well as recommending currently trending movies and shows.

All Netflix users can also create up to five profiles per account, which enables different people on the same account to have their own personalized service. Each profile comes with its own language preferences, maturity level, personalized suggestions, playback and subtitle settings and viewing restrictions.

Within this, Netflix enables users to place parental controls on profiles. To do this, users can create a Netflix Kids Profile. Alternatively, they can create a manual profile with settings such as blocking specific shows, limiting content to a specific maturity rating and turning autoplay on or off. Users can also block profiles on their accounts to prevent them from being accessed by other people.

Netflix enables subscribers to download movies and TV shows to watch offline on their mobile devices. The amount of content that users can download is reliant on the amount of storage space available on their mobile phone or tablet.

HBO

HBO users get unlimited simultaneous streams of content. That’s in addition to the service putting no restrictions on the number of profiles that subscribers can create.

HBO Max also enables subscribers to watch the service on unlimited simultaneous streams. It allows users to create up to five separate profiles per account. HBO Max subscribers can download up to 30 movies or TV show episodes onto their mobile devices to watch offline. Once downloaded, users have 30 days to start watching the content and 48 hours to finish watching it once playback has started. The same movie or show can be downloaded on up to five devices.

HBO’s services lack the personalized recommendations that Netflix provides. HBO offers curated collections such as Featured, Last Chance and Just Added, as well as an Essential HBO selection. But it doesn’t recommend content based on movies and shows that users watched recently.

HBO Max offers strong parental controls by enabling users to select the Add Kid option from the profiles home page. Users can then select the content rating that they want their child to watch and enter ratings they don’t want to be available. They can also set a PIN that prevents a child user from accessing other profiles on the account.

Extras

Netflix

  • Netflix content is available in 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD), high dynamic range (HDR) and Dolby Vision.
  • Netflix offers the highest-available sound format of Dolby Atmos.

Netflix’s original content is headlined by political thriller House of Cards, drug smuggling escapades in Narcos, science-fiction hit Stranger Things and recent documentary series Tiger King. Further binge-worthy Netflix originals include Bojack Horseman, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Ozark and The Crown. It also creates original movies like Breaking Bad sequel El Camino, the Oscar-winning Roma and Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.

HBO 

  • HBO can be accessed as an add-on through third-party streaming services like Amazon Prime Channels and Hulu.
  • HBO only offers one price point of $14.99/mo., which is more expensive than Netflix’s Basic and Standard plans.

HBO’s original programming includes award-winning shows like gripping wartime series Band of Brothers, epic fantasy based on George R. R. Martin’s novels in Game of Thrones, historical drama Rome, homicide investigation series True Detective and gritty police drama The Wire. Other HBO originals include Ballers, Big Little Lies, Boardwalk Empire, Chernobyl, Lovecraft County, Silicon Valley and Westworld.

Disadvantages

Netflix

Despite the many positives of the Netflix service, unlike HBO, it’s not available as an add-on service through other third-party services. 

HBO

The main disadvantage of the HBO service is that its content isn’t available in the highest-quality audio and video formats. HBO lacks 4K capability, HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, which are all available with Netflix. HBO also doesn’t provide apps for subscribers to watch on Amazon Fire TV or Roku devices, which are two of the most popular brands of streaming media players.

Our hot take

Netflix and HBO both provide vast content libraries packed with great documentaries, movies and TV shows, including their own award-winning original programming. Netflix has the edge over HBO when it comes to audio and video quality, personalization and user experience. However, HBO enables viewers to get near-live experiences by making new episodes available on its streaming services shortly after they premiere.

Netflix and HBO both offer free trials of their services, which cord-cutters can use to compare the content and features for themselves.

Rob Latham

Rob Latham is a writer focused on technology, music, entertainment and sports. He is particularly passionate about the role that technology plays in improving peoples’ lives and helping businesses to work more effectively. He’s written marketing content for global B2B technology brands and start-ups, founded his own music blog and is a regular contributor to soccer publications. His professional background is in content marketing, public relations and journalism, and he has a Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism.