May 23, 2023 is a day for the streaming history books; the day Warner Bros. Discovery launched “Max,” and the purple hued king that was HBO Max was taken from the public forever, lost to the web archives of the world.
Sort of. Although WBD promised that today would be the day that the Max streamer replaces the original HBO Max, for a few hours after Max launched, it was still possible to access its predecessor via the internet. That’s since been fixed, and going to HBO Max’s website now redirects you to a page imploring you to go to Max.com, but it gave us ample opportunity to compare the changes between the two streamers, and what has and hasn’t changed.
In the hours it was still up, HBO Max still had all of the content it already had on the site, and it could be watched and streamed as freely and readily as it did before Max launched. What it lacked was all of the content added to Max that dropped today on the service, including the new “Clone High” revival, animated series “Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai,” podcast adaptation “Smartless: On the Road,” or the buckets of former Discovery+ content like the entire “90 Day Fiancé” franchise. Sadly, HBO Max classic is now more or less officially dead, depriving us the hope of watching the “Succession” series finale on the old platform.
The new Max retains your viewing history from the old site. But in what seems to be a bug, titles you removed from the “Continue Watching” section at HBO Max may have transitioned over to the Continue Watching section at the top of Max’s page. For example, this writer watched half of “Juno” on HBO Max a month ago in April, and deleted it from his Continue Watching section afterwards. On Max though, it’s up on the homepage, with the exact timestamp he quit the movie at still intact.
As for how it looks, both streamers have basically the same UI layout, except Max trades its predecessor’s distinctive purple for a dark blue background. Each homepage features a list of saved titles (again, your watchlist has been transferred over) called “My List,” and carousels like “Just Added” or “New Episodes This Week.” Some of the more creative or curated carousels featured on Max’s page on launch day includes “Meet Your Next Obsession” (which seems to entirely contain docuseries and reality shows), “Life With TLC” (featuring content from the channel), “Become an Armchair Detective” (true crime), “HGTV Happy Place” (home renovation), “All the LOLs” (comedies) and “Drama! Drama! Drama!” (self explanatory).
The major difference between the streamers lies on the navigation menu at the top of the screen, which has been simplified in the transition.
HBO Max had buttons that lead to the “Movies” and “Series” pages, and a drop down menu that gave you the chance to search for “Originals,” “Last Chance” titles that will be removed from the service, titles that are “Coming Soon,” what’s “Trending Now,” and projects that have received “Awards & Acclaim.” The dropdown menu also had a tab to search titles by genres, a list of brands to search for including curated titles from Turner Classic Movies and the libraries of Adult Swim and Studio Ghibli, and a redirect to a page of titles that offered audio descriptions for accessibility purposes.
Max, drops that, er, dropdown menu entirely, in favor of a single navigation menu at the top that contains four redirects: “Series,” “Movies,” an HBO tab with titles from the channel, and “New & Notable.” One welcome addition is a ribbon symbol to the main navigation bar that automatically redirects you to your list of saved shows and films.
As for content featured in the dropped aspects of the original HBO Max UI, you need to search the streamer a little to find it. Genre lists are included at the very, very bottom of the HBO Max homepage, with “Audio Description” lumped in as a genre between “Adventure & Survival” and “Comedy.” The collections featured on the dropdown menu of HBO Max are included in a “Brand Spotlight” carousel on the homepage; along with DC, TCM, Studio Ghibli, Cartoon Network, and Sesame Workshop, new brands added include “Wizarding World” (“Harry Potter”), CNN originals, and a glut of programming from Discovery-owned cable channels like Magnolia, Discovery, Food Network, HGTV, and TLC.
In terms of watching titles themselves, one of the most annoying changes to the UI is how episodes for show are displayed. On HBO Max, if you went to check out “Succession,” all episodes of a season were displayed at once, with a navigation menu to switch between seasons. On Max’s homepage that season menu remains, but now the shows are displayed vertically in a carousel, and you have to click an arrow button to cycle through it four episodes at a time.
HBO shows that are currently airing have a “new episode” tag on the top-left coroner of its thumbnail on the site, though this seems to only apply to HBO originals. For example, Comedy Central turned HBO Max turned Max comedy series “The Other Two” is currently releasing new episodes of its third season, but does not get the honor of a “New Episode” tag.
HBO Max’s famously finicky video player made the transition to the Max intact. The only major difference is that, with the old streamer’s player, the time played was located in the lower left-hand corner beneath the progress bar, and displayed the time elapsed in the episode followed by a slash and the total runtime (so say, 25:00/50:00, for example). On Max, time played is displayed on the right-hand side of the screen, and simply counts down the total amount of time left in the episode.
With all those differences catalogued, what can a viewer who knows how to navigate the Max app enjoy in this bold new blue world?
In addition to the originals that already dropped and the Discovery+ content that’s been added, upcoming Max content that will be added in the coming months include originals like Season 2 of “And Just Like That…” and Season 3 of former Cinemax series “Warrior” in June and Steven Soderbergh’s miniseries “Full Circle” in July. And although HBO has been dropped from the name, Max is still the place to watch HBO shows; next month, you can use the service to stream Season 3 of the acclaimed comedy show “The Righteous Gemstones” or the premiere of controversial Cannes premiere “The Idol.” Later Max originals that have been announced but aren’t coming for at least another year include Batman spinoff “The Penguin,” “Dune: The Sisterhood,” or the controversial “Harry Potter” TV reboot.
No, the new streamer doesn’t have any of the 87 titles that were culled from HBO Max over the course of WBD’s transition to Max; those titles, like the HBO Max service, have been confined to our memories — or FAST services, if they were lucky.