HBO Go and HBO Now — what's the difference?

HBO Now and HBO Go

All you want to do is stream Game of Thrones from HBO. Legally. So you download HBO Go and try to log in, only to be told that, no, you need to download HBO Now instead. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Why in the name of the King of the North, first of his name, does HBO need more than one streaming app? And which one is right for you? (And do you actually need a separate app to watch HBO?)

Here's the deal:

How to tell which HBO app you need

  • If you already have an HBO subscription, use HBO Go: If you've included HBO as part of your streaming (or, yes, cable TV) package, you'll use HBO Go. If HBO is included with your PlayStation Vue plan, or your DirecTV Now plan, or Hulu, or Sling, or Amazon Prime Video Chanels — if it's at all included in your plan — you'll want to download HBO Go, and then log in with your service's credentials. (This also applies to AT&T's unlimited service, which may include HBO.)
  • If you do not already have an HBO subscription, use HBO Now: This is the standalone HBO service. If you want to pay through iTunes or Google Play or Amazon or Roku or your Samsung TV, you'll use HBO Now.

See? It's definitely a little confusing. You're not alone.

Here's how HBO itself puts things :

HBO GO is a free streaming service that's included with your paid HBO subscription through a TV provider. If you get HBO with your cable or satellite TV package, you may have access to HBO GO. To find out if your TV provider supports HBO GO, see How do I sign up for HBO GO?

HBO NOW is a stand-alone, streaming service that you subscribe to through a subscription provider. Cable or satellite TV is not needed. To learn more, go to What is HBO NOW?

HBO NOW and HBO GO are available on roughly the same devices and have the same great content; you can stream all of HBO's original shows (every season, every episode), plus hit movies, specials, and more — instantly.

However ... Some of the services out there change things up. PlayStation Vue and Sling require you to log in with HBO Now instead of HBO Go. And this is what keeps us up nights.

Does HBO Go have different shows than HBO Now?

Nope. It's exactly the same content. The only difference here, really, is in the billing process, which is what makes this endeavor even more silly. It's tougher on us, the users

Do I even need one of these HBO streaming apps?

That depends. And the following applies whether you're watching on a television, or on a mobile device.

If you're subscribing through HBO Now as a stand-alone option, then, yes. You need the HBO Now app. (And the good news is it's a very nice app.)

If you're subscribing through some other service you probably have access to HBO through your usual guide. But depending on the service, searching for specific shows could be a bit of a pain. Or if you want to start a live show a little later than its actual start time, we've found that the HBO Now app — which, by the way, looks exactly like the HBO Go app — may make this a lot easier.

So we tend to keep the separate app on whatever streaming device we're using, just in case we don't want to deal with our regular streaming service application to watch something we know how to find on HBO proper. Work smart, not hard.

Then why do I have to jump through all these hoops?

Lawyers. It's always the lawyers.

The other good news is that once you have your HBO app all set up, you shouldn't have to deal with this for a while unless you cancel your HBO subscription through your provider and decide to go stand-alone, or if you change your hardware and have to re-dowload the application.

In which case, we'll absolutely excuse you for cursing this setup once again.