First Look at HBO GO on the Roku

November 3, 2011
By

It’s a couple of days late but it’s been worth it. HBO GO is now available on the entire family of Roku devices. We spent the day using the new HBO GO app watching Game of Thrones and selected movies. Here’s what we found:

HBO GO Channel on the Roku
HBO GO Channel on the Roku
This version of HBO GO is significant since it’s the first one actually built for a connected device. While HBO GO has been available on the Boxee and higher-end Samsung HDTVs, that version of the app is browser based. Despite the attractive browser interface, it’s always been challenging to navigate. Every once in while I have to sign back into my FIOS account which is a pain. The navigation on the Roku’s HBO GO app is seamless in comparison. The first time you start the app, you’re provided with a code you enter on the HBO website. After a minute, you’re all set! 
HBO GO's Opening Screen on the Roku
HBO GO’s Opening Screen on the Roku 
HBO Go on the Boxee
HBO GO on the Boxee
HBO GO on the Roku is the first streaming service that actually told me that parental controls were disabled. The reminder is a good idea given some of the content on HBO. HBO is one of the few services that supports sub-accounts with different levels of parental controls. For FIOS, this is configured on their website. 

Like most apps on the Roku, episodes for a series are displayed in a series of thumbnail tiles. However, compared to most Roku apps, the order of the episodes is reversed.

The UI is also smart enough to remember where you were in a particular episode and which episode in a series you had viewed last. It also works if you’ve been watching on a browser and then start again on the Roku. Within an episode, the replay button is enabled. However, when you fast forward or reverse, it does not present the series of thumbnails showing where you are. Netflix does this and it would be a handy enhancement for future versions.
Browsing episodes in HBO Go on the Roku
Browsing episodes in HBO GO
Episode Details

HBO GO Movie Details
Movie Details

As promised, HBO GO is streaming in high definition. Picture quality is good. It appears to be streaming at 3.5 MBps which delivers a 720P picture. This is better than the 2.5 MBps stream that Amazon Instant Video supplies for it’s 720P content on the Roku. There was little or no evidence of pixelization during action scenes or camera pans. This is where the picture quality stands out compared to the browser based or tablet versions. The difference in picture quality is not as noticeable in still shots. The picture also looks a little softer on the Roku (but that could be a function of the monitor I was using).

The audio is in stereo but is a big improvement! The sound is richer compared to what you hear in the browser based version of HBO GO. There’s good range and resolution to the audio as well as decent depth. There was no sign of closed captions in the app. In a future release, HBO is supposed to rollout 1080P and surround sound. I can’t wait.

For version 1.0, it’s a good start. HBO GO is yet another reason to get a Roku.

Update: Customers on both DIRECTV and Comcast do not have access to the HBO GO app on the Roku. This article from GigaOM explains how Comcast and DIRECTV declined to support the app. One can only conclude that they see the Roku as a competitor since they support HBO Go on tablets and web browsers.

Tags: Boxee, HBO, HDTV, Roku, streaming

14 Responses to First Look at HBO GO on the Roku

  1. Michael Scott on November 3, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    " It appears to be streaming at 3.5 MBps which delivers a 720P picture."

    I haven't seen any evidence of HD video–what were you watching?  When I start something it says, "Playing 1.5 Mbps stream on your 12.5 Mbps network" (the speed it gives for my network varies, but it's always over 10 Mbps–the service is nominally 25 Mbps).  It then buffers, displaying 4 balls, but no "HD".

  2. The Hub on November 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Game of Thrones and Inception both had it. It appears to be some sort of adaptive streaming. So, first time, start it up, let it play for about 30 seconds. Jump out and start again. I found it would then display 3.5 MBps debug message. Sometimes it would do it on the first try. 

    I don't think it ever displays the "HD" badge when buffering.

  3. Michael Scott on November 3, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    ” It appears to be streaming at 3.5 MBps which delivers a 720P picture.”

    I haven’t seen any evidence of HD video–what were you watching?  When I start something it says, “Playing 1.5 Mbps stream on your 12.5 Mbps network” (the speed it gives for my network varies, but it’s always over 10 Mbps–the service is nominally 25 Mbps).  It then buffers, displaying 4 balls, but no “HD”.

    • The Hub on November 3, 2011 at 7:38 pm

      Game of Thrones and Inception both had it. It appears to be some sort of adaptive streaming. So, first time, start it up, let it play for about 30 seconds. Jump out and start again. I found it would then display 3.5 MBps debug message. Sometimes it would do it on the first try. 

      I don’t think it ever displays the “HD” badge when buffering.

      • Michael Scott on November 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm

        Okay–I tried it again and came up saying “Playing 3.5 Mbps stream on your 7.0 Mbps network”.  I’ll play with it–I’d like to see it change.  I also need to find something with a 10 minute long action sequence near the beginning :) .

  4. Michael Scott on November 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Okay–I tried it again and came up saying "Playing 3.5 Mbps stream on your 7.0 Mbps network".  I'll play with it–I'd like to see it change.  I also need to find something with a 10 minute long action sequence near the beginning :) .

  5. Adam on November 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    The more I hear about the Roku the more I like. The HBOGO
    app on my phone is pretty solid and the web portal is great too. I am glad I am
    a DISH Network subscriber and not with Comcast or Directv. I thought those two
    were all about TV Everywhere. I understand they have their apps for streaming
    but they don’t really offer anything special. Limited on demand content or
    streaming of a few channels only while on your home network. Working for DISH I
    can see that they really are committed to TV Everywhere. Their Sling Adapter
    and DISH Remote Access app allow full streaming of every channel anywhere you
    have signal and a compatible device. Even while being the TV Everywhere leader,
    they realize that HBO subscribers pay for HBO, HBOGO included. DISH customers
    can access HBOGO any way available!
     

  6. Adam on November 10, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    The more I hear about the Roku the more I like. The HBOGO
    app on my phone is pretty solid and the web portal is great too. I am glad I am
    a DISH Network subscriber and not with Comcast or Directv. I thought those two
    were all about TV Everywhere. I understand they have their apps for streaming
    but they don’t really offer anything special. Limited on demand content or
    streaming of a few channels only while on your home network. Working for DISH I
    can see that they really are committed to TV Everywhere. Their Sling Adapter
    and DISH Remote Access app allow full streaming of every channel anywhere you
    have signal and a compatible device. Even while being the TV Everywhere leader,
    they realize that HBO subscribers pay for HBO, HBOGO included. DISH customers
    can access HBOGO any way available!
     

  7. Guest on December 2, 2011 at 4:01 am

    The picture is a soft and has bad blending problems. I expect better video and audio quality from HBO. Hopefully they get the message and fix it fast.

  8. Guest on December 2, 2011 at 4:01 am

    The picture is a soft and has bad blending problems. I expect better video and audio quality from HBO. Hopefully they get the message and fix it fast.

    • Guest 2 on May 1, 2012 at 9:33 pm

      Have you noticed the HBO GO picture quality has really improved from last month? I also hear 1080 and 5.1 is coming in the next couple months. Nice.

  9. [...] First Look at HBO GO on the Roku [...]

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    [...] First Look at HBO GO on the Roku [...]

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