From day one, HBO prevented their HBO GO iPhone and iPad app from working with Apple’s Airplay. Airplay lets you stream audio and video from your iPhone or iPad to Apple TV. When I heard that HBO GO now supported AirPlay, I was apprehensive about the experience it would provide. After trying out the new HBO GO app with Airplay, I have to say I’m impressed.
The apprehension was that the audio and video quality would be inferior to the other options to watch HBO GO on an HDTV. Both the Roku and Samsung Smart TV HBO apps support HD and surround sound. To my surprise, HBO GO over AirPlay also supports Dolby Digital surround sound (screen capture below). The video quality was better than expected and I would even say it’s comparable to the Roku. Yes, there’s a dropped frame here and there but overall it’s acceptable. It feels like the limiting factor here is the bitrate that the HBO GO service is streaming at. Even watching HD content on my ethernet-connected Roku, there’s some pixelation. It would be nice if HBO streamed its HD content at higher bitrates. Today, the reality is that the best audio and video for HBO programs come from the cable channel itself.
However, if you don’t have a good wireless signal for both your Apple TV and iPhone or iPad, the video quality will be suffer. One tip is to locate your iDevice in a place that gets a strong WiFi signal. If you do this, you can still use Apple TV’s remote to control playback. Apple TV keeps a substantial amount of content in its buffer allowing you to rewind and fast forward easily.
More surprising was that the iPad’s interactive features work with Airplay as well. As the content plays on Apple TV, you can view the map of Westros or read more about the characters, places and story. When you select a video to play, it pauses playback and plays the feature video on the Apple TV’s screen. This turns HBO GO into a true second screen app.
To take advantage of AirPlay with HBO GO, you need to download the latest HBO GO app from the App Store. Apple TV needs to be at version 5.1.1 and the iDevice needs to be running at least iOS 6.
Finally, we learned from All Things D that a native HBO Go app will eventually come to the Apple TV. As much as I would like to see that, the addition of AirPlay finally gives Apple TV owners a way to enjoy HBO GO on the big screen. It’s just in time for the season 3 Game of Thrones premiere.