HBO GO on Apple TV via AirPlay Hands-On

February 14, 2013

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.

HBO GO Streaming over AirPlay to Apple TV

HBO GO streaming to Apple TV in Dolby Digital

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.

HBO GO on the iPad and Apple TV

HBO GO's interactive features on the iPad work with AirPlay


Tags: AirPlay, Apple TV, Dolby, Game of Thrones, HBO, IPad

5 Responses to HBO GO on Apple TV via AirPlay Hands-On

  1. David Seamon on February 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for the great review. Can you tell me if it is actually streaming in the higher bit rate Dolby plus 5.1 640kbps? I thought I had heard that that was what HBO go Streamed at. Meaning, slightly higher than broadcast cable, So it would actually sounds Even slightly better than broadcast cable one would assume?

    Many thx

    • Gabe Gagliano on February 15, 2013 at 9:09 pm


      Good question. I don’t have a good way to know if its 384K or 640K. The question makes me realize something else. On other devies, HBO GO streams in Dolby Digital Plus. Since the Apple TV can’t handle (or doesn’t license) Dolby Digital Plus, HBO must either be down mixing to regular DD on the fly or now has to maintain an additional set of encodes. In the case of Netflix, they maintain an additional set of encodes to handle Apple TV.

    • Mike Scott on February 15, 2013 at 9:47 pm

      I don’t know the definitive answer to this, but I do know that Dolby claims that DD+, with their latest encoders, is about 4 times as efficient as basic DD, so I’d be very surprised if it was anything like 640 Kbps. Netflix uses 384 Kbps DD+, which should deliver superior results to the best basic DD on DVDs, and that was before the announcement that their latest DD+ encoders delivered double the bang for the bit.

  2. David on February 15, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Thx guys!


  3. Dolby Digital on February 17, 2013 at 9:07 am

    DD is 384kbps, DD+ is 256kbps with similar sound characteristics. Fox broadcasts DD at 448kbps. Make sure you have a 3rd generation AppleTV for 1080P for HBO airplay. The 2nd generation only does 720P and looks indentical. You need to check the model number on your AppleTV go to Settings, General, About. If your model number is MD199LL/A then you have gen 3.

Leave a Reply to David Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect to the Hub

Support the Hub