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HBO No Go (avc.com)
181 points by cwan on Aug 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments

Do you still get the video on the iPad? If so, this feature makes some sense. If you've got AirPlay speakers, they'd be a great substitute for the crummy built-in ones.

Clearly HBO is walking a fine line here: The cable companies that partially subsidize them in order to lure subscribers don't want you walking over to your (non-subscriber) friend's house and throwing "Game of Thrones" up on the big screen via Apple TV.

The whole "let me pay for it!" debate has been well-covered elsewhere: In short, HBO probably couldn't make a living charging individual subscribers for content, especially on a per-show basis. How could they produce new material without the guarantee of N-million monthly subscribers? And cable/fiber/satellite companies who help promote their service?

Airplay has an audible delay that is hard to compensate over 2 devices, so the feature makes no sense at all.

Maybe I don't understand what you're saying, but iOS corrects for the audio delay of AirPlay audio streaming.

I don't have an AppleTV, but I do have an AirPortExpress. Streaming video to iOS with audio on my home stereo works great, with the video on the device synced with the AirPlay audio.

Yeah, I have no idea what he is talking about, I have two AirPort Expresses, and an AppleTV, and AirPlay is the only wireless audio protocol I've yet found that actually gets the audio sync right, every time.

Not every time. Maybe on Apple-only hardware (although I think audio from games wasn't synced perfectly when I tried with AirPort Express).

But if you use audio equipment with licensed AirPlay made by companies who don't get these computers thingies, such as Philips or Marantz, it's worse. My Marantz AV receiver introduces 6-or-so seconds(!) of delay into music playback and that's one of the better ones.

Ahh, I imagine it's completely likely that non-apple hardware just ignores any of the sync commands.

I use AirPlay from my MacPro over wifi to a Klipsch Gallery G-17. With iTunes, it 'just works'. With AirPlay as the default 'Output' sound for the whole OS (new in Mt. Lion I think), it definitely has sync/delay issues. The delay is nearly 2 seconds for something (like hitting 'vol up' on the keyboard).

The cable companies that partially subsidize them in order to lure subscribers don't want you walking over to your (non-subscriber) friend's house and throwing "Game of Thrones" up on the big screen via Apple TV.

I don't get that. I would think the cable companies would pay you to walk over to your (non-subscriber) friend's house and give a taste of what they could have anytime if they subscribed. Or are you talking about sharing your password so they could watch more shows after you leave?

No one ever claimed that the cable companies were analyzing the costs and benefits of new features rationally.

Regarding the À la carte / "let me pay for it"; keep in mind that historically HBO sells their content to cable companies - they don't have the support infrastructure to go "direct to consumers" at that scale yet (though I think there is some limited HBO GO support at present). Additionally, I'm not sure how thrilled their currently customers/cable companies would be about HBO going direct - essentially opening up a channel for getting content without the need for a cable subscription. I'm not at all saying it's a bad idea, but I think HBO is in the very early stages of flushing out the kinks...

How many people tried to stream stuff and thought that there was something wrong with their tv or ipad because only audio worked?

At the very least they should advise the user that they can only airplay the audio, but even still, it's not good.

They can't sell it and they can't not sell it (the days where new people brought packages are over, giving how easy it is to download it). They are simply making great shows and acting irrational about the business.

the days where new people brought packages are over

You know HBO subscriptions are up, right?

So is piracy on their shows.

This isn't just HBO Go, or even just third-party apps – first-party video playback on iOS will, depending on hidden flags from iTunes store purchases, arbitrarily disable video over AirPlay.

A friend and I found this out the hard way one afternoon when we decided to rent Ridley Scott's Alien, in anticipation of seeing Prometheus. He pulled up the store on his iPhone, found the movie, selected Rent: HD, and signed on to my wi-fi network, my Apple TV appearing on his iPhone without a hiccup. So far, pure Apple seamlessness – until he selected the AirPlay output. The audio played back over my speakers, but the video remained on the 3.5" screen.

Thinking resourcefully, I suggested he try AirPlay mirroring. This, at last, gave us the "fuck you, consumer" from the studio in explicit form: a message appeared on his phone saying the AirPlay display couldn't be trusted.

We both resolved never to use the iTunes store for movies again.

This isn't Apple's doing per se, but it sucks for consumers nonetheless. And people don't really care whose fault it really is. They just want it to work, and these silly restrictions put in place by old media companies are really making streaming video hard to love.

I was going to purchase the Jurassic Park trilogy on iTunes last week, but noticed that it is no longer available to purchase in HD. I have no idea why. Apple certainly would like to sell it to me in HD, but the movie studio must not really want to sell it that badly.

Maybe this is related to the blu-ray release. Who knows. Not my job to figure it out. So, I just won't buy it.

Part of what (made|makes) Apple great is the willingness to say no to sub-standard solutions. I think they would be better off not selling content at all that doesn't live up to the standards of the ecosystem. Growing their content library more quickly doesn't help Apple or the content industry if it creates bad blood with purchasers.

Email Tim Cook and tell him. That used to be a valid way to get an issue on Jobs's radar; maybe it still works.

I doubt he reads HN, though.

I don't think that's a "disable AirPlay" bit. I think the HDCP protection between your AppleTV and your TV is broken. A lot of paid content will refuse to operate under those circumstances.

Pirate it. You get a higher quality product.

Ironically, we just ended up not watching it that weekend, and as a consequence, we never ended up going out to see Prometheus while it was in theaters. Not out of spite or anything, just that watching the two movies in sequence had been our plan, and the plan had been broken. So the studio lost two sales resulting from a vain attempt to restrict one.

This is why I don't get Hollywood and all of the cable providers. It isn't like pirating software, where it is usually an inferior product due to updates and the like. Instead, pirating video (movies and TV) is truly the best form of the product you can get. Music finally went the right way after a handful of years full of DRM - we can only hope the same will happen with video.

Sometimes pirated software off better. Some games might have DRM and require an always on internet connection to authenticate so you can play. Pirated games might have no such limitations.

The iTunes video store bs doesn't end with AirPlay. I bought a full season of a TV show through iTunes but can't watch it because the monitor connected to my Mac Pro isn't "trusted."

> a message appeared on his phone saying the AirPlay display couldn't be trusted

I got that when trying to mirror to my AppleTV when the TV wasn't set to the right input. Like eridius said, there is likely a problem with the HDCP protection being broken.

It's funny you mentioned this, as I did the exact same thing. Except in my case, AirPlay worked flawlessly with Alien on my Apple TV.

I suspect the only difference is that I'm using the Canadian iTunes store. But I've also read in an Apple developer doc that all iTunes content is AirPlay enabled, that it cannot be opted out of.

I would highly recommend contacting iTunes customer service to get a refund on your rental, or at least some kind of confirmation.


I understand your point that in an ideal world this would all be seamless, but why not just rent it from the Apple TV?

It's amazing what people will put up with. I built a media center PC running Windows 7 using a guide like this[0]. It was the best decision I made. I just torrent content on my desktop, access it over the network share on my HTPC, and everything's good to go.

You can get a 10' UI using XBMC if you want, and you can access the full versions of YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, (and HBO Go, I presume) etc. - no restrictions. No transcoding, no syncing - if it works on your PC, it works on an HTPC.

0: http://lifehacker.com/5936546/how-i-built-the-media-center-o...

Yes, because downloading torrents + network share is just the same as streaming + airplay.

This guy already has a cable set top box plus an Apple TV that can stream from HBO and network sharing. Airplay is another matter, you can't mirror/stream from your mobile to your HTPC.

> Yes, because downloading torrents + network share is just the same as streaming + airplay.

No, it's much better. It's free and completely automatic. Set up an RSS feed for your favorite shows and tell XBMC to monitor the download directories. It's a truly breathtaking experience.

> This guy already has a cable set top box plus an Apple TV that can stream from HBO and network sharing.

Compared to a full-blown HTPC, an Apple TV (or any other device without a full OS) is very limited in its functionality.

> you can't mirror/stream from your mobile to your HTPC.

Oh really? This article would beg to disagree: http://www.redmondpie.com/how-to-mirror-your-ios-or-android-...

It's also illegal and some of us actually believe you should pay for other peoples creative work.

I believe I should pay as well. And I happily would pay the $120 monthly the cable company wants for two years if I could get a license that let me download all the content via newsgroups and have non-DRMed MKV's that I can use wherever I want for my PERSONAL use. I do not want to pay for Comcast's awful distribution, I want to pay for a license to download the content for my personal use, regardless of what distributor I use.

I have long thought that there was a potential insurgent business model here: sell a lifetime license to a particular piece of content, which the user is now allowed to acquire by whatever means they choose. In essence, you pay for the content holder to waive their right to sue, and nothing more.

It'd be a tough sell for Big Content, but once it generated sufficient revenue for indie and niche stuff to prove the model, eventually they would come around if it meant an excuse to charge you for the White Album yet again. You could also collect pledges or pre-payments from users so that they could put a dollar value on how much revenue they're missing out on.

Then use legal services with your HTPC. I listed several of them in my initial post. I just also shared my personal approach, since I find it to be technically superior and thought that some other readers might benefit from the information.

Then how about some of you actually take my money when I offer it?

I'd like to think that's his point.

I love how the first paragraph is basically "you can just pirate everything instead!" The second paragraph is a little more relevant.

Actually, the main point of the first paragraph was that it is easy to build an HTPC, which can be used to avoid the incompatibilities that exist with virtually every non-PC device. The fact that it makes it downright simple to watch pirated content is just a nice side-effect.

The services mentioned in the second paragraph, such as YouTube and Hulu, often restrict access to certain content when accessed from non-PC devices. Using an HTPC solves these problems.

The reason for this is that iOS allows an app to opt-out of video AirPlay, but not opt-out of AirPlay audio [1]. HBO has opted out of video AirPlay most likely to satisfy its cable provider partners who provide the vast majority of its income[2].

1. http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/documentation/AudioVi...

2. http://dcurt.is/hbo-forbes-journalism

aha. thanks for that explanation. makes total sense to me now. but they really shouldn't include the button if they haven't fully implemented the feature

This restriction likely comes from the studios which provide the content (these deals usually contain DRM restrictions on how the content can be distributed), not the cable operators.

Likely comes from cable companies as well, they don't want you watching television except through their boxes (hence cableCARD never taking off).

they don't want you watching television except through their boxes

This is entirely untrue. Most cable companies have apps which allow you to stream content via iPad or even Xbox apps.

The whole HBO Go thing is part of a cable wide initiative called TV Everywhere which is entirely about letting you watch your TV content on alternative devices as long as you have a cable subscription. Streaming content is actually a win for the cable operators because it offloads a lot of work from their cable infrastructure. They're actually fine with you streaming content via their network's services as long as you're paying your cable bill.

Excuse my lack of clarity; when I said television I mean the television screen. They are perfectly fine with you watching HBO Go on your iPad but they don't want you watching things on your television except through their cable boxes. Because the cable box contains advertising for other channels you don't currently have and HBO Go does not.

I know, but this info isn't correct. The cable operators are fully allowing the networks to stream to "Over-The-Top" boxes gaming consoles and connected tvs. The two requirements are:

1. Full DRM Solution, this mostly means Widevine or PlayReady DRM. This support is lacking on some notable platforms. The most recent Roku devices don't support full DRM the best they provide is encrypted HLS which can fulfill the DRM requirements for some operators but not all.

2. Authenticated Users, Users must be authenticated with their cable operator. This usually means also having the necessary infrastructure for limiting the number of registered devices etc.

These present is a fairly complex infrastructure component from the operators and HBO Go has been leading the way in meeting these two requirements. This is why you can stream right now to HBO Go on the Xbox and on Samsung SmartTV connected TV platform.

I don't say this as an interested observer, but an active participant I run a services company that actively works with Broadcast Networks on streaming to these platforms. We're literally doing this work right now with large broadcasters.

EDIT: I apologize, I edited this to remove some snark.

Awesome, thanks for your insight.

Please explain the existence of the HBO Go app for XBox 360.

Not a week goes by where I don't hear from someone who wants to watch HBO GO on their Apple TV or output from their iPad to the tv. The idea that the consumer has the right to view their legally paid-content where they want and how they want is slowly but surely becoming a reality. It's just a matter of time before HBO caves. Frustrating in the interim though.

There may be alternative services which do not look to place any restrictions on where content can be viewed, which will place pressure on HBO, however, as long as a particular provider produces unique desirable content that they are comfortable monetising in specific ways, whatever restrictions that provider wants to place on viewing will remain. It may not make much sense in the example, but the idea still applies.

When you buy content from that provider, you agree to their terms and their methods of distribution. As such, there will never be a right to view content wherever you wish, unless the particular provider distributes in such a manner.

By "alternative services" I assume you are referring to BitTorrent? :-)

NetFlix is one.

I have a Galaxy S3. I bought an MHL -> HDMI adapter, hooked up to my tv and started up HBO Go for a test run. On Android they don't even bother with an audio only implementation. The app simply crashes.

Until this article I assumed the developer sucked. Now I'm not so sure the crashing is a bug.

Roku has the HBO Go app on it, but will probably fail you too.

Subscribers log in to HBO Go with their username and password from their cable subscription, not something they get from HBO.

Time Warner Cable blocks using the Roku with HBO Go. When you try to authenticate the device, they slap you on the wrist and say no.

You can however, airplay from the HBO website in Mountain Lion, but I find things get a little out of sync.

Whoops - as of May 2012, TWC no longer blocks the Roku on HBO Go. Last time I tried was in April I think.

Why do american regulatory agencies put up with this crap? One provider shouldn't interfere with another (much less block it).

The regulatory agencies are staffed almost entirely with people who used to work at the networks. They're in on it.

Comcast isn't participating in this, so no HBO on Roku for Comcast subscribers.

So Comcast and Time Warner, quite possibly the two largest cable companies in the US, both ban Roku users from using HBO Go. Who can use it then?

DSL users, which is why the cable commercials (around here) always take pains to say "slow DSL" (both words, always) in their commercials. It's not because DSL is slower (it really isn't, in the wild), but because it's a true competitive threat.

Aside from the slight speed differential, cable companies are a (willingly) captured industry, so you will see industry-driven content restrictions like these from them that you don't see on DSL.

Time Warner can, and pretty much all next largest operators after Comcast

Cox, Charter, Insight, BrightHouse, ATT, Verizon.

Comcast works on Xbox, not sure why not the Roku yet.

If you happen to have a jailbroken iPad 3rd generation, iPad 2, or iPhone 4S, you can install UnrestrictPremium to work around this limitation: http://www.idownloadblog.com/2012/08/09/unrestrictpremium/

Calling it broken is a relative statement. On a technical level, they had to do something to prevent mirroring from functioning as the article wants. So, they implement AirPlay, but audio only. But, I'd argue this works exactly as HBO wants it to, so it's not broken, it just doesn't do what you want it to.

HBO's business model isn't terribly friendly to watching their programming on a TV unless it comes via cable or one of their heavily licensed, and generally stationary, partner products. You are a lot less likely to take a Roku or Xbox to a friends' house to watch Game of Thrones, but you always have your iPhone. Of course you could have them over and this falls apart, but you could do that with their cable feed as well. They're trying to slow the bleeding since they can't stop it.

> But, I'd argue this works exactly as HBO wants it to, so it's not broken, it just doesn't do what you want it to.

You're nitpicking. It's broken in the colloquial sense -- the app makes an implicit promise and then delivers only partway. That it was built to spec is immaterial; if the spec is "broken" (anti-user, antipattern, etc) it doesn't matter if you build exactly to spec... it's still broken.

No I'm not, and I think you are. Just because it doesn't do what you want doesn't make it broken. That's like buying a car, but being upset it can't drive distances with a flat tire. It's not supposed to do that, so other than a faulty tire, the car isn't broken. And the spec isn't either - they aren't being anti-user, because they don't have to release the app at all. I can come up with a dozen business cases for audio only (the iPad/iPhone speakers being mono only for one, being a crappy speaker for two), but they are interests to protect. This app is a compromise that you don't have to use, not meant to replace the television experience, but be an additional screen for occasional viewing.

Does the car in your example prevent you from changing the tire to one that isn't flat? Does it actually come with a flat tire from the dealership?

What are you, project manager for HBO GO?

Just because it doesn't do what you want doesn't make it broken.

Promising functionality with an Airplay button and delivering partially is the failure. If you can't see that then I pray you never write specs.

You are a lot less likely to take a Roku or Xbox to a friends' house to watch Game of Thrones, but you always have your iPhone

But if you have access to HBOGO as a HBO subscriber in the first place, you could just log in to the website on your friend's laptop (or Roku, or Xbox) and watch the same content that way.

Can you log into an unlimited number of Xbox Live accounts with one set of HBO Go credentials?

I'd say they are squeezing the wound, speeding up the bleeding.

OP seems like exactly the kind of customer that the cable industry would want to bend over backwards to make happy, not unnecessarily hamstring. He has all the devices and subscriptions he ostensibly needs, and appears to be a Good Cable Citizen. The fact that HBO feels it necessary to restrict him in this way smacks of hubris.

I've written about the issues with HBO Go extensively. It's a terrible app that has a lot of promise, but it's really hampered by old-media ways of thinking about content distribution. The app is intended to be a second, third of fourth screen in your house, nothing more. That's not what the name implies, nor does that fit the reality of how many people consume content today.

You can't cache/download shows to use on the go, meaning that your streaming ability requires a connection and a good one at that: http://interchangeproject.org/2012/05/14/game-of-thrones-loo...

Why is HBO Go not a to-go service? http://interchangeproject.org/2012/05/10/why-is-hbo-go-not-a...

Here is a podcast discussing the issues with HBO Go: http://interchangeproject.org/2012/05/22/episode-38-to-go-or...

Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that HBO Go is a needless usability mess.

It's a streaming service, no streaming service offers to-go. Is there Netflix To-GO? No. But, I can connect to my hotel's wi-fi and stream their ENTIRE catalog of television shows. To me, that's even better than their TV experience on my STB.

great stuff. i think as a standalone app, its is very well done. but as you say, the potential is so much greater and they have punted on almost all of that.

It's amazing that people are surprised at all when a combination of proprietary media-playback system don't work as desired.

No snark intended, I've just not ever had a good experience dealing with a single proprietary playback mechanism.

Not even stand-alone players? My first one ever, a mid-range blue-ray player works fine. Other than that, I agree. Btw, the open source players (vlc, mplayer etc.) have been the best software players out there for the last decade.

Here here. This is exactly what 'Freedom 0' is.

I can imagine being a developer on this product would be insanity. They probably implemented the Airplay feature, showed it to their bosses and for whatever reason the higher-ups had their reasons for nixing the second screen... Then they thought -- Ok, so we can't do video but perhaps people would want to airplay the audio to their fancy pants audio setup in their homes, better than nothing, right? Wrong.

I hope the big media companies get their acts together. They only get to screw up a finite number of times before someone comes and blows them out of the water

AFAIK; AirPlay is essentially "free" with the standard video player in iOS. It takes more effort to remove it than put it in.

I don't think they use the standard video player though. It may have changed recently, but I noticed that the controls were jaggy on the Retina iPad. They might be doing some weird encoding of the video to prevent piracy and thus use a custom player designed to look the same.

Well, I think it's a config switch, so it takes very little effort to add it or remove it.

Which is something Apple shouldn't have done - with all the crap they make devs go through, fully working airplay should be a required feature with all the video players.

I've actually done this before on my tablet. The speakers built in are pretty poor quality but my home speakers are nice, so I plugged in the headphone jack. I didn't want to bother moving the video from my tablet to my HTPC, but at least I got good sound.

After many trials and tribulations (Apple TV + Airplay, Roku 2, PS3) the ONLY decent (read working) option was XBox 360 + XBox Live Gold + Comcast XFinity* + HBO Go App.

It does feel like I lost my soul signing packs with so many devils, but at long last, I have an HD HBO Go app running the way it ought to.

* Not all cable companies have a deal with HBO for HBO Go

You are their ideal customer, and I wouldn't doubt that that network of requirements was mapped out in advance. "If all goes well, these X companies will get signups from HBO Go customers."

wow. you really went through hell. respect!

Its tactics like this that are the reason I'm cutting the cord when my DirecTV contract is up in November. HBO has great content. Some of the best available in fact. But I refuse to give them a dime while they institute policies that actively diminish my viewing experience.

It's particularly annoying that this prohibition is in place even though there are still other ways-- albeit less convenient ones-- to get the video streaming to your TV. For example, you can use a thunderbolt-to-hdmi connector (or VGA) from your laptop, and probably a 30pin-to-hdmi from your iPad (although I've never tried the latter).

So it's possible to still get the content to your TV, in a much less user-friendly (i.e. tethered) way. I know not everyone has these connectors, but since the ability is there, you'd hope they would just be gracious and allow for the better experience.

Okay listen to this. HBO GO is only available to people with certian cable companies. I live in an apartment complex so i cannot changes who provides my cable. My younger sister has HBO GO app on xbox live and direct tv. I have knology, a non support cable provider while direct tv is. She gave me her direct tv credentials and i put them into mh 360 and it worked no problem, all it does is show a direct tv logo in the app itself.

Apartment complex exclusivity was re-affirmed as illegal a few years ago [1]. Of course if there is only one choice in the area, that's perfectly legal.

Does HBO Go work well on those device? I watched an episode of Newsroom using the HBO Go website, and it was a terrible experience. Ignoring the "sign into your cable company" thing, the video quality wasn't that great despite using tons of bandwidth. It stuttered but looked OK. On the other hand Netflix movies look much better and use less bandwidth. It's like they're still using the old Flash codec instead of MP4.

[1] http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2009/05/federal-court-uph...

I have both Netflix and HBO Go on xbox 360 apps and the quality is identical to my naked eye.

Shouldn't the App Store approval process reject an app that does this? It must be violating some ux guideline.

The iTunes screenshots don't show the AirPlay icon:


The conspiracy theorist in me wanted to believe they left audio in there just to advertise AirPlay support.

Amazon Instant Video suffers from the same problem.

The difference with Amazon Instant Video is that it's trivial to find a plain-old TV-connected device that supports it. My year old Blu-ray player handles it just fine. It's not that different from NetFlix in that regard, except I suppose it's not available for Apple TV yet.

The only device designed to put HBO Go on your TV screen is, I believe, the XBox 360 when connected to particular cable networks.

It's got the button, but not the feature. Gotta love it! ;-)

No, it has the button to play audio through Air Play. It's a different icon for video.

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