HBO Max comes with support for 4K Ultra HD, HDR 10, and Dolby Vision, but there will be times when a subscriber encounters a low quality picture resulting in a poor streaming experience overall. Unfortunately, subscribers are limited on what they can do to improve the picture quality, but some simple checks can help to determine what might be causing video issues.
A standard HBO Max subscription costs $14.99 per month, but subscribers can also opt for a cheaper plan priced at $9.99 each month. There are a number of important differences between the two plans, including the maximum video quality. Even if paying for the most expensive plan, there are still factors that can affect whether a viewer gets the best picture.
One of the major points to be aware of with HBO Max is that the video quality is automatically adjusted based on the user’s connection speed and bandwidth. If HBO Max detects a weaker signal than needed, it may lower the video quality to compensate. At present, HBO Max does not provide subscribers with a way to manually adjust the picture quality. As a result, subscribers will need to rely on HBO Max to determine what the video quality should be.
Common issues affecting picture quality
Although subscribers have little control over the picture quality and no ability to make changes either through the HBO Max website or one of its apps, they can at least make sure that their internet connection is fast and reliable enough to avoid HBO Max automatically lowering the video quality. If wanting to stream in 4K, HBO Max requires a minimum internet speed of 25 Mbps, with 50+ Mbps the recommendation for the best streaming experience possible. If wanting to stream in HD, HBO Max recommends a minimum speed of 5 Mbps.
It is worth keeping in mind that these speeds are solely in relation to HBO Max. If multiple people are using the same network at the same time, the actual speed that an individual device might be getting could be considerably lower than the overall network connection speed. This is even more likely if multiple people are all attempting to stream video at the same time on the same network.
For those concerned that the internet might be causing issues with the picture quality, there are multiple apps and online services that can be used to test a device’s speed. Performing one of these tests can quickly help to determine if the internet connection is resulting in a lower than expected picture quality when watching HBO Max.
Watching HBO Max in 4K
As mentioned, HBO Max recommends an internet speed of 50+ Mbps for 4K, and 25 Mbps at a minimum. Providing the internet speed is not a problem, the plan might be. The ability to stream in 4K is not automatically available to all HBO Max subscribers. Instead, 4K support is only available with the more expensive monthly subscription. If only subscribed the $9.99 per month plan, subscribers can only expect 1080p at best.
Even if subscribed to the most expensive plan, subscribers still won’t always see a 4K picture. Similar to other streaming services, the number of titles that are available to stream in 4K is limited compared to the overall catalog. Adding to this, HBO Max only supports 4K on some of its supported devices. For example, 4K playback is currently not supported when watching on a smartphone. Furthermore, the streaming service has no control over these additional devices, so whether it is a 4K-supported device like an LG or Samsung smart TV, an Android TV device, Apple TV player, or a combination of these devices being used to watch HBO Max, users will need to make sure the settings for each device are set up to allow for streaming in 4K.
While the service does intend to expand support for more devices and titles in the future, these are real limitations that affect access to the best streaming experience possible. Put simply, the plan, the device, and the show/movie are all part of the 4K equation, and unless all of these boxes are checked, subscribers could end up with a lower picture quality than they might be expecting.
HBO Max picture quality summary
HBO Max automatically adjusts the picture quality based on the connection speed and network bandwidth. If lower than 25Mbps, HBO Max won’t display videos in 4K. If lower than 5Mbps, then HBO Max subscribers may encounter a serious reduction in picture quality while streaming. There are online tools, including speed tests, that can help to determine if the internet is causing picture quality issues.
When it comes to 4K, there are additional factors that can also impact on the overall experience. For example, not all of the shows and movies available to watch through HBO Max are automatically available in 4K. Furthermore, any devices used to access the service will also need to be optimized for 4K, and this could mean having to make changes to the settings on those other devices.