HBO GO on Apple TV (via Xfinity)

Dave Zatz —  March 27, 2012 — 28 Comments

hbo-go-appletv

Supposedly today is the day Xbox 360 owners will be treated to HBO GO. Unless you’re a Comcast customer. In which case you’ll likely be accessing HBO on demand content via the Xfinity app… as they apparently intend to own the experience. Likewise, while Comcast doesn’t offer a Roku app, they block HBO GO access on that platform out of hand. Apple TV, by comparison, features access to neither Xfinity nor HBO GO. Sort of.

Owners of the iPhone 4s, iPad 2, or new iPad are entitled to¬†AirPlay mirroring capabilities — a feature Apple describes as allowing one to beam “everything” displayed on an iDevice to an Apple TV. Unfortunately, “everything” doesn’t actually include the iOS HBO GO app… which fails with an unclear error citing “HDMI video out.” However, a pair of Twitter pals (Bill, Mike) clued me in to a nice little workaround… for Comcast customers.

Via Comcast’s Xfinity app, subscribers with compatible iOS devices can beam any and all content — including HBO — to Apple TV. And, as you can see from the pic, it does work. To reduce distracting letterboxing, since your iDevice probably doesn’t share the same resolution and aspect ratio as your television, you’d want to employ your HDTV’s zoom function. No, this won’t provide anything close to Blu-ray quality. But I’d say it’s a reasonable hack for a subset of folks and various situations. For Android owners who’d prefer HBO GO on the big screen there’s always HDMI out.

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28 responses to HBO GO on Apple TV (via Xfinity)

  1. One benefit to getting HBO content via the Xfinity app- it doesn’t count toward your cap. On the other hand, Comcast has one of the more lenient caps on the market.

    Between Comcast blocking HBO Go and Apple’s incomplete definition of “everything”, the whole thing leaves me just a little bit disgusted. And I don’t even watch HBO fare.

  2. So the hbo app on Xbox won’t work for me with my comcrap email login. Isn’t that just great. Thanks Comcrap for giving me yet another reason to dump you.

  3. That’s the operating theory, but it’s not confirmed to my satisfaction since the Xbox apps aren’t released, despite the controlled news leak, and HBO has yet to respond to my inquiry this morning.

  4. HBO GO also fails with the Apple Digital AV adapter with the same HDMI video out error. Haven’t tested with the showtime or cinemax apps yet though.

  5. John, yeah I returned Apple’s HDMI dongle for that very reason. Everything is not really everything.

    Jack, here’s HBO’s official comment regarding Comcast:

    Comcast is currently not supporting HBO GO on Xbox 360.

    We believe that HBO GO is a great enhancement to the HBO subscription so we remain hopeful that all of our distributors will support the service on all platforms in the near future.

    We encourage our subscribers at non-participating affiliates to reach out to their provider and request that they add support for HBO GO on Xbox 360.

  6. Does this work over regular AirPlay or just AirPlay mirroring?

  7. It will give you sound with standard Airplay, but won’t offer the second screen of video like other apps do.

  8. Apple was ‘clear’ that while the default with iOS AirPlay Mirroring was enabled that it was still possible for apps to disable it. Odd that you see that weird error from HBO Go, but honestly I never expected it to work.

    If the library of available shows were identical, I’d say this was an adequate solution, but they’re not. You can watch “The Pacific” for example on HBO Go, but while “Band of Brothers” is available on Xfinity, “The Pacific” is not. I can watch Louis C. K.’s “Shameless” Comedy Special on HBO Go but not on Xfinity. Etc.

    I *do* appreciate the note about this working with the Xfinity app on iOS though, but think you should change the title of the article to “HBO” rather than “HBO Go”.

    The as yet unknown question is whether HBO Go on Macs running Mountain Lion will be blocked from AirPlay Mirroring or not. Haven’t seen a definitive answer yet, though speculation (see http://www.cultofmac.com/147191/why-mountain-lions-airplay-mirroring-is-hollywoods-worst-nightmare/) is that it *will* work, at least at first. Believe that AirPlay hasn’t been enabled yet in the betas of Mountain Lion that have been released to date. Some think that since Flash is involved and it can be updated there will be a workaround developed to allow this to be blocked somehow so we’ll have to see how this develops.

  9. I’d argue it’s not ‘clear’ given the “everything” word choice on both iDevices and Apple’s Airplay webpage that I linked in the article. Good catch on the content delta – in my cursory exploration, I hadn’t realized that. Hm.

  10. What is the video quality like over AirPlay mirroring, aside from the letterboxing?

  11. Surprisingly watchable. Purists wouldn’t bother, but if I had the newer iPhone with mirroring, I’d be content catching fluffier series like Eastbound & Down in this manner. Of course, audio wouldn’t be surround either.

  12. Glenn: AirPlay Mirroring is, in fact, included in the Developer Preview of Mountain Lion. Here’s a video demo of it in action:

    Note that for it to work you must also have AppleTV OS version 5.1 beta 2 or newer.

    It takes the whole computer screen, regardless of what code/plugin/type of video it is, and transcodes it, on-the-fly, to 720p H.264/MP4 video that the AppleTV can play. This explains the beefy CPU requirements: it only works on Macs with the second gen “i” series processor with the display technology onboard the chip itself.

    That being said, it works with ANY content on the screen, even Flash or Silverlight content in the browser. Think of it simply as “wireless HDMI out.” Due to the way the software is engineered, I suspect it would be really difficult to try and exclude, say, Flash content from HBO and not other Flash content. I don’t think that’ll happen, and that’s why I think it will be such a killer feature. FINALLY, content providers won’t be able to make stupid distinctions between my laptop and a set-top box!

  13. Oh, and Glenn: “The Pacific” is available on XFinity, on both the web and iOS app:
    http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/The-Pacific/101664/full-episodes#episode=TvEpisode-762451

    “Shameless” may not be there because it’s being pulled off even HBO GO on 3/31.

  14. “Surprisingly watchable.”

    Defining 10 ft deviancy down.

    480i is “surprisingly watchable”. I’ve followed some out-of-town teams on cableco NBA League Pass.

    But let’s be real, here. We’re talking about a lower than Netflix-brand “good enough” 720 source here, then transcoded on a single fly pass.

    Like I say, 480i is “surprisingly watchable”. But that’s something different than “good enough” HD.

    (And being satisfied with Netflix-brand “good enough” 720 isn’t being a purist. That’s some pretty crummy HD video, but yet it’s just good enough for a non-purist like me…)

  15. Well, you may want to choose a different bar as HBO GO on the iPad offers better looking video than Netflix on the iPad. For what it’s worth, I do believe Airplay mirroring is limited to 720p and I don’t imagine anything beyond stereo audio would be transmitted.

  16. “Well, you may want to choose a different bar as HBO GO on the iPad offers better looking video than Netflix on the iPad.”

    My issue here is with the final product in the 10 ft arena.

    Netflix “HD” delivered directly to the lean-back seems a relatively good bar to me for what qualifies as “good enough” in the 10 ft arena. And “surprisingly watchable” is a different bar, much like “surprisingly edible” would be in the food arena.

    Delivering good enough video for the small screen held close to the face is easy peasy, in terms of infrastructure, cost, and licensing. The 10 ft arena is different.

  17. Hi guys,

    I would STRONGLY recommend any Comcast customers who want HBOGo on their XBOX 360, should contact Comcast and overload them with phone calls regarding getting this app, (and not the XFinity app, as that’s not an acceptable substitute) working.

    I am sick of Comcast deciding what’s best and blocking this app is pretty much my last straw. I’m on the phone with them right now and I’m going to make it clear in no uncertain terms that they stop meddling in online apps or they are going to lose me as a customer permanantly.

    I suggest those of you sick of this type of behavior should do the same.

  18. Xbox HBO Go blocked?

    03-27-2012 10:45 PM

    I am repeating what has already been said, but enough is enough Comcast. HBO GO is rich with content, xfinity app is very weak indeed. I can watch HBO GO on my tablet, computer and phone but not my TV??? I do not understand it,my phone,tablet and computer still uses the data plan from my house…. the tv would not use more data.. I pay a monthly fee to access HBO content… what BS.. I am hoping someone FB and makes this point viral and we get some numbers behind us. Comcast needs a little smack down by the monthly consumers who demand HBO GO access by way of smart tvs and xboxs.

  19. Josh,

    Looks like you’re right. I did look before I posted, and for whatever reason I couldn’t find The Pacific at the time. I didn’t have a lot of trouble coming up with a couple of examples where HBO Go had it and Xfinity didn’t, but now that I look again I’m having trouble finding anything really that isn’t on both. Other than that Louis C. K. special you’ve given a reasonable answer to.

    If Xfinity is available on the XBox on Comcast systems, it seems like its an adequate substitute for HBO Go, at least right now. Looking only at content selection and nothing else that might be different (streaming quality, buffering, playback issues, whatever).

  20. Josh,

    Given that HBO Go, Hulu etc all rely on the flash player to display their content, and flash isn’t sandboxed (meaning it can see everything on the PC no, including a bit someplace saying we’re relaying video thru AirPlay), why can’t flash be updated to allow content blocking when AirPlay mirroring is involved?

  21. Of course the same thing could be said for WiDi and that’s still working just fine with Hulu as I write this…

  22. Glenn, I suppose that technically that would be possible but that would involve Hulu and HBO and whoever else getting Adobe to update Flash simply to block Mountain Lion’s full screen mirroring. I dunno, it just seems unlikely, especially given that an HDMI cable, or WiDi, work just fine.

    This is why I’m applauding the new feature… with this move Apple’s really pushed the envelope and exposed the silliness of establishing a difference between a set-top box (say, a Roku) and a full-fledged computer streaming that same content, connected to a TV. The content creators won’t be able to restrict this easily, and that’s a good thing for us, and for progress in this arena.

  23. What am I missing? What do you click to use airplay or mirroring within the xfinity app? I’ve read a number of articles recently pointing out this little trick – but it doesn’t seem to work. I have an iPad2, comcast, the xfinity tv app, and an HBO subscription, but (as far as I can tell) the xfinity tv app does not have button that allows for switching to airplay. The only buttons I’m seeing are “Done” in the top left, which exits the video that is playing, “i” in the top right which gives info on the video, a pause/play button on the lower left with the rest of the bottom filled with the play-time progress bar. Thanks for your help!

  24. The workaround does not work because not all content that is on HBO Go is on the Xfinity app. especially older series (catching up on The Wire).

  25. HBO Go + Ipad.

    I can watch on the web thru iSwifter and Airplay it to my HDTV :)

  26. HBO GO via iSwifter and AirPlay to an AppleTV? That’s just gotta look like a square of crappiness, framed by big black bars. Spring $50 for a Roku!

  27. I think that it sucks to be stuck bending to the whims of cable company execs. I pay a lot for Uverse and while I’m pretty happy with the Uverse app and all the “go” apps, the only app that supports video out is Netflix. That makes my video glasses and pico projector virtually useless. I’m reduced to adding and removing movies ripped from my DVDs just to watch a movie on my video glasses on an airplane.

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