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Let's face it, whenever you buy a gadget like the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you envision one or two Really Cool Things you'll happily do with it. Otherwise why buy the gadget in the first place?
The universal HBO Go app for Apple's iOS-based devices is definitely a Really Cool Thing, streaming in a selection of HBO's movie catalog as well as a wide range of past and current programming (The Sopranos, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Six Feet Under, etc.) over both 3G and Wi-Fi networks.
Prior to tapping into HBO's network, you'll need both a current HBO subscription as well as a web account via your cable provider (Time Warner, Cox, Comcast, and so on). This can take a few minutes to set up, but serves as your gateway, letting you log in for your viewing sessions.
Once you've logged in, the banquet is fairly robust. You can create a watch list as well as use HBO's Season Pass feature to automatically load a preferred series for later viewing. And while the movies move in and out of rotation for online viewing, you have full access to the HBO productions your friends have talked about over the water cooler that you never got around to seeing.
After you've selected a movie or an episode to watch (HBO's original programming is sorted by season, which makes it easy to pick up where you left off), the app finds its stream, buffers it and generally upscales to a beautiful 720p image that sounds great through headphones. For situations where bandwidth might be limited, the app settles on a good-but-slightly-jaggy intermediate resolution and looks to upscale the quality as your Internet connection permits.
As good as this 1.0.2 version is, it still has a few bugs to work out. Users have complained about the app's connectivity with their cable provider/web account, and this proved somewhat valid during testing. While the app allowed me to log in cleanly and worked well more than 90 percent of the time, I experienced a few instances in which the app would log out of its connection as well as become unresponsive and need to be rebooted. Other bugs included missed frames and jumpy sound, though this seemed fairly intermittent.
The bottom line. If you have it and it plays nice with your cable provider and Internet connection, the HBO Go app is truly awesome and the perfect way to kill time with on the couch, complete with a solid Wi-Fi or 3G connection. If it's being hesitant or having a hard time with your cable provider, then there's room for improvement and this will hopefully resolve itself within a few version updates. But even with occasional weirdness, HBO Go is off to a great start.
iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, 3rd- and 4th-gen iPod touch, or iPad running iOS 3.2 or later.
When it works, it's amazing. Terrific video quality, great sound, good menus and interface. Easy to waste time with.
Finicky performance depending on cable provider. Intermittent bugginess with certain cable providers.