UPDATE: HBO goes online-only in 2015.
For many viewers, HBO is the killer app of TV. Want to watch Game of Thrones — legally? The only way to see it is as it airs is with a cable or satellite TV subscription.
Many cable TV companies dangle HBO (and the HBO Go app) as an incentive to sign up people who have cut the pay-TV cord, or who may never have had it. And with some options as low as $30 a month, you might find it worth signing up — but only if you plan to watch a lot of newer shows. Otherwise, it may be more frugal to wait for older episodes to become available through the iTunes Store or Amazon Instant Video.
A warning about these deals: Many are only for new subscribers, and they revert to full price after a year in most cases. So be sure to sync up your subscription with your favorite show seasons.
The Best HBO Deals
AT&T ($39/month; $81/month after 1 year)
This is available only if you sign up online; new customers can get U-verse HBO Internet Plus package for $39 a month. It includes U-verse High Speed Internet Max Plus with up to 18 Mbps downstream speeds, local TV stations and HBO for 12 months. After that, the price goes up to $81 a month.
Cablevision /Optimum ($37/month)
HBO is a $15 add-on to the $15/month Broadcast Basic package, with the cable box costing an additional $7 per month, for a total of $37. This price does not expire after a year. If you add Internet, it will cost an additional $40 a month.
Comcast (about $50/month; $70/month after 1 year)
The Internet Plus package includes Internet access (up to 25 Mbps), a basic channel lineup (about 10 channels, mainly broadcast networks) and HBO. Prices vary by region, but it costs about $50 per month for 12 months. You can also add HBO to any Comcast package for $10 a month.
DirecTV doesn't really have a cheap HBO deal, though it offers new subscribers three months of the channel for free. After that, it costs as much as the regular service (current best deal is $25 a month for 12 months, which increases to $50/month afterwards) plus $18 a month for HBO.
Like DirecTV, Dish includes HBO for free for the first three months. From then on, it costs $18 a month in addition to your regular service (current best deal is $20 a month for first year, then $33/month thereafter).
MORE: Best TVs 2014
Time Warner Cable ($40/month; $45 a month after 12 months)
The Starter TV+ HBO package combines Starter TV (basic cable, about 20 channels) and HBO for $30/month for the first year. After 12 months, you pay regular price, which varies by market but tends to be around $35 a month total ($20 for Starter TV and $15 for HBO). You also need to rent a set-top box, and those start at $10 a month. If you want Internet, too, the package costs $80 a month.
Verizon FiOS: ($31/month; $41 after 12 months)
Verizon FiOS offers HBO at $20 a month, but only $10 for the first year, as an add-on to its "Local TV" plan, which costs $13; the box costs $8 per month. Verizon also offers a $50/month online deal that includes local channels, HBO and 50mbps Internet service for 12 months. Afterwards, the monthly bill jumps to $73.
Streaming HBO shows online
Unless you plan to binge watch many recent HBO shows, you'll save money if you rent from iTunes Store or Amazon Instant Video. At about $3 an episode and 10-13 episodes in a typical HBO season, you could watch an entire season for about the cost of the cheapest plan for one month, though you generally have to wait about a year for the episodes to become available.
If you just want to catch up on previous years of classics like The Sopranos and The Wire, Amazon's $99 Prime subscription is the best deal. The yearly $99 Amazon Prime subscription includes most shows or seasons from about three years ago or earlier. Prime also includes free two-day shipping, Kindle book loans, the Amazon Music streaming service, and thousands of other TV shows and movies for unlimited streaming.
- Best Shows to Watch on Netflix Right Now
- Your Guide to Cable TV Cord-Cutting
- Best Shows to Watch on Amazon Prime Instant Video Right Now
Michael Gowan has covered video and audio for more than 15 years. He still mourns the cancellation of HBO's Deadwood. Follow him @zebgowan. Kevin Ohannessian (@khohannessian) contributed to this article. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.