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
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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).
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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.
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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+.