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HBO Max Debuts Much Improved App for Roku

HBO Max app for Roku
(Image credit: WarnerMedia)

WarnerMedia has quietly deployed the leading edge of a push to update its troubled HBO Max app with new purpose-built software, refreshing Roku devices with version 50.45 of the HBO Max app over the weekend. 

The updated app keeps the same interface and overall UX, and there's only subtle difference in aesthetic -- the loading icon, for example, has been switched from three dots that unfurl in a linear progression to three dots that rotate on an axis. Custom profile icons can now be added. And the "My List" portion of the menu is now found in the "Profile" section.

The real change is in performance. Everything loads much faster. Search works much more efficiently. And you don't get stuck in limbo or crash whenever you select a show. Overall, it's a much more stable app. 

Example: In our about-to-culminate quest to rewatch all 86 episodes of The Sopranos on a Roku-powered Series-6 TCL smart TV, the previous iteration of the HBO Max app would inevitably hang up if tried to skip the opening credits. (We've now seen James Gandolfini navigate the Lincoln Tunnel while trying to light a cigar about 80 times since early July.)

Not so with v.50.45. Last night, were able to get right into the episode in which Tony rubs out actor Michael Imperioli's drug-addled Christopher (I loved that kid like a son!).

PlayStation devices will be the next to receive the new HBO Max app, which was recoded from the ground up.  

The work is being done by WarnerMedia's newly branded "WarnerMedia Ottawa" unit, which was put in place earlier this year when the media conglomerate acquired Canadian streaming video technology startup You.i TV. 

A cascading series of complaints about bugs and other issues for the HBO Max app hit a bit of a crisis point over the spring, when WarnerMedia tried to update the HBO Max app for Apple TV and replaced the Apple TV app's native tvOS player with proprietary software that didn't work. 

Vowing to replace every platform iteration of the HBO Max app, WarnerMedia chief Andy Forssell explained that the app's troubles stemmed from the fact that its engineering is based on legacy HBO Go code. This legacy software was fine for streaming a finite number of shows to a more limited domestic audience. However, problems emerged with the far broader ambitions of the HBO Max service.