Max Growing Pains – HBO Max Rebranding Goes Not Entirely Smoothly

Goodbye, HBO Max. Hello… Max? Seriously, that’s the best name all the corporate marketing geniuses could come up with? The streamer formerly known as HBO Max went through its official rebranding this week, and the transition has been a little bumpy. From unplayable content, to confusing menu categories, to programs with nudity and other adult material being accessible through children’s profiles, users are finding a host of problems with the new app that will need to be addressed.

I can’t begin to catalog all the known issues with the new Max app here. For now, I’ll focus on one annoyance I’ve already encountered that has made my Max experience less than ideal.

Max premiered the new espionage drama Spy/Master a few days prior to the big relaunch. The show’s trailer looked interesting and I wanted to check it out, but didn’t get to it until the changeover. Doing so caused me some unnecessary grief.

First, the show wouldn’t play at all on my NVIDIA Shield streaming device on Tuesday night. When I tried to start the first episode, I was greeted with the message: “An unexpected error has occurred. Please try again later.” Try again later I indeed did, and got it to play the next day. However, playback at that time was very stuttery and all remote control functions (pause, rewind, fast-forward, etc.) were very slow to operate.

Problems like these are why I keep more than one streaming device in service in my home theater. When the Shield failed me, I switched to a Roku and got the show to play right away. Hooray! However…

Spy/Master is a Romanian television series. Dialogue should primarily be Romanian, with some scenes in English and some in German. The Max app defaults to an English dub that I find incredibly distracting. From the first scene, it’s clear that lip sync is way off and the dialogue sounds canned. I can’t stand dubbing, and I can’t believe that here in 2023 a supposedly premium streaming outlet would make that the default audio for one of its own original foreign-language productions.

If you go into the “Episode Details” in show listing, it displays a bunch of alternate language and subtitle options, including one for the original Romanian. Curiously, despite being the show’s native language, that’s relegated to fourth on the list – and no, the list is not even alphabetical. It feels like the Max programmers really don’t want you to watch this show in its correct language.

Max Menu System - Episode Details

Anyway, Romanian audio is what I want for this show. So, how do you switch to it?

On either the NVIDIA Shield or a web browser (when using a computer), this isn’t too difficult. If you pull up the menu while an episode is playing, you’ll find an icon in the lower right corner that that will let you change your episode settings.

Max Episode Menu

Among the options for this show are Romanian audio and either English subtitles or English closed captions. I tested this and found that the Romanian track retains the original English and German dialogue during appropriate scenes. All scenes are in their proper languages. Perfect!

Max Episode Languages Menu

The subtitle text is displayed within a black captioning box, which is kind of ugly. When using the NVIDIA Shield, the subtitles are also positioned with one line in the picture and one in the letterbox bar. As a Constant Image Height projection viewer, I find that very irritating. Regardless, I can deal with it. The show is watchable.

Max Subtitles on NVIDIA Shield

Sadly, the situation is a lot less rosy when using a Roku. The Roku user interface has no language settings icon when playing an episode.

Max Episode Menu Roku

Instead, the only method to change languages on Roku is to press the star button on the remote and navigate to the Accessibility & Captions menu.

Max Languages Menu Roku

From there, you can select Romanian audio for this show. However, traditional English subtitles are not available at all on Roku, only English Closed Captions that appear over all dialogue (even during the English scenes) and describe sound effects and music cues.

Max Captions Roku

Even worse, when you turn on captions this way with Roku, everything you watch, across all streaming apps, will be captioned until you manually turn off the feature!

What a mess.

I’m sure that, in the grand scheme of things, many users would consider this a minor annoyance. Viewers who only watch English-language content and don’t need subtitles probably haven’t run into this issue yet at all. At the very least, I hope that the Max app developers fix the problem (and the many others that have come up) soon. While we wait for that, I can’t help feeling that the Max rebrand and relaunch were not thought-out or planned nearly as well as they should have been. Watching TV shouldn’t be this frustrating.

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