Understanding the legacy of HBO Max & its powerful, scalable technical stack

Digital Transformation

Understanding the legacy of HBO Max & its powerful, scalable technical stack

Jordan Smith

Jordan Smith

November 7, 2022   |   1484 Views

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Understanding the legacy of HBO Max & its powerful, scalable technical stack

Over The Top or OTT Platforms have changed the rules of video consumption across the world. By 2027, around 4 billion users will be accessing OTT platforms like HBO Max, Youtube, Netflix, Disney, and more, generating billions of dollars in advertisement revenues, and unleashing a new era in video content and consumption.

With more than 200 million OTT users and subscribers across the world (2021), this is a $150 billion industry. One of the biggest, and fastest growing sections within the Internet and entertainment economy.

This is the reason that slowly and gradually, traditional TV channels and TV-based media houses are transitioning to OTT, and that includes HBO.

In this blog, we will try to understand and dissect the top-of-the-class scalability and powerful performance of the HBO Max app and share some interesting information about its legacy.

The Legacy Of HBO Max

49-year-old HBO, which is the oldest and longest continuously operating subscription television service in the United States, launched its first on-demand, Internet-based video service called HBO on Broadband in 2008.

Later, in 2010, HBO Go was launched, which was a better and enhanced version of HBO on Broadband, and provided on-demand videos to their paid customers via website, mobile app, TV, and other devices.

And then, their new OTT platform called HBO Now was launched in 2014-15, with the new feature of being a standalone platform. Earlier, both HBO on Broadband and HBO Go were available only for their television subscribers. Hence, for the first time, HBO acknowledged that the era of digital, on-demand video content is finally here.

They observed the trends, and user behavior and studied the numbers, and then based on their findings, launched HBO Max in 2020, and this has changed everything for them.

With a user base of approximately 90 million users, HBO Max (along with HBO subscription) is the world’s 6th biggest OTT platform and is growing at a stunning pace (25,000+ downloads, every 24 hours!). With 50 million paid subscribers in the US (Oct 2022), HBO Max is just 18-20 million behind Netflix and Prime.

HBO Max has more than 10,000 hours of content and is available across 50 countries and on Browsers, Android (TV), iOS, Apple TV, Chromecast, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Samsung TV.

This continues to be among the top 10 downloaded apps in the US, and the only video streaming or OTT app in that list.

Understanding The Technical Stack Of HBO Max

HBO has invested and researched a lot, to make the backend stronger, and a user-friendly, seamless UI to ensure the highest engagement and higher subscribers.

We will breakdown the tech stack, and understand the backend of the HBO Max app:

Primary Framework

The framework deployed by HBO Max is created by BAMTech, which was earlier acquired by Disney. Hence, both HBO Max and Disney use the same framework for delivering video content to their users.

Interestingly, this same BAMTech platform is used by WWE and National Hockey League to deliver live, streaming content to more than 8 million users across the globe.

In-House User Interface

As per Ottball, HBO Max uses a lot of in-house software and systems, developed by their team. And this also includes a proprietary trickplay system and an in-house video player.

HBO Max also used multi-DRM, commercial and in-house video analytics solutions.

Streaming Protocols

As with most of the big OTT platforms, HBO Max uses MPEG-DASH and HLS with DRM for streaming.

To achieve multi-key protection, MPEG-DASH splits its video qualities over more than one AdaptationSet, while the audio is delivered across different formats via TTML.

One stream lists the following AdaptationSets for video:

416x234 with avc1.4D400D

640x360 with avc1.4D401E

768x432 with avc1.4D401E

960x540 with avc1.4D401F

AdaptationSet2

1280x720 with avc1.4D401F

1280x720 with avc1.4D401F

1920x1080 with avc1.640028

1920x1080 with avc1.640028

For audio, the following AdaptationSets are used:

AdaptationSet 1
ac-3 with bandwidth 387000 (Surround)

AdaptationSet 2
ec-3 with bandwidth 259000 (Surround)

AdaptationSet 3
mp4a.40.2 with bandwidth 133000 (Stereo)

Interestingly, HBO Max used HLS v4 and v5 with 6-second chunks for video and audio profiles, which are very similar to MPEG-DASH.

At the same hand, subtitles are delivered via WebVTT, which ensures that both Android and iPhone users are seamlessly able to access the caption.

CMS Used By HBO

A CMS called Comet is used by HBO Max, which functions as their public CMS.

As observed in their app, a payload is shared with https://comet.api.hbo.com/content, and a JSON response is received.

Content Delivery Network

As per some experts, HBO Max uses at least two CDNs: Level 3 and Akamai.

Level 3 has been in use with HBO since 2011.

Video Analytics

HBO Max is using Conviva v2.151.0.36981 for Video Analytics.

If we observe the code of this app, then the client pings at https://telegraph.api.hbo.com/events/v1, to indicate the changes.

Packager

HBO Max uses Unified Streaming Platform v1.9.5, which produces HLS Manifests. With their latest update for the app in 2021, they are now using an advanced version, because Unified Streaming Platform v1.9.5 has been in usage since 2018.

DRM

HBO Max (earlier version before 2021), used Widevine, PlayReady, and PlayReady (with multi-key). As of now, (post-2021), HBO Max has been using their own in-house built DRM.

Video Player

For earlier versions, HBO Max used the ever-dependable Shaka Player for web browsers, and Exoplayer for Android, and AV Player for iOS.

Note here, that HBO has been using Google's open-source player for long, for Android users.

The Scalability Of HBO Max Is The Gamechanger

If we focus on the technical aspects of creating such a powerful OTT app, then scalability is critical. The ability to manage such a massive number of concurrent users, without disrupting their overall experience and behavior, is the recipe to success.

And top video streaming apps and OTT platforms like HBO and Amazon Prime deploy some scalability hacks, which make the streaming seamsless and high quality, for a huge audience, without any major hiccups.

One such strategy is Video Transcoding, wherein the video format is converted into another format, so that:

  • All users, across all devices and locations, get a uniform, delightful experience
  • Buffering is decreased, which translates to seamless viewing
  • Latency is low, thereby ensuring high-quality streaming
  • Here is a three-step process for Video Transcoding:

    Validation: During the process of converting the video formats, some elements can change or alter such as frames, colors etc. With the Validation process, the system makes sure that the Transcoding process is seamless.

    Parallel Encoding: Typically, videos these days are multiple terabyte-sized in size and volume, and it doesn’t make sense to process such a huge amount of data. This is the reason that the video is first broken down into smaller fragments, and then they are encoded in parallel. Several servers are required to ensure this parallel processing and encoding of the fragments. After the validations, these fragments are again merged back.

    Encoding Profile: This is the secret of scalability, as deployed via Video Transcoding. Every device has a video format, that ensures optimal performance, based on different network speeds and connectivity. An app like HBO Max transcodes and processes the videos, based on the video format which is supported by that device. And this ensures seamless scalability and performance.

    Some other processes for enhancing scalability includes:

    TrickPlay: When a user scans the content via the sidebar or the main menu, then a thumbnail is generated which gives a small snapshot of the video content. This is Trickplay, which is achieved by HBO Max by requesting images via template-URL and passing the playhead position along.
    (e.g. https://media.fly.cdn.hbomax.com/videos/PRO42/e1/gov2/turner/feature/613088/v1/images/23.98p/r0/images_2_{0:00000000}.jpg)

    Although HBO Max could have achieved this via MPEG-DASH, they chose to develop their own system for Trickplay.

    Similarly, features such as Offline Watching, Continue Watching, etc are deployed, which ensures that all the users are able to get a uniformed, delightful access to video content

    If you wish to know more about HBO Max and find out how you can develop and launch a similar video streaming and OTT app, then get in touch with our System Architects and Mobile App Engineers, and explore the possibilities.

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