How much data does streaming video, movies and TV use? (2018 edition)
In the last year, the data requirements for online video streaming have increased with the introduction of 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) options. Not every available streaming service offers 4K streaming, but the major ones – including Netflix, Stan, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video – all now offer the option for streaming UHD videos.
While higher bandwidth is essential to enjoy the improved quality, the increased fidelity also consumes more data. For people using internet connections with data caps, the data demand of streaming online videos can quickly add up.
Here’s a breakdown of how much data the major Australian streaming services use, based on statistics from their own websites where possible.
There are no official stats for YouTube data streaming, but there are ways to estimate.
YouTube has an array of playback-quality settings that can greatly vary data usage, generally ranging from as low as 144p playback (half of standard definition, or ‘SD’, quality) to 2160p (4K) video settings.
There are other variables that come into play, such as the bitrate, frame rate, as well as 3D and 360-degree videos, all of which affect data usage and, sometimes, bandwidth requirement per video.
As a general rule for typical YouTube videos, 480p playback of standard 30 frames per second (FPS) content uses approximately 264MB per hour, 720p (HD) videos use roughly 870MB per hour, and 1080p (Full HD) video playback uses around 1.65GB an hour.
- 300MB per hour on the lowest video quality
- 700MB per hour for SD video quality
- 3GB per hour for HD video quality
- 7GB per hour for UHD (4K) video quality
It’s worth noting that Netflix, and certain other streaming services, may default to an ‘Auto’ setting for video quality, which will favour higher quality (to ensure better-looking playback) over lower data usage.
In terms of data usage, this ‘Auto’ setting will increase the video quality to the highest quality available on the plan, plus the connected screen technology (which may extend up to 4K), adjusted to the highest quality Netflix thinks your current internet speed can handle.
If you are using the top-tier Netflix plan, which allows for UHD playback, and the playback setting is on ‘Auto’, relevant 4K content on a 25Mbps (or above) connection will default to UHD quality, which uses the most data. However, a lot of Netflix content is not yet available in UHD. In these cases, 1080p (full HD) will be the default.
The quality setting can be adjusted under the ‘Playback settings’ option in ‘My Profile’, which can be found under ‘Account’.
You can use this to lock in a specific video playback quality.
Like Netflix, Stan also supports the option for up to 4K playback on select content.
According to this Stan support page, the data breakdown is as follows:
- 570MB per hour of Low SD-quality video playback
- 1.13GB per hour of Medium SD-quality video playback
- 2.89GB per hour of HD-quality video playback
- 7GB per hour of UHD-quality video playback
As with Netflix, leaving Stan on the default ‘Auto’ setting will scale playback quality to match the available bandwidth on your internet connection.
If you’re watching 4K content on the highest-tier account via a 4K-capable screen, this means Stan will default to UHD playback on an internet connection of 15Mbps (or above), assuming what you’re watching is available in UHD quality.
To change the default playback quality, start playing any content on Stan, then select the settings cog during playback.
You’ll be able to choose between Auto, Ultra, (where available), High, Med, and Low.
Amazon Prime Video
Like YouTube, new streaming service on the block Amazon Prime Video hasn’t publicly released official data usage statistics.
However, some online estimates peg it at approximately 900MB per hour for SD playback, roughly 2GB per hour for HD playback, and around 5.8GB per hour of UHD content.
Foxtel Now and Foxtel Play
Foxtel Play and Foxtel Now are both video-on-demand (VOD) streaming services for the Foxtel platform.
Foxtel Play is available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, as well as certain Samsung, Sony, and LG smart TVs.
Foxtel Now is available on PlayStation 4, Telstra TV, Chromecast, compatible iOS or Android mobile device or tablet, as well as PC and Mac.
Both streaming services have a recommended 3Mbps download for SD video streaming, and 7Mbps for HD streaming.
Foxtel Now uses 1.4GB per hour of streaming for SD content, and 3.2GB per hour for HD playback.
As the streaming-service name suggests, Optus Sport is concerned with one genre of television: sport.
In practical term, this includes the English Premier League and Australian cricket (including the Big Bash League). It will also include the FIFA 2018 World Cup.
Optus Sport’s data usage changes depending on the type of device used.
For mobile devices, Optus estimates usage of up to 900MB per hour of playback.
For content streamed on a computer, Optus suggests streaming will use a maximum of 1.6GB per hour of playback.
ABC iView is the companion streaming service for ABC Television.
Currently, SD playback is available, and while ABC iView may include HD quality in the future, there’s no timeframe for its availability.
SBS On Demand
The SBS network offers SBS On Demand as its online video streaming companion.
- 60-minute video, up to 675MB of data
- 30-minute video, up to 340MB of data
- 10-minute video, up to 115MB of data
- 5-minute video, up to 50MB of data
These data amounts assume you’re streaming video at the highest available quality.
Video content for the Nine Network can be watched on-demand via the 9Now companion streaming service.
There are no official data usage stats for 9Now, unfortunately, but the following is a guide, according to some estimates.
9Now may use approximately 850MB per hour in SD, and around 1.4GB per hour of HD streaming, although these numbers are not certain.
7Live and 7Plus
The Seven Network provides 7Live and 7Plus as its free-to-air companion streaming services.
7Live is a live-streaming service that currently only offers SD quality playback.
The official 7Live FAQ recommends 3Mbps minimum for, but advises up to 7Mbps.
While no official data usage stats are listed, these provided bandwidth numbers could suggest an hour of live streaming on 7Live translates to a rough maximum of 1.35GB per hour of lower-quality SD streaming, and up to 3.15GB per hour of higher-quality streaming.
7Plus is a catch-up service for the Seven Network’s regular programming.
The official 7Plus FAQ estimates streaming data usage of between 128MB and 528MB per hour of streamed content, although this particular FAQ hasn’t been updated for some time.
How much monthly data do I need?
This will vary depending on your home’s video-streaming needs.
You can use the numbers above to estimate data usage in relation to how regularly you and your family or housemates stream.
Certain retail service providers (RSPs) let you track data usage, either through an online portal or smartphone app, which is also a great way to project future usage based on past statistics, or you can track it on a daily basis (depending on how frequently the RSP updates the data used).
It’s also worth considering that certain RSPs offer unmetered content with particular streaming services, in which case content watched on those unmetered streaming services isn’t counted towards your total monthly quota.
Remember that video streamed around the home can happen on more than just the primary TV. If you live with other avid viewers, they may be streaming on laptops, PCs, tablets, phones, or any other connected device with a screen. Make sure you keep that in mind when putting together your estimate of time spent viewing per month.