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How Many Gigs of Data Do You Need to Watch Streaming Movies and TV Shows?

How Many Gigs of Data Do You Need to Watch Streaming Movies and TV Shows?

This is one of the most common questions I get about streaming media, right up there with “Do I need a player for every TV?” and “Can I cancel my cable service if I get a Roku/Amazon Fire TV/Apple TV/Google Chromecast?” And I’ve been meaning to answer it but haven’t gotten around to it. Until now, it’s not something I’ve had to worry about personally since I currently have Verizon FIOS Internet service, which has no data caps. (I know, I know… I shouldn’t be thinking of myself only!)

But I’m in the process of switching providers (more on that to come) and my new one does have a threshold of 250GB per month, which means I’ve finally looked it up so I can share the info with you. I’m using Netflix as a reference because a) they have very specific info on their site and b) I expect they’re a good proxy for other similar services.

The short version is that it depends on the quality of the content you’re streaming. From their Help page:

“Watching movies or TV shows on Netflix uses about 1 GB of data per hour for each stream of standard definition video, and up to 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video.”

Note that these numbers apply whether you’re streaming the show to your TV, computer, or mobile device.

I usually stream in standard definition anyway because a) it costs less when renting content from Amazon, which I use as often as Netflix and b) I honestly can’t see enough of a difference between SD and HD to make the extra cost worth my while.

Read the full article for more details of the different settings Netflix offers and how to change them for your account.

Also, while I was looking this up, I came across another article about bandwidth usage for all sorts of online activities, including email, social media, and gaming. It also includes an important reminder that uploading content to the Internet uses up data as well.

Broadband usage guide: How much data do you need? (Whistle Out, April 2015)

Today’s 2015 Blogathon Featured Blog: Books YA Love

I have to say, this blog about Young Adult books, published by librarian Katy Manck has one of the best titles I’ve ever seen! Some recent posts:

You may also be interested in:

Streaming Media: Frequently Asked Questions

Which Streaming Media Player Is Right for You?

Comparing Netflix, Amazon Video, and Hulu Streaming Video Providers

Elizabeth Kricfalusi

View Comments

  • Thanks for publishing this info, cos I've just gone onto an unlimited plan with my ISP, and I'm nervous about using up my data of 150GB per month. But I would like to know who you're with to get so much data and how much it is, and is it available in non-cable areas.

  • I realize this article is 9 months old but I have to respond.
    Anyone SHOULD be able to tell a difference in SD and HD . I can see a major difference on my 27 inch computer monitor and when you go to a larger sized TV (50+ inches) screen the differences become huge. The larger the TV the bigger the difference. I am not exaggerating here.

  • I get 7GB of mobile hotspot from my cell provider which I use to watch Netflix on my TV threw my blue ray player I was watching shows for about 3 hours and I checked to see how much I have used so I didn't go over and it said only 1MB!!! How can that be? Is my cell wrong?? It's so confusing lol I know I can watch Netflix on my cell with Tmoblie without it taking my data I believe it's called freeplay or something but I did not think that applied if I was teathering with my hotspot. I am so confused?!?!?!

    • Hi Sydney.

      I'm not sure what's happening there, although I do know the usage that shows on your phone may be different than what shows up on your account page at your cellphone service provider's website. So the first thing I would do is go to the T-Mobile site and see what it's reporting for your usage.

      Also, maybe your plan does allow you free data up to a certain point even if you're using a hotspot. You'll need to check the fine print for your particular plan. Again, you should be able to find that info on the T-Mobile website under your account settings.

      - Elizabeth

  • I've always been a gypsy, and can't even remember when I last had home internet service-- like a landline phone too.
    So, I'm always relying on my mobile data plan WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN UNLIMITED. I just wish techies would please, as you say, remember how many people are not unlimited, relying on expensive 5 gig data plans, etc. ESPECIALLY when you are describing things like CHROMECAST. A basic FAQ should explain "this app, object, item, product, feature or whatever IS FOR THOSE WHO CAN DOWNLOAD OR STREAM HUGE AMOUNTS OF DATA, AND NOT MUCH USE IF YOURE ON A LIMITED DATA PLAN.
    Thanks for including that, because I have to spend so much time searching thru many sites that CLAIM to be for low-tech audiences, but totally leave out the OBVIOUS MOST BASIC information they take for granted.
    I can finally stop wondering about a product that doesn't have much to offer people on mobile data plans.
    Remember, some of us don't even have a computer, or cable tv.

  • We have an Amazon Fire Stick. I've noticed some of the TV shows and/or movies say you pay for it. Who bills me? My internet provider or does it come from Amazon or if it's a HBO show, from HBO?

    • Hi Linda.

      You pay the company that provides the content. So if you want to rent an Amazon video, you pay Amazon.

      One thing to note is if you have a cable or satellite subscription that includes premium pay TV channels like HBO, then you can often watch its content for free (if there's an app for it on the Stick). So if you want to watch an HBO show, you would install the HBO GO app and it would ask you to log into your cable/satellite account to prove that you're paying for the service through your provider. Otherwise, HBO has a standalone app, HBO NOW, that has a monthly subscription fee to access.

      I hope that clarifies things.

      - Elizabeth

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