If your primary internet activity is streaming video it makes sense to ensure you have enough bandwidth to enjoy it. Here’s a breakdown of how much bandwidth various streaming services and resolutions require.
How Much Bandwidth Different Resolutions Require
Whether you’re rocking a shiny new OLED TV with a brand new streaming device or some older gear, you of course want the best streaming experience. To understand how much bandwidth you need to enjoy a smooth experience with your favorite streaming service, let’s take a quick look at the concept of video “bitrate.”
The bitrate is independent of but related to other measurements like resolution, frame rate, audio quality, and other components of the streaming video experience. The bitrate is a combination of all of those things and represents the amount of data per second the video source supplies. It’s also a good measure of how fast your connection needs to be for an enjoyable experience.
As an interesting aside, If you’ve ever wondered why a movie you have on Blu-ray looks better than the same movie in the same resolution streamed through Netflix or another streaming provider, the answer is different bitrates. The Blu-ray disc can offer anywhere from 3-5 times the bitrate a compressed stream from Netflix or the like can supply, which means more data (and a higher quality picture as a result).
Streaming providers work hard, using various compression techniques, to lower the bitrate while preserving the quality. Despite that, however, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and these are the average minimums required to sustain a smooth and stutter-free stream at various resolutions.
|Stream Resolution||Recommended Minimum Bandwidth|
|Standard Definition (SD/480p)||1Mbps|
|High Definition (HD/720p)||3Mbps|
|High Definition (HD/1080p)||5Mbps|
It will be quite a while before 8K content is widely available, but SD, HD, and 4K UHD content are widely available right now.
Bandwidth Recommendations by Streaming Provider
If you’re curious what your preferred streaming provider recommends, you can always check their help files or search for the provider name and “recommended bandwidth” or “recommended Mbps,” but we can save you a little trouble.
We dug through the recommendations from the most popular providers so you could easily review them all in one place. For consistency, the video quality is indicated by resolution first and then the common name.
In instances where the streaming provider has given no specific recommendation for a particular resolution, the entry in the table is blank—we recommend you refer to the general bandwidth recommendations in the previous section. If your service of choice isn’t listed here, you should also consult the general bandwidth recommendations.
As you can see, while there is some small variation among official provider recommendations, the individual recommendations align pretty well with the general bitrate range that compressed SD, HD, and UHD quality video demands.
Multiply Bandwidth Recommendations by Users
One stand out in the recommendations above is HBO Max, which suggests you need 50 Mbps —more than double any other provider’s recommendation.
While you could take that to mean HBO Max just has a significantly higher bitrate, the reality is probably more that the folks at HBO Max padded their recommendation to account for other internet activity in the home. And that’s something you should do too.
If your household is only streaming one thing at a time (be that because it’s just you or because you all gather to watch things together), then the bare minimum recommendations for a single stream are probably sufficient. Streaming an HD movie on a DSL connection isn’t ideal but it’s doable.
But if you’re a multi-user household where people frequently stream simultaneously or there’s a mishmash of people streaming, having video calls for work, and gaming or otherwise using the internet, it’s best to also pad your estimate by multiplying by the number of people.
Basing the “How much internet bandwidth do I need?” question on everyone streaming 4K to separate devices isn’t a bad way to ensure you’ll always have plenty of extra bandwidth to go around.
And hey, while you’re considering the bandwidth demands of streaming services, there’s always the option to rip your media to a local media server and run your own local Netflix-like experience with Plex. If your primary streaming activity is just looping office season-by-season, switching to a setup that stores your favorite binge-watching shows locally is a huge bandwidth saver.