As cord cutting grows, so does concern over data caps. Many cord cutters are limited by data caps enforced by their ISP. As streaming options grow to include 4k, the risk of going over your data cap increases. On average the data cap in the US is 1TB a month, but caps can go as low as 150 GB. Some ISPs, like Spectrum, currently do not have a data cap, but many ISPs charge you if you go over your data cap.
(Note: It should not matter what device you are streaming on when it comes to the GB used. A Roku and a Fire TV, for example, both use the same amount of GB when streaming the same quality. The quality of your stream is what changes the amount of GB used.)
So, let’s break down the top three paid video services.
Netflix offers a range of options for both HD and SD. With data usage ranging from 300MB per hour to 7 GB per hour, Netflix can meet a wide range of data caps. Netflix also allows you to control how much bandwidth you use from your account page. Currently, Netflix is the only one of the big three to allow you to set your data usage. Hulu used to offer the option, but it has disappeared from their settings as of this posting. Below you can see Netflix’s current data plans. You can also find this information on their website here.
If you only streamed Netflix, you could watch about 3,300 hours of video on the low setting or about 143 hours of HD video per month. Based on a 30-day month, your usage per day could range from about 4.7 to 110 hours per day depending on your bandwidth settings.*
Here is the full break down of Netflix’s data usage:
- Low– 0.3 GB per hour per device
- Medium– SD: 0.7 GB per hour per device
- High– Best video quality, up to 3 GB per hour per device for HD, and 7 GB per hour per device for Ultra HD
- Auto– Adjusts automatically to deliver the highest possible quality, based on your current internet connection speed
If you want to keep your data usage low but want HD, Hulu is your best option. Hulu’s data usage is only 650MB per hour for HD streaming. Hulu no longer offers data usage controls in their settings and does not list an official data chart in their FAQs, but we found this now removed post on their official public forums from 2012.
With Hulu you could watch about 1,538 hours of HD video each month. For a 30-day month, you could watch about 13 hours of video each day if you only streamed Hulu.*
Amazon has no public information for streaming data usage. We can get some idea of the data usage based off the file size when you download the videos for offline viewing. We used a Walking Dead episode to get the sizes for data usage. The SD low end download uses 0.14 GB for download. The high end HD version of the episode was 1.82GB. Now some of that will be DRM, but we estimate that less than 10MB of the file is DRM.
Only using Amazon you could watch about 7,142 hours of SD video a month or about 238 hours a day. With HD video Amazon users could watch about 549 hours of video a month or about 18 hours a day of video.*
Summary: If you are looking for options and low data but are not concerned about HD quality then Netflix is your best option. Netflix allows users to set data limits and the lowest bandwidth stream of the big three makes them the most data cap friendly service out there today.
If you are looking for HD video with low data usage check out Hulu. Their 650MB streams make them the lowest data usage per hour for HD content.
*Hours of video per month and day are based off a 1TB data cap and a 30-day month.
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