Update: Amazon today responded to our request for comment. In reply to our email for offical numbers regarding data usage for SD and HD streams we received the following statement from Amazons PR staff. “Thanks for your inquiry about Amazon Instant Video data usage. We do not release the info you’re asking for…”
As cord cutting grows so does concern over data caps. Many cord cutters are limited by data caps forced on them by their ISP. As streaming options grow to included 4k the risk of going over your data cap increases. On average the data cap in the US is 250GB a month but they can range from 150GB to 300GB. Some ISPs like Comcast had suspended their data cap but are now testing out a 300GB cap in some markets.
(Note: It should not matter what device you are streaming on when it comes to the GB used. A Roku 3 and a Fire TV for example, both use the same amount of GB used when streaming the same quality. The quality of your stream is what changes the amount of GB used.)
So lets break down the top 3 paid video services.
Netflix offers a range of options for both HD and SD. With data usage ranging from 300MB per hour to 4.7GB per hour Netflix can meet a wide range of data caps. Netflix also allows you to control how much bandwidth you want to use from your account page. Currently Netflix is the only one of the big three to allow you to set your data usage. Hulu use to offer the option but it has disappeared from their settings as of this posting. Bellow you can see Netflix current data plans. You can also find this information on their website here.
If you only streamed Netflix you could watch about 853 hours of video on the low setting or about 89 hours of HD video per month. Base off of a 30 day month your usage per day could range from about 3 to 28 hours per day depending on your bandwidth settings.*
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 a official data chart in their FAQs but we did find this in their official public forums from 2012.
With Hulu you could watch about 394 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 and they did not respond to a request for comment as of this posting. We can get some idea of the data usage based off of the file size when you download the videos for viewing. We used a Stargate Universe episode in both HD and SD quality. The SD the file was 894.25MB for download. The HD version of the episode was 1.96GB. Now some of that will be DRM but we estimate that less than 10MB of the file is DRM. We did check a few other episodes and the SD quality hovered around 850MB to 900MB and the HD quality was fairly constant at about 2GB per 1 hour show.
Only using Amazon you could watch about 301 hours of SD video a month or about 10 hours a day. With HD video Amazon users could watch about 125 hours of video a month or about 4 hours a day of video.*
Summary: If you are looking for options and low data but are not concerned about HD quality than Netflix is your best option. Netflix allowing users to set data limits and the lowest bandwidth stream of the big 3 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 makes them the lowest data usage per hour for HD content.
*Hours of video per month and day are based off of a 250GB data cap and a 30 day month.
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