Will downgrading my internet speed affect streaming video quality?
April 10, 2016 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Considering downgrading my internet from 100 mbps down to 50 mbps. Will that affect how well video streams?

As far as the internet can tell me, streaming video (Amazon, Netflix) only uses 5-10 mbps to function properly. So regardless of whether my internet connection is 50 mbps or 100 mbps, streaming video will work the same. Is this correct?
posted by gnutron to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You're correct. 50Mbps is enough for any Netflix stream, up to and including their 4K streams.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 6:31 PM on April 10, 2016

I have a 30mbps connection and streaming is fantastic. I think you should be fine.
posted by noneuclidean at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2016

Yes, you are correct. I recently went from 100Mbps to 25Mbps and see no difference in streaming video (or really in any other area).
posted by ssg at 6:32 PM on April 10, 2016

I currently only pay for 12 mbps down (bandwidth tests confirm i get that) and stream HD Netflix just fine. YouTube is also fine up to normal 1080p. The 60 fps video chokes on my computer, but i’m pretty sure that’s due to the crappy video processor i have in this old computer (it skips frames even when the video has plenty cached).

Make sure that the slower speed package from your provider doesn’t have a low bandwidth cap which will cause you to occasionally pay exorbitant overage charges.
posted by D.C. at 6:41 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I signed up for Fios a few months ago, they told me I needed the more expensive 100Mbps for streaming Netflix, etc. The Fios guy who did the installation called bullshit on that, and got on the phone to change my order to 50Mbps so I wouldn't have to suffer through another bullshit sales pitch. And the 50Mbps has been great. No problems at all.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:45 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

As long as you're sticking with the same service provider, you should be fine. I'm at 50 Mbps with Verizon FiOS, and bandwidth is never an issue for a single video stream at up to 4K. I used to be at 30 or 35Mbps and bandwidth was never an issue then, either, though I can't remember whether I ever tried 4K streams. However, if you switch service providers you could conceivably run into trouble if your new service has higher latency or the advertised bandwidth is over-subscribed at your neighborhood level, resulting in bottlenecks at prime viewing hours.
posted by Mothlight at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

The caveat to the above is how much other traffic is on your network. If it's just one device you could go even lower (I dare say 15 mbps). That said 50 mbps should handle 3+ simultaneous HD streams just fine.
posted by zinon at 6:46 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm at 35 and it's fine.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2016

I'm at 50, and it is good for Amazon and Netflix and HBO.

However, I recently accidentally hit the * button on my Roku remote while watching Netflix which pops up an overlay in the corner with information on the streaming rate. It was only then that I realized my Netflix quality was capped at 480p. Apparently, my old Netflix plan was not at the HD level and I didn't even know! I had always assumed it would show you the highest quality available for your internet speed.

Nevertheless, content that is definitely HD streams fine, but more often than not if there is a problem, the provider is typically the problem. In other words, my internet connection may be working great for Amazon or Netflix, but if I try some other source on my Roku, it may buffer a bit showing me that the content provider is the logjam more often than not.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 10:14 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

The only caveat to this (and it's a pretty minor one) is if you have several devices streaming video at once, then lower bandwidth might cause issues with the streams at that point. But 50 Mbps should be plenty even for that unless you have something like 5+ streams going on at once.
posted by Aleyn at 10:27 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have 10Mbps for cost reasons, and HD video streams play fine with no buffering. 200Mbps is available in my area, but I see absolutely no reason to pay the extra when 10Mbps works so well.

Far more important is the quality of the ISP's network. It's no good having a super-whizzy 200Mbps headline speed if the network gets congested every evening while everyone watches Netflix and it slows to a crawl. I've always found smaller ISPs better for that sort of thing than the big boys.
posted by winterhill at 2:50 AM on April 11, 2016

I have 3 Mbps from TimeWarner and Netflix and Amazon work fine. I previously had 2 Mbps from Qwest and it was pretty awful. I think the difference was network congestion rather than the speed.
posted by hoyland at 5:03 AM on April 11, 2016

Yeah, 50Mbps is fine. In practice 5Mbps is enough for 1080p Internet streaming with surround sound. Newer 4K streams go up to 15-25Mbps but are very rare. It's always nice to have some headroom so you don't have contention problems on your local network where your iPad is downloading an update while you're trying to watch cartoons. Or so you can watch two different things at the same time. Also ISPs regularly lie about the bandwidth you will actually get. You may find that 50 Mbps slows to 3 Mbps in the evenings, but the only way to really know is try it.

Some authoritative links for posterity:

Netflix support page says their max rate is 7 GB / hour, which is about 15 Mbps.

Youtube's streaming rates (click to show "Comparison of YouTube media encoding options") has a maximum rate of 25 Mbps, but that's ridiculously high quality.
posted by Nelson at 8:33 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

For comparison's sake, a Blu-Ray disc at 1080 quality is about 36 Mbit/sec. An old-fashioned DVD is less than 10 Mbit/sec. 50 should be plenty for any kind of video streaming.

(I have 100mbps service at home and it's pretty overkill. Being able to download games from Steam really, really fast is the only thing it's really useful for.)
posted by neckro23 at 9:31 AM on April 11, 2016

It also depends on whether or not the internet service is quoting a "minimum" download speed or an average or a max. Where we live, there's a local provider whose ads say "30 mbps" but in reality, we normally get around 9.
posted by amorey at 11:07 AM on April 11, 2016

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