Help me understand data use when streaming video
November 9, 2017 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I am somewhat ashamed that I have to ask this, given that it's 2017 and I'm a grown-ass, educated person, so please do not laugh. When I am streaming video (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) does it use more data to watch it on my 48" TV than it does to watch it on my iPhone? Assume that I mean the same degree of video quality in both cases. Is the small screen view drawing less data to make me a smaller picture, or is it the same amount of data just sizing up or down as necessary?
posted by mccxxiii to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Usually, the app (in this case Netflix) will determine the browser you are on, or application you're using. Based on that information, it will stream video at at different level of quality. For example, if watching Netflix on your phone, it may stream at 720p or 480p to 1) conserve their bandwidth 2) stream a file at a smaller size so it's not blowing up your phone's data plan, and c) frankly the difference in quality between 720p and 1080p on a phone is negligible.

When watching on your computer where you may be likely watching on a screen with full HD resolution, it will stream the higher rate. So a 2 hour movie on your phone may be 150MB, while streaming to your computer or TV may be 3GB.

So to directly answer your question, it will stream a smaller file of lesser quality to your phone (but the difference is hardly noticeable) and it will stream a higher quality to your PC (since there is generally no restrictions on monthly bandwidth from your ISP.
posted by FireStyle at 11:50 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

It likely depends on your phone. To first order, the thing that determines the amount of data you use is the number of pixels that have to be streamed. Your TV probably has a height of 1080 pixels (i.e. "1080p"). Some phones and tablets (particularly tablets) can support 1080p, but many are lower resolution. If you have a 4K TV (and a streaming service that supports 4K streaming), then streaming to your TV will use even more data.
posted by Betelgeuse at 11:51 AM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Assume that I mean the same degree of video quality in both cases

Both more resolution and better compression results at the same resolution require more data. So if, in fact, you are watching the same quality video, yeah, it'll use the same amount of data. But every streaming service makes a big effort to only send the least data they can get away with without it looking bad, because it saves them money. So it's pretty likely that they'll automatically send a smaller and lower quality version of the video to your phone, because they think (and are probably right) that on a small screen most people won't be able to tell the difference anyway.
posted by aubilenon at 12:17 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

All best answers, thank you! I just canceled my cable TV in favor of only streaming video (and hopefully less TV altogether) but now I am paranoid that I'm going to use too much data and get punished by my cable company.

Trying to figure out if I should make a point to watch things on my phone X amount of the time to conserve data, or whether it doesn't make a difference.
posted by mccxxiii at 12:29 PM on November 9, 2017

now I am paranoid that I'm going to use too much data and get punished by my cable company.

I think most internet service providers that have data limits also have a way that you can check your usage (e.g., xfinity). If yours has such a feature, you could just watch however you want for a week and then check and see if you've used much of your monthly limit. My guess is you won't come close to running into the limit.
posted by aubilenon at 12:45 PM on November 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

The behemoths also all or almost all give you the first month of overage free. They send you a nasty letter the first time, only charging you if you keep doing it.

If you've only got one or two screens and they're streaming less than ~12ish hours a day, you'll almost certainly be fine with a 1TB cap. If yours is lower that might present a problem, but again, probably not unless you have lots of devices streaming simultaneously.

They do lean on the fear to get you to worry about it, especially now that some of them sell increased/uncapped data transfer for more money. Never mind that even if you do end up paying an extra $10 or $20 one month you're still saving big time compared to having video service. Don't worry about it unless it becomes a problem. If it does, that's when you need to be evaluating options and trying to limit data use. Not now, just on some unspecified fear of something bad maybe happening. (Apologies if an extra $20 one time would break your budget, if that's the case refer to the first part of my answer. Doesn't sound like it, though, since you were paying for cable TV until recently)
posted by wierdo at 1:54 PM on November 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

To give you a bit of actual idea how much data you'll burn - video size is usually passed in Mbit/s (which when divided by 8 gives you a more natural MB/s :) ):

4K Netflix: ~ 16Mbit/s -> ~ 7.2GB/hour
1080p Netflix: 4-6Mbit/s -> ~2.7GB/hour

Amazon uses about the same amount of data.

For YouTube it's really hard to say because it hugely differs between videos, formats your device support and changes, but quick check shows that it's about:

4K YouTube: ~15Mbit/s -> ~7GB/hour
1080p YouTube: ~2Mbit/s -> 750MB/hour
720p YouTube: ~1Mbit/s -> 450MB/hour

On the phone itself these tend to use less data due to lower resolution of the screen. If you know how much hours are you going to spend watching per month it should give you a ballpark figure for data caps.

(For quick comparison, Blu-Ray discs use 100Mbit+ at 4K and 50Mbit+ at 1080p which is why they look so much sharper and better in comparison to rather underwhelming and poor 4K picture of streaming services.)
posted by mavrik at 3:26 PM on November 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have been without cable tv for years. I watch a lot of streaming video tv.

If it helps you feel any more comfortable about not exceeding data limits, I can tell you from experience that if you set Netflix at Medium (0.7 GB per hour) you can watch for 12-16 hours, every single day of the whole billing period, while surfing Metafilter and other websites, download the odd bit of this or that, and throw in some odd hours of auto highest quality YouTube and Amazon videos... and never even hit 500 GB, much less 1 TB.

I don't think that I'd ever even gone over 250 GB until I left Netlix set on High for a few weeks after Jessica Jones came out.

So if you set it at High, and only watch an average amount, you still probably won't come that close to the cap.

I don't notice enough of a difference between Netflix's Medium and High on my 42" 1080p tv to bother to change to High for most things. I do notice the quality more for Amazon, and you have to set the rate in the player instead of having a universal setting, so I don't bother to tell it not to use HD. Same for YouTube.
posted by monopas at 12:19 AM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older Neurological/Health Benefits In Tying Unseen Knots...   |   I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.