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Broadband speeds required for streaming services

By Emma Lunn | Tuesday, July 13th 2021

Streaming TV and movies is something that many of us do regularly these days. But there are a wide range of speed requirements and levels of quality among the various streaming services. Here in this guide we'll take a look at how much speed each requires.

Streaming TV and movies in SD, HD or 4K UHD

For standard definition (SD) streaming you'll need at least an average speed of 3Mbps, for HD 5-8Mbps and for 4K UHD you'll need 25Mbps minimum, but we recommend a connection of 50Mbps to cover all scenarios (live 4K broadcasts require more speed, for example). Here are the fine details for each of the UK's main streaming services. Note that, for now, during the coronavirus crisis, quality has been lowered on most of the following services, thereby lowering the bandwidth requirements of each temporarily.

  • Netflix – For standard definition (SD or 480p) Netflix requires at least 3Mbps, for high definition (HD or 1080p) you’ll need 5Mbps and for ultra-high definition (UHD, 4K or 2160p) you’ll need a minimum of 25Mbps* download speed. Netflix also offers content in HDR, with the speed required the same as it is for 4K
  • Amazon Prime – For standard definition (SD or 480p) Amazon Prime requires just 1Mbps, for high definition (HD or 1080p) you’ll need 5Mbps and for ultra-high definition (UHD, 4K or 2160p) you’ll need a minimum of 25Mbps* download speed. Amazon Prime also offers content in HDR, with the speed required the same as it is for 4K. Prime Video will serve the highest quality streaming experience possible based on the bandwidth speed available.
  • NOW TV – It only streams in standard definition and low-end (720p) high definition. NOW TV only states that you need a minimum of 2.5Mbps to use. This probably applies to the 720p (not true HD) streams it offers. For 3G or 4G devices the minimum speed needed is 450Kbps.
  • Disney+ – Disney's exclusive streaming service demands a minimum of 5Mbps* for high definition (HD, 1080p) content, and 25Mbps* for 4K UHD streaming
  • Apple TV+ – Apple's own streaming service is accessible via the Apple TV app, available on iPhones, Smart TVs and desktop applications for Mac or PC. Apple TV+ features exclusive Apple-made TV and movies, and is one of the most demanding out there. It has been praised for its exceptional image quality, but that comes at the cost of up to 41Mbps required for 4K UHD content, with 25Mbps* recommended as the minimum. The service scales down depending on the speed you have available. Anything 8Mbps or better and you will be able to watch without problems
  • YouTube – For standard definition (SD 360p) YouTube requires at least 0.7Mbps, for higher-quality standard definition (SD 480p) you’ll need at least 1.1 Mbps. For high definition (HD 720p) you will need 2.5Mbps, for higher-quality high definition (HD 1080p), you will need 5Mbps, and for ultra-high definition (UHD, 4K or 2160p) you’ll need a minimum speed of 20Mbps*.
  • Google Play Movies & TV – Google Play Movies & TV offers online video on-demand, accessible across all your Android devices and Smart TV. The service offers movies and television shows for purchase or rental, depending on availability. Google Play offers videos and TV in HD, 4K UHD and HDR, and specifies a 15Mbps requirement for 4K UHD, otherwise it will default to HD or SD depending on your bandwidth
  • BBC iPlayer – High-quality BBC iPlayer programmes stream at up to 5 Mbps while their standard quality programmes stream at 1.5 Mbps. BBC iPlayer’s website states that ‘you’ll actually need a little more bandwidth than this to watch programmes on BBC iPlayer’, so you will need minimum speeds of 5Mbps* to use this service.
  • ITV Hub – ITV Hub streams at a generally poor quality (poorer than BBC iPlayer, which itself is a long way behind the likes of Netflix, Amazon and iTunes). ITV states you’ll need a 0.8Mbps broadband connection as a minimum in order to watch it, from which we can infer around 3Mbps will probably be necessary for SD (ITV Hub doesn’t offer HD at all)
  • BT Sport – BT Sport streams via your YouView box over your internet connection while BT TV comes through your aerial. For BT Sport you’ll need at least 3.5Mbps.For HDR you’ll need at least 2.5Mbps, but at least 6Mbps is recommended for smart TVs, gaming consoles and other devices. For the BT Sport Ultra HD channel (4K) you’ll need a broadband speed of at least 25Mbps*, and to stream in 4K HDR, you’ll need minimum speeds of 30Mbps*
  • *For 4K streaming across all these services pay special notice to the word ‘minimum’. Depending on what is going on on the screen at any given time the amount of speed you require will go up and down – these minimums, then, do not guarantee you a 4K UHD stream 100% of the time and will drop in resolution when things get busy. To guarantee a true 4K stream across any service you should take the minimum and add 25% to those requirements.

    These broadband deals are great for 4K

    Be aware that speed estimates are minimums

    It’s important to understand the speeds quoted are the minimum speeds you need for HD/UHD. The exact speed you need relies on a few different factors, including what’s going on on-screen – more detailed scenes require faster speeds.

    To be on the safe side, you’ll need your minimum broadband speed to be safely above these speeds. This is especially the case if you have a busy household with lots of internet-connected devices. If you’re trying to watch a Netflix show in UHD and your flatmates are gaming, it will slow down the speed you get. If your connection is too slow for your on-screen action, you’ll experience the dreaded buffering – where your video stops to wait for your broadband to catch up.

    Estimates vary, but if you want to be absolutely safe from buffering, you should aim to get double the speed you need, especially if you have other people in your household who also like to use the internet.

    The good news is that this is pretty easy to do. Most fibre broadband connections should be able to handle HD and UHD streaming without too many problems. Providers generally offer fibre speeds averaging 36Mbps and 67Mbps, which should be plenty. BT Superfast Fibre (previously BT Infinity 1) has speeds averaging 67Mbps while Virgin Media offers crazily fast connections up to and beyond 500Mbps.

    Compare fibre broadband deals

    Live-streaming video across the internet (Twitch, YouTube etc.)

    For the uninitiated, live-streaming is basically broadcasting your own video across the internet. Various services offer this, including Vimeo, YouTube, Facebook Live and Twitch. When you’re watching a video, the download speed is important, but when you’re live-streaming (i.e. the star of the video), upload speed is the crucial thing.

    a twitch streamer broadcasting gameplay

    This is where things get tricky. When broadband providers advertise broadband speeds, they’re talking about download speeds, not upload speeds. Most upload speeds are a fraction of the advertised download speeds. This means live-streamers need a top-end broadband package to get the faster speeds they need.

    As with watching video, the speed you need depends on the definition of your live-streaming. As a rule, live-streaming services such as Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Live and Vimeo require an upload speed of at least 1.6Mbps to live-stream in SD. When it comes to 'low HD', you normally need a speed of at least 3-3.5Mbps.

    'True HD' generally requires an upload speed of 3.5Mbps or above, although YouTube recommends 6Mbps. Twitch recommends an upload speed of 6 Mbps for high-quality, slow-motion 1080p, and a recommended upload speed between 9-13 Mbps for faster live-stream content.

    You need unlimited fibre broadband with a good upload speed

    Standard broadband deals normally offer download speeds averaging 25Mbps, but these will generally have sluggish upload speeds of about 3Mb (if you’re lucky). That’s barely enough for any of the popular live-streaming services, even at low-res, so you’ll need a fibre broadband connection and one with a decent upload speed at that. Our guide on which broadband deals offer the best upload speed in the UK has more information on this subject.

    A single 30-minute broadcast (at 1080p HD) will consume anywhere from 1GB-3GB of data so if you do a lot of live streaming, you’ll use a lot of data. For that reason you should look for an unlimited broadband deal – but that’s most of them these days anyway.

    Look for a minimum upload speed of 5Mb

    Your required upload speed will vary depending on your capture quality (eg: 720p HD), your streaming platform (eg: YouTube, Twitch) and whether you’re outputting a single stream direct to the web or multiple streams at variable bit rates via a video encoder. In any case, your streaming service of choice will likely have its own recommended upload speed, but as a general rule, 5Mb or above is considered optimal for HD video.

    Don’t worry about traffic management policies (unless you’re with Virgin Media)

    Some unlimited broadband packages have traffic management policies hidden away in the small print. However, these generally only affect activities such as peer-to-peer file sharing and downloading a lot of data. During this time it puts a temporary speed restriction on the heaviest users uploading data. Virgin Media used to apply a traffic management policy to what is described as 'a small minority of customers' from 6pm to 11pm each day, but they’ve updated their policy to use traffic management practices only in case of severe misuse or abuse, where a customer's connection is being used for purposes that are illegal, unlawful or inconveniencing other Internet users.

    What speed do I need to use VoIP services like Skype and Facetime?

    Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and Facetime need both a decent upload speed (for when you talk) and download speed (for when the other person talks). Most VoIP providers don’t recommend download and upload speeds, but Skype is the exception with clear guidelines about what you need.

    facetime on apple ipad

    If you’re just having a one-on-one chat on Skype, it recommends download and upload speeds of just 100kbps and a minimum of just 30kbps. That’s easy to achieve – but you’ll need faster speeds for group chats and group video calls. The recommended download speed for a seven-way video chat is 8Mbps and upload speed 512kbps.

    What speed do I need for cloud computing applications such as Dropbox and iCloud?

    When you send documents and files to the cloud or Dropbox, you need a good upload speed (and a good download speed to retrieve them). The bigger the files, the longer they will take to upload.

    Upload speeds vary between broadband providers but, perhaps surprisingly, Virgin Media tends to offer slower upload speeds than most of its competitors, despite its speedy download speeds. You’ll only get close to a 36Mbps upload speed on Virgin’s 350Mbps deal, while top-end fibre deals with the likes of BT, Plusnet and Sky normally offer upload speeds up to 110Mbps.

    What speed do I need for online gaming?

    Multiplayer games online on Xbox, PlayStation or PC don’t just need fast speeds, but stable connections too. Bad stability manifests itself in the form of things called latency and packet loss, which manifest as slow response times during gameplay.

    Gamers should head over to our guide on broadband for gaming for the lowdown on what to look for in a broadband connection if you want to get the edge in gaming.

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