How Much Data Does Netflix Use? The Definitive Answer

man watching netflix
man watching netflix

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The crowd of cord cutters gets a little bigger each day. People are leaving behind expensive cable and satellite bills for streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. Most major television networks offer their shows for free online now. Cutting the cord and moving to streaming services is just easier now.

The problem for many people, especially those using their phones to watch movies, is data. Videos eat up data faster than anything else, and overage charges can cripple your budget if you didn’t plan for them. Netflix is arguably one of the most popular streaming services, but how fast will it drain your data package?

How Much Data Does Netflix Use?

watching netflix on iphone

Image via flickr

The data Netflix uses is adjustable, and it doesn’t use as much as you probably think. That said, the data usage can add up quickly and eat away at your data cap. At standard resolution, Netflix uses about one gigabyte of data per hour. If you stream HD video, the data usage can ramp up to three gigabytes per hour. Netflix offers four settings for computer and smart TV users:

  • Auto: this setting adjusts the video quality to match your internet speed and ignores data usage
  • Low: this setting lets you watch videos at the lowest quality and uses about 0.3 GB per hour
  • Medium: this setting streams video in SD quality and uses about 0.7 GB per hour
  • High: this allows HD and Ultra-HD video streaming if your device supports it and uses three to seven gigabytes per hour

Most of us want the best quality video we can get which means we may stream video at HD quality. A two-hour movie will cost around six gigabytes of data. If you watch eight movies per week, you can easily use nearly 50 GB of data a week. ISPs tend to allow data caps around 250 to 500 GB per month. Going over your data cap is easy at this point.

If you have kids or other adults in the house, they may use a similar amount of data. By the time you watch a movie or two a day for most of the week and stream some YouTube or music, a data cap of 500 GB will just disappear. Downloading Netflix videos uses about the same amount of data as well.

How Can I Save Data and Watch Netflix?

netflix on phone

Image via flickr

You can reduce the amount of data Netflix uses through some easy steps. Log in to your Netflix and navigate to your account page. Under your profile settings locate playback settings and change the video quality or data usage settings. Netflix is prone to changing the wording and the layout of this page.

Unless you’re watching videos on a 70-inch TV, and even then, it may not matter much, watch them in SD quality to save data. If you use the lowest settings, it may make your data last longer, but you’ll notice a significant loss in quality. If you need to watch videos on the lowest setting, it may be time to upgrade your data plan. There’s just no good reason to watch a movie if it doesn’t look good.

If you watch movies on your mobile device, the amount of data you have to work with might be much less than your home’s internet service. Some carriers offer unlimited data plans but may throttle your connection during high usage periods. The result is a lot of waiting and staring at the same movie frame for a bit while it loads more video. Different phone plans might cap data at only five gigabytes per month.

You can adjust the amount of mobile data Netflix uses by logging in on your device and navigating to the app’s settings page. Find the data usage section and adjust it to fit your data plan. Keep in mind that saving data means lower video quality. The mobile data usage settings are different from the settings on your computer or TV:

  • Maximum Data: do not use this setting unless you have an unlimited data plan and good phone service. This setting allows your phone to stream the best quality video available which uses the most data and requires a fast connection.
  • Save Data: this setting will stretch out around six hours of video per gigabyte of data used, but the quality of the movie is low.
  • Automatic: this setting lets Netflix try to balance the quality of the move and the data usage. It attempts to give you good quality video while using less data. That said, it’s unlikely this feature works as intended and probably only adjusts the quality of the movie to match your internet speed.
  • Wi-Fi Only: this setting saves all your mobile data by only allowing you to watch Netflix if you connect to a wireless hotspot. However, it will use up data associated with the hotspot. 

If you can’t change the amount of data Netflix gets to use, go into your phone’s settings and adjust the amount of data the app is allowed to use. You’ll need to find a guide online for your phone, but most phones will let you set the amount of data each app is allowed to use instead of relying on the app, to be honest about its habits. 

watching netflix on macbook with snacks on the side

Image by Jade87 from Pixabay

The Netflix app may be different on your mobile device than the instructions you find online. It varies a little depending on the device and the operating system. Some older phones might use an older version of the Netflix app because they aren’t compatible with the latest one. However, you should be able to set the maximum amount of data Netflix is allowed to use in all the apps.

Mac, Windows, and most Linux distributions have a setting that allows you to meter the internet connection. Again, find a guide for your operating system online and follow the instructions. You can define the amount of data your computer uses for Netflix or across the entire internet connection. This is also an excellent way to limit the amount of data kids use.

Aside from those options, you can simply avoid watching a lot of videos. Schedule movie time and limit yourself to only a few movies each week. Getting into this habit will save data, and you'll probably find that your weeks are more productive as well. 

Explain data usage to older kids and develop a schedule for them as well. You should probably do that anyway and turn on parental controls to limit when they’re allowed to watch movies and what types they get to see. Netflix lets you set up a profile for kids which gives you a lot of extra control over their streaming habits.

For young kids, make them ask before they stream anything and be sure parental controls are in place. Kids today know their way around mobile devices, and you don't want them to end up on the dark side of YouTube instead of watching cartoons and funny cat videos. 

Keep in mind the numbers we use to describe data usage are little more than educated guesses or averages. For instance, Ultra-HD, sometimes called 4K, may use up to 12 GB of data per hour of streaming instead of seven. HD and SD settings may double or use slightly less data. As of this writing, it’s unclear why Netflix data usage may vary across devices. 

You can test the amount of data it uses on your mobile device by using an app designed to monitor data usage or find the app in your phone or tablet’s settings and see how much data it uses per hour. Most mobile devices can tell you how much data each app uses, so note the data usage then watch an hour of Netflix to find out how much it’s really using.

Most computer operating systems offer a similar feature to monitor data usage, or you may find an app for your computer that tracks it as well. The important thing is finding out how much data your device is using and figuring out how to watch good quality movies while saving data. Sadly, the only way to truly save data and enjoy streaming is by limiting the time you spend on Netflix.

Netflix isn’t the bad guy in this scenario. Netflix offers plenty of ways to reduce the amount of data you use, but it simply can't give you the best quality video without hogging your data. Hulu uses slightly less than Netflix, and Amazon Prime uses more data, so swapping streaming services won’t make much difference.


netflix options

Image via flickr

Depending on the settings you chose, Netflix may use up to 12 GB of data per hour. Using 300 to 500 GB of data per month is easy to do and may happen before you realize you’re using that much data. Adjust your Netflix settings and check your data usage manually to find out how much your computer or mobile device is using. Going over your data cap can get expensive quickly.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.