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?
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:
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?
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:
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.
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.