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A Guide to Bandwidth Requirements for Music, Video and Game Streaming Services

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Australians love their streaming services. They listen to music over Spotify, watch films and television over Netflix or on their Apple TV, edit photos through the Adobe Creative Cloud, share cat videos over YouTube and Facebook, and soon they’ll be playing games through services such as PlayStation Now.

But Australia’s Internet infrastructure is in many cases not up to the task of these more intensive streaming services. Many customers have small download limits each month, and when a company like iiNet started offering unmetered streaming of Netflix, the result was that the entire nation’s Internet access slowed down as it struggled to handle demand.

Until the NBN is up and running in full, or unless people have cheap access to large download limits, it’s likely that they will need to be prudent about just how many cloud streaming services they do consume. This is especially true when it comes to mobile devices – people will be in for very big bill shocks if they are on standard 1GB or 2GB caps and opt to use Spotify every day on their daily commutes.

Music

Let’s start by looking at Spotify. It, and rivals such as Beats Music or Google Play Music, all offer 320kbps for high quality music streaming. At that rate, you’ll burn through around 2.40MB of data per minute, and 115.2MB per hour. In just eight hours you will almost hit that 1GB data cap limit, though at home over your Internet connection these numbers are low enough that most people will be able to stream music at will without risking going over their limits. With these services it is also possible to drop the streaming quality down to around 64kbps to save on bandwidth.

Video

Video is far more intensive on bandwidth. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Netflix, YouTube, or any other video streaming service, if you’re watching in high definition, be prepared to consume the MBs like there is no tomorrow. Luckily with both YouTube and Netflix there are low streaming alternatives for people on a bandwidth budget.

The general range that video streaming will break down into is as follows:

  • Low – 300MB to 600MB per hour
  • Standard Definition – 700MB to 1.2GB per hour
  • High Definition – 3GB per hour
  • 4K – For people with the highest end TVs, expect to stream at around 18GB per hour to get the most out of your TV.

In real terms, based on the average television usage per person in Australia (52 hours per month), that works out in total data use as follows (again, per person):

  • Low – 16GB
  • Standard Definition – 36GB
  • High Definition – 156GB
  • 4K – 364GB

These figures would apply to any catch-up TV, ABC iView, or applications like Foxtel on your game consoles or mobile devices as well. Basically, whenever you’re streaming video footage, take these numbers into account when weighing whether your data limits are enough to handle your expected usage.

Games

Then we have the streaming gaming; which Australia’s Internet infrastructure is not generally considered ready to handle its current form. But if PlayStation Now (or other such services) were to launch in Australia, we can expect data usage to work at around 2.3-2.8GB per hour (this number is based on the minimum speed connection required to run the service in the US currently).

That doesn’t sound too onerous until you consider that the typical game is far, far longer than a film or song. A popular role playing game like Skyrim, for example, has an average play time around the world of 75 hours. That would work out at around 200GB in data.

The other factor you’ll need to consider is the speed of your connection itself. Australians in major metropolitan regions will likely have access to ADSL2+ broadband speeds, but those in regional areas might not (or if they do, it would be very expensive to install).

High Definition

For HD video or gaming streaming, you’ll need a stable Internet connection of at least 5Mbps, and a recommended setting of 8Mbps or more if you’re planning on using the Internet for other things at the same time. Video quality can be dropped to require a connection of as little as 1.5Mbps, but this will be very fuzzy footage.

Music streaming can be achieved with far lower bandwidth, meanwhile. Most connections will be able to handle 320kbps per second for high quality streaming, and if on a really slow connection, that can be dropped to as little as 64kbps.

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