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How to Stream Video Smarter and Stay Under Your Data Cap

Lauren Forristal

Let’s face it: Data caps suck. While cutting the cord can be a great way to save money, streaming all your TV can use up a lot of data very quickly. Below are a few ways to cut back on data usage.

1. Turn Off Your Streaming Device

It’s a common habit to turn off the TV without shutting down your streaming box. This could burn through your data allowance as video continues to run with the TV off. Netflix, DIRECTV STREAM, and other streaming services will eventually stop playing if you leave them on but usually only after a few hours have passed. That’s a few hours of lost data.

  • Streaming dongles (Roku Streaming Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick): Plug them into your TV’s USB port to ensure that they power down along with the TV. However, the device may stay on if your TV has a “quick start” mode enabled.
  • Fire TV or Apple TV: Enter standby mode by holding down the remote’s home button, and then selecting sleep. If HDMI-CEC is enabled on your device and the television (and it should be by default), the TV will turn off as well.
  • Phone, Tablet, or Computer: Make sure the app you use to stream is closed, not just minimized.

2. Disable AutoPlay

AutoPlay is also a culprit of eating up data so while it is a great feature when you want to binge-watch all night, you could easily burn 25GB of data. Go to the account settings for your streaming service and disable to autoplay setting if you think your TV might be watching without you.

  • Netflix will check in periodically “Are You Still Watching?” but you can also turn off AutoPlay by visiting your account page, clicking “Playback Settings,” and unchecking “Play next episode automatically.”
  • For Amazon Prime Video, visit your account page, open the Playback tab, and toggle AutoPlay to off.
  • In Hulu, scroll to your profile name, then select Settings to turn AutoPlay off.
  • DIRECTV STREAM can disable auto-play for on-demand videos under the “Preferences” section of the Settings menu.
  • You can also buy a smart plug and schedule it to turn off a couple of hours after bedtime. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a sleep timer for streaming video.

3. Try Standard Definition Video

We get it—watching anything that isn’t HD is a bummer. SD streaming uses a fraction of the data of HD—often less than 1 GB an hour. If you were to watch two episodes per day in SD, you’d use approximately 60 GB of data per month. Plus, if you want to watch older shows that aren’t originally shot in HD or binge re-runs when you are doing chores, SD will work just fine.

Explore the account settings with your streaming provider and lower the video quality. With Netflix, you can set the quality to Low (0.3 GB/hour per device), Medium (0.7 GB/hour per device) or High (3-7 GB/hour per device).

  • Netflix: Visit your account page, then select a quality level under “Data Usage per screen.”
  • Disney+ (for Android or iOS): Tap your account picture, then choose App settings and Cellular data usage. Select from Automatic or Save data (which forces a lower quality at all times).
  • Amazon Prime Video (on Fire TV devices only): Open Settings, select Preferences, select Data Monitoring and switch it to “On,” and then select “Set Video Quality.” (You can also monitor total consumption and set up data usage alerts)
  • Hulu (Android and iOS app): Tap the Account button, then select Settings and Cellular Data Usage to choose between Best Available and Data Saver.
  • Sling TV: Open Settings, select Connection, and then choose a quality level.

4. Stay Away From 4K Streaming as Much as Possible

It’s hard to buy a decent TV without 4K these days. However, avoiding a higher-resolution format will help your wallet since it uses more than twice the data of 1080p video. If your TV supports HDR video, you’ll still get those richer colors in 1080p on the Apple TV 4K, the Fire TV pendant, and the Fire TV Cube. (Roku players require 4K output for HDR video).

  • Android TV: Open Settings, select Display & Sound, select Resolution, then choose 1080p 59.940Hz.
  • Apple TV: Open Settings, select Video & Audio, select Resolution, and then choose 1080p.
  • Roku: Open Settings, select Display Type, and then choose 1080p TV.
  • Fire TV: Open Settings, select Display & Sounds, select Display, select Video Resolution, and then choose 1080p 60 Hz.

5. Stick to Offline Downloads

If you’re using a phone or tablet, you can download videos for offline playback to avoid repeat data use. Both Netflix and Amazon allow you to download select videos at no extra charge, and YouTube TV offers mobile downloads with its 4K Plus add-on. Hulu, Peacock, HBO Max, and many other streaming services offer offline downloads with their premium, ad-free, plans.

Does Streaming Use Up A Lot of Data?

Streaming is technically a form of downloading, even though you aren’t saving a file to your hard drive. When you stream a large file, like a 30 minute TV show in HD, you could be using a sizeable chunk of data.

According to AllConnect, the estimated data use for 1 hour of streaming:

  • SD video – 1 GB
  • HD video – 3 GB
  • 4K Ultra-HD video – 7 GB

1 GB here and there may not seem like much, but when you consider how much you stream, on top of all the other things you use the internet for, data usage can add up quickly.

How to Find Out How Much Data Your Streaming Device Consumes

Unfortunately, this isn’t as easy as it probably should be. Roku, for example, won’t tell you at all. The only suggestion Roku offers is turning on the “Bandwidth Saver” to turn off streaming after four hours of uninterrupted activity.

Long sessions of streaming TV will cause a hike in data usage, so it’s good to have an idea of how much data binge-watching uses. This can help you be conscious of your monthly data limit.

Netflix offers four data usage settings:

  • Low – 0.3 GB per hour per device
  • Medium – SD: 0.7 GB per hour per device
  • High – up to 3 GB per hour per device for HD, and 7 GB per hour per device for Ultra HD

Amazon Prime Video:

  • Data saver setting: 0.12GB per hour
  • Good: 0.18GB per hour
  • Better: 0.72GB per hour
  • Best: 1.82GB per hour

Disney+:

  • Automatic: 2.25-3 GB per hour
  • Data Saver: 1-1.5 GB per hour

Youtube TV:

  • 480p – 264 MB per hour
  • 720p – 870 MB per hour
  • 1080p – 1.65 GB per hour
  • 4K – 2.7 GB per hour

Hulu:

  • HD - 0.65 GB per hour
  • SD - 0.3GB per hour

Tubi automatically adjusts its streaming to suit bandwidth, so no specific data numbers are available, but they recommend speeds of 4 Mbps or more.

HBO Max automatically adjusts its streaming to suit bandwidth but the recommendation is speeds of at least 5 Mbps.

Pluto TV does not let you adjust its streaming resolution settings, but it’s recommended to have an internet connection speed of at least 7 Mbps.

Actual usage varies based on the length of the video, stream quality, the amount of features used by each user, network conditions, the device you’re using, and other factors. So it’s always important to note down how much you think you’re using. And to use our tips, of course.

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