Video Quality and Data Use

The internet data you use watching online video varies widely depending on video quality. An ultra-high definition video, for example, uses more than 20 times more data than a low definition video. If you need to limit your data use, you can lower your online video quality to save data.

Video quality depends on display resolution, which is the picture detail measured in pixels, and aspect ratio, which is the horizontal length of the video compared to its vertical height.

Low definition video

Low definition video has a display resolution of 256 x 144 pixels (144p) or 426 x 240 pixels (240p), which gives it a picture quality similar to an old analog television. Both of these options typically have a “widescreen” aspect ratio of 16:9.

Low definition content was common in the early days of online video when internet connections weren’t strong enough to stream anything else. If your internet connection is slow or you have a weak signal, your videos might play in low definition.

Standard definition video

Standard definition (SD) video has either the same 640 x 480-pixel (480p) display resolution as DVDs or the same 480 x 360-pixel (360p) display resolution as video cassette standards like VHS, Hi8, Video8, and Betamax. Standard definition video has a “full screen” aspect ratio of 4:3.

High definition video

High definition (HD) video has a display resolution of 1280 × 720 pixels (720p) or 1920 × 1080 pixels (1080i/1080p). Both of these options have a widescreen aspect ratio.

Ultra-high definition video

Ultra-high definition (UHD) video has a widescreen aspect ratio and a display resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels (2160p), which is about four times higher than HD.

4K video has a display resolution of 4096 x 2160 pixels. 4K has the same picture quality as UHD, but with a 19:10 aspect ratio – the wider “cinema widescreen” ratio used in IMAX theaters.

Data use by video quality

Here’s how much data watching YouTube videos uses per minute and hour, based on video quality:

144p 240p 360p 480p 720p 1080p 1440p 2160p
Per minute 1.3 MB 3.3 MB 5 MB 8.3 MB 25 MB 50 MB 90 MB 233 MB
Per hour 80 MB 200 MB 300 MB 500 MB 1.5 GB 3 GB 5.5 GB 14 GB

 

While higher display resolution always uses more data, exact data use varies by service. Paid streaming services like Netflix and Hulu usually use less data than YouTube.

How to adjust video quality

To save data, watch online video in lower definition. Here’s how to change your playback quality on different streaming services:

Upgrade to unlimited data

To watch videos in HD and UHD, upgrade to an unlimited fixed wireless internet plan. With unlimited data, you can watch high resolution videos on multiple screens without worrying about how much data you’re using.

Hannah Fillmore-Patrick

About Hannah Fillmore-Patrick

Content Editor

Hannah enjoys hiking, rock climbing and travelling eastern Europe and southeast Asia. Hannah is currently based in Bosnia.

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