How Much Data Does Live TV Streaming Use

With more streaming services coming online, how much data does live tv streaming use?

Almost everything in the world today is data-driven. I’m not surprised someone eventually asked how much data live tv streaming uses. Since we stream content on multiple devices like televisions, smartphones, tablets, and more – is there any difference in data consumption?

The simple answer to this question is how much data your tv (or other devices) consume depends heavily on multiple factors. However, video quality dramatically contributes to the overall data size.

How Much Data Does Live TV Streaming Use?

Video QualityTypeAverage File Size (60-minute Video)
720pHD850 MB
1080pFull HD1.3 GB
1440p (2K)Quad HD2.9 GB
2160p (4K)Ultra HD (UHDTV1)21 GB
4,320 (8K)Ultra HD (UHDTV2)37 GB

Over the years, video resolutions have steadily increased. We’ve gone from pixelated 720p resolution on CRT monitors to the current top-of-the-line 8K flat-screen TVs. As the resolution increases, so too do the data transmission requirements.

Comparing a 60-minute video clip to one in 8K sees an average file size jump from 850 MB to a whopping 37GB. That’s an increase in file size of more than 43 times! 

But what precisely causes this considerable jump in data requirement, and is it worth the cost? After all, bandwidth isn’t cheap, and live-streaming TV today runs on digital formats.

What Affects Video Quality (and File Size)?

Can you tell the difference in image quality?
Can you tell the difference in image quality? (Source: ITEthics)

It is a common misconception that the size of a TV screen affects the amount of data consumed while streaming movies. This approach is not true. Instead, video quality is the main thing that affects data consumption.

A 720p movie may use roughly twice as much data as a 1080p movie, but we can display both quality movies on any TV that supports the resolution. The difference will lie in how the movie looks on our TV instead of data consumption.

Three main factors contribute to video quality. These are the primary things that will ultimately affect the data consumption of your live TV streaming experience.

Video Resolution

Resolution is the number of pixels in an image. Video files are essentially a series of sequential images (called frames). The higher the resolution, the more pixels in a video image. Pixels are tiny dots that make up an image. 

The more pixels an image has, the better the video will look. However, each pixel occupies data, and more pixels also means a larger file size. 

Audio Encoding

Audio, as we know, is the sound that comes from a movie. While many of us are OK with whatever comes from our TV speakers, there is a large discrepancy in audio quality. After all, some people may want audio designed specifically for home theaters with multi-speaker surround sound.

Each video file can support one or more audio encoding formats, resulting in various file size possibilities. 

File Compression

Compression is a method of reducing the amount of information in a video file. Compression is usually either lossy or lossless, each type having pros and cons.

Lossless compression is better for images because it preserves the data from the original image or video; such files are typically smaller than their original counterparts but can still be quite large. 

Lossy compression takes advantage of certain inaccuracies within an image to reduce its size without changing its appearance much; these types of files are generally much smaller than their originals and don’t look as good when viewed on large screens (e.g., TVs).

Why File Size is Important for TV Streaming

TV size doesn't significantly affect data consumption when streaming live tv.
TV size doesn’t significantly affect data consumption when streaming live tv. (Source: Harvey Norman)

Like all connected hardware in your home, your TV needs internet access to live stream movies. If your internet line is insufficient to transfer data quickly enough, streaming any movie can be a painful experience.

The best example of this is to take personal experience into account. Anyone who’s ever watched a TV streaming service like Netflix or Hulu will have experienced a movie “freezing” at some point. The screen stops, and you must wait for the film to continue.

This stoppage happens when your Internet line isn’t fast enough to deliver the data necessary to continue playing the movie. So it pauses and waits for the data to catch up. Nothing changes except the impact on your viewing experience.

Internet Speed Requirements for Streaming Services

*The above is a sample of an 8K-resolution movie on YouTube.

Since there is so much discrepancy in quality and formats, each streaming service provider often gives customers its recommendations. Hence, the internet speeds you need for streaming services vary depending on your service.

  • Apple TV –  5 Mbps for HD content and 25 Mbps for 4K content.
  • HBO Max – 15 Mbps for HD and 60 Mbps for 4K.
  • Netflix – 5 Mbps for standard definition streams and 25 Mbps for high-definition streams.
  • Hulu – 3 Mbps for standard definition streams and 12 Mbps for high-definition streams.
  • Amazon Prime Video  – At least 15 Mbps;
  • YouTubeTV – At least 25 Mbps.
  • Disney+ does not specify a minimum internet speed but does recommend at least 10 Mbps for TV and 15 Mbps for 4K resolution movies.

It’s important to remember that these speeds are just what the channels recommend for streaming their movies. It does not include your overall bandwidth consumption. For example, while watching a movie on the TV, your significant other may be downloading a file on her laptop.

When deciding the right Internet bandwidth for your TV streaming activities, consider the overall bandwidth requirements for the household.

Estimating Your Monthly TV Streaming Data Needs

Most folks will maintain the same quality of TV live streams. That means if you generally stream at HD quality, you aren’t likely to change it unless you buy a new TV or swap to an alternative streaming service.

Because of this, it can be relatively easy to estimate monthly TV data usage if you’re a fairly consistent person. For example, assuming you typically watch TV in FHD quality, here’s a rough data consumption guide;

2 hours a day per weekday = (1.3GB * 2) * 22 = 57.2 GB

4 hours a day per weekend = (1.3 GB *4) * 8 = 41.6 GB

Total estimate = 56.2 GB + 41.6 GB = 98.8 GB

The process is relatively simple. The more you know about your data usage habits, the better you’ll be able to predict your monthly data cost. Remember to factor in your overall data consumption, not just what you need to stream TV shows.

Tip: Many streaming providers offer access to their content via an app that runs on most Smart TVs. Use the app since it often provides extra information, such as your data consumption, viewing habits, and other interesting information.

What Happens If You Use Too Much Data?

It’s easy to get carried away when binge-watching live TV streams. Because of that, many who have a bandwidth cap end up overrunning it and getting their data usage throttled. Data throttling is when your Internet Service Provider (ISP) slows your broadband speed to a crawl.

When that happens, you can forget about streaming anything else. Even browsing the web will be a major pain. Always be aware of your bandwidth limitations and ensure you don’t overrun them.

Final Thoughts – Data is Still Mostly Cheap

Live TV streaming services are popular because they allow you to “cut the cord” and still access live cable content. They’re often much cheaper than cable or satellite channel packages.

With more streaming services coming online all the time, data limits will become an even bigger issue for folks looking to go “over the top.” Thankfully, data costs are still pretty reasonable in most parts of the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much data does it take to watch 1 hour of TV?

The data consumption for one hour of watching TV depends on the video quality. For example, a 720p format TV stream only consumes an average of 850 MB per hour. At 8K quality, this goes up to more than 30GB per hour.

How much data is used to stream a 30-minute TV show?

To calculate data usage for 30-minute TV shows, we can halve the average data consumption for one-hour estimations. That results in around 425 MB for a 30-minute show at 720p or 15GB at 8K resolution.

How many hours of TV streaming is 100 GB?

On 100 GB, we can stream approximately 117 hours of live TV on 720p or around 3 hours and 18 minutes on 8K. However, remember that these numbers are estimations and will vary depending on the precise quality of the video feed.