Hulu Data Usage

By Kathleen Estrada

Understand how data is used with the Hulu and Hulu Plus services. Data usage is explained for computer, TV and smartphone.

Streaming a one-hour video from Hulu to your television can use approximately 650 Mb of data, according to Cord Cutters News. This means you can watch about 13 hours of videos a day before reaching the average data cap imposed by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for home internet usage. ISPs provide you with your internet service, and they only allow users a finite amount of bandwidth each month. Streaming videos use a large amount of bandwidth, so care must be taken to monitor how much you use a month. If you use more than their data cap, they could charge you an overage fee or slow your connection down. Hulu offers videos in SD and HD. Standard definition (SD) videos use less data than high definition (HD) videos.

Hulu Data Usage on a Mobile Phone

Hulu data usage on a mobile phone can consume a large portion of your monthly usage allowance quickly. Netflix estimates an HD video uses 3GB per hour. Video consumes data differently depending on if you are on a 3G network versus a 4G network. 4G networks allow for faster downloads, and downloads of videos at a higher pixel count. This consumes more data. When streaming a video with Wi-Fi, you will not consume the limited data your cell phone provider allows a month. However, if you stream a video without Wi-Fi, using your data plan, you can use up to your monthly cap after a few videos.

Hulu Standard Definition Data Usage

Users who sign up for a free Hulu subscription account have access only to SD videos. Hulu suggests a broadband connection of 1.5 Mbps or above to stream SD movies and TV shows. Digital Future Now shows data usage as 1 Mbps for an SD video. Users who sign up for a paid subscription to Hulu have the opportunity to choose SD or HD for some of the movies they stream. The quality of a Hulu SD show is 480p. SD videos are not as crisp and clear as HD videos; however, the video quality is not degraded to the point that the video is unwatchable.

Hulu High Definition Data Usage

For $7.99 per month, you can subscribe to Hulu Plus and stream videos in HD or SD. HD videos consume 2 Mbps compared to 1 Mbps for an SD video. The quality of an HD video is 720p, and Hulu recommends a broadband connection of 3 Mbps or higher. HD videos are popular because they have outstanding quality. An HD video is vivid and shows extremely detailed pictures by using a higher concentration of pixels. It is the higher number of pixels that make an HD video use more data to stream.

Data Caps from ISPs

According to Computerworld, major ISPs are capping bandwidth available to home and mobile users. When users use more data than the cap allows, some ISPs charge an overage, others throttle data -- meaning slows down how much data you can use at one time. Because of the slower speeds, you will not be able to stream videos, music or play videogames without a considerable amount of lag. Normal surfing activities and reading email messages are not affected as much. Data caps and the charges associated with them are currently changing as ISPs struggle to figure out how to provide the streaming data their customers demand. Check frequently with your ISP to understand what is offered and what an overage can cost.

Comcast is still working out what the cap will be, but that particular company is leaning towards a 300GB cap, with a charge of $10 for every 50GB over the limit. Cable One allows you to purchase the speed of broadband you want. AT&T will cap the gigabit service, but has not yet released what the cap will be. CenturyLink will not cap data usage. If users accept a cap, they will receive a discount from Time Warner.

Tips to Lower Data Consumption When Using Hulu

If you are streaming videos from a smartphone with a data plan, you should only stream when you are connected to Wi-Fi. You can alter the settings of your phone to only allow streaming when Wi-Fi is available. If you want to enjoy videos in places where you do not have Wi-Fi, you can save the video to your phone, and watch it offline. Software like PlayLater allows you to download videos from Hulu. After it is downloaded, you can enjoy your video whenever you want, without having to use Wi-Fi to stream it. Care should be taken when using such a service, however. Technically, though recording a show that is legally available to you so you can watch it later is not illegal, it could be against Hulu's Terms of Service.

You can also use a tool like Monthly Data Usage Calculator to estimate data usage over a 3G network on your smartphone. From the estimate, you can plan your watching accordingly. Most ISPs allow you to log in to your account and track data usage. This amount may not be instant, so leave a cushion when tracking mobile data this way.

If watching videos on a computer, as a Hulu Plus user, you can choose the quality of your video by changing the video setting to low. With low settings, you will see videos in SD format. Check the settings with each video to ensure it is correct. Hulu will automatically choose the best video setting for each video and this could be HD.

You can also give yourself a limit on the number of videos you watch each month. You can use online data calculators, like the one provided by to estimate how much data video streaming will cost and plan your month accordingly.

If streaming videos to your home television, pay particular attention to the type of television you have. New 4K televisions are the wave of the future. 4K TVs stream quadruple the pixel count of a normal 1080p HD video. Thankfully, along with better televisions comes better compression software. You will be able to compress the data in a 4K TV in half. Unfortunately, half still equals enough data to blow away a data cap quickly. Until better compression software is available, if you are worried about data consumption, do not buy a new 4K television.