What Is the Minimum Mbps Needed for Streaming?

By David Weedmark

Make sure your bandwidth is sufficient if you want to stream content over the Internet. Requirements vary with audio, video and gaming.

Streaming requirements for Internet content depend primarily on two factors: the content and the quality. Streaming low-quality audio requires much less bandwidth than streaming high definition video.

Bandwidth speed is usually measured in Megabits per second, or Kilobits per seconds, which are expressed as Mbps or Kbps. One Mbps is the same as 1,000 Kbps.

Tip

Bits and bytes are not the same thing. File sizes are normally measured in bytes, while streaming is measured in bits. A byte is 8 times bigger than a bit. When looking at data acronyms, bytes are capitalized, while the smaller bits are not. For example, 1 MBps equals 8 Mbps.

Streaming Audio

Streaming audio usually requires much less bandwidth than streaming video. This makes sense when you consider that a typical video includes both audio and video. The bandwidth requirements depend on the audio quality you want. Free music services usually have a lower audio quality, requiring a lower bandwidth than paid subscriptions.

If you are using Spotify, your bandwidth should be at least:

  • 96 Kbps for its standard, free service on mobile devices.
  • 160 Kbps for its free desktop app and high quality on mobile devices.
  • 320 Kbps for its highest quality, premium subscriptions.

Listeners using Pandora should have:

  • 64 Kbps for its free service.
  • 128 Kbps  for streaming on in-home devices like smart TVs and receivers.
  • 192 Kbps for its premium subscription service.

High-fidelity streaming services require much more bandwidth. Listeners using the high-fidelity streaming service, Tidal, should have at least 5 Mbps -- equivalent to high definition video. Listeners streaming to more than one speaker using Tidal may need up to 10 Mbps.

Streaming Video

Video Bandwidth Recommendations

Hulu recommends at least 1.5 Mbps for streaming its SD videos and at least 3.0 Mbps for HD content.

YouTube recommends a bandwidth of at least 0.5 Mbps to stream its videos. The lowest resolution on YouTube is 426x240 pixels, or 240p. To stream higher resolution videos, like movies, TV shows and live events, YouTube recommends at least 1 Mpbs.

Netflix has a minimum requirement of 0.5 Mbps to get any video at all, and recommends that your Internet speed is at least 1.5 Mbps to get a satisfactory experience. Netflix also recommends:

  • 3.0 Mbps for SD quality.
  • 5.0 Mbps for HD quality.
  • 25 Mbps to get Ultra HD, or 4K, quality.

The bandwidth requirements for streaming video depend on the video quality. Standard definition, or SD, requires less bandwidth than high definition, or HD.

If your Internet connection has less than the recommended bandwidth, you may get fuzzy videos, skipped frames, or lagging. When a video lags, you may need to wait several minutes for the video to load before it starts playing. If the bandwidth is very slow, the video may lag frequently, and you'll see the video pause for a few seconds, resume and then pause again.

Upload Speeds

Games

If you are streaming from a game console to a service like Twitch.tv, your requirements depend on your console more than the service itself. For example, you'll want an upload speed of at least 1.7 Mbps for a PlayStation 4 and 2.5 Mbps for an Xbox One. Both consoles stream at 30 frames per second. The PlayStation 4 streams a resolution of 960x540 pixels, while the Xbox One streams at 1280x720 pixels.

Video Calls

Services like Skype require different bandwidth speeds to participate in video calls, depending on the quality you want. When calling one person, the download and upload speed requirements are the same. The bandwidth for Skype calls are:

  • 30 Kbps required and 100 Kbps recommended for voice-only calls.
  • 128 Kbps required and 300 Kbps recommended for low-quality video calls.
  • 400 Kbps required and 500 Kbps recommended for high-quality video calls.
  • 1.2 Mbps required and 1.5 Mbps recommended for HD quality video calls.

If you are streaming video from your computer, a network camera or from a game console, your upload speed is more important than your download speed. Many high-speed Internet services are asynchronous, meaning that your upload speed is slower than your download speed.

Testing Your Internet Speed

Test your Internet speeds from time-to-time using any of several dedicated websites such as Speedtest.net, or those from service providers like Comcast, AT&T or Verizon.