Video Streaming Reality Check

Posted on 04/24/2014

netflix_questionEarlier this month, Netflix announced that it would stream some of its video content, with more to come, in 4k (Ultra HD).

(See the Christian Science Monitor’s take on this, as an example of recent press coverage.)

Higher resolution picture delivery, of course, means that more bandwidth will be required for smooth streaming of video. Netflix is saying that in order for customers to smoothly watch the 4k videos, they will need a service with an average speed of 20 Mbps. Keep in mind that this will be for a single device.  More bandwidth would be required for running multiple devices at the same time.

Currently, Netflix lists the required (average) download speeds for their services as:

  • 3.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for SD quality 
  • 5.0 Megabits per second – Recommended for HD quality (720p quality or better)
  • 12 Megabits per second – Recommended for 3D quality 
  • 20 Megabits per second – Recommended for Ultra HD 4K quality

These requirements will be similar for other services like Hulu and Amazon Prime.

However, each will have its own method of management. By default many services are set to an “auto” leveling setting that allows the service to push down the highest quality video it thinks your connection can support.

Netflix (go to allows you to make this change on their website by going to “Your Account” under your profile avatar in the upper right hand corner of the page and then clicking Playback Settings. Here you will have the options of low (basic), medium (standard), high (HD) and auto. This change will need to be made for each user on your Netflix account separately.  View or download PDF: How to Adjust Netflix Video Streaming Bandwidth

Hulu, on the other hand, requires you to make this change in the individual video that you are watching; the problem here is some devices and apps lack the ability to make this change. Amazon Prime is fully automatic and does not allow you to adjust your video settings at all.

Customers that have existing hardware (such as Roku, PlayStation4, games consoles, Chromebox, PCs, Apple TV, smart TVs) that supports the current levels of streaming video may also see similar issues depending on the unique circumstances of their connection. Obviously, the speed of your actual internet connection that will have an effect on video playback. Other factors like service traffic volume, number of devices on your network using the connection, a wired vs. wireless connection in your home and the overall condition of the equipment that you are using can affect your experience.  On devices that use an app to access these services, be aware that different apps may perform differently, thus effecting playback and video quality (and at times access), regardless of your connection speed.  The same can be said for accessing these sites through web browsers, as  the condition of the browser and its integrated software components like Flash and Silverlight can cause problems with playback as well.

At this point you are more than likely asking yourself: is it even worth trying to use these streaming services if there are so many problems?  The answer can definitely be YES!, provided that you follow these tips and practices  to optimize your playback performance:

  • First of all, hard-wire the connection when possible. A connection made between your streaming device and modem/router via Ethernet will be much more stable than one made with a WIFI connection.
  • If you must use a WIFI connection remember distance matters. Trying to stream high quality video with your streaming device at one end of the house and the modem at the other end will end in frustration.
  • If you have a slower internet connection or must use WIFI see if the service you are using allows you to limit the video quality received.
  • Limit the use of other devices on your network when trying to stream. If you have multiple devices trying to stream, people trying to game or just a lot of users in general your available bandwidth will get used up quickly.
  • Having a consistent problem when streaming with a particular piece of hardware or app? It could quite simply be a hardware or software problem and nothing to do with the streaming service or your internet service.
  • If you are on a computer don’t run other programs while trying to stream. Watching high quality video on a computer can eat up its resources so don’t starve it by trying to do too much at one time. 
  • Sometimes you just need a faster connection. Trying to stream videos smoothly on EONI’s Bronze level service (up to 2Mbps) is just not going to work well.   We recommend a minimum of the Silver service (up to 5Mbps) to stream video.

By following these tips you will find that your video streaming experience should be greatly improved.