Recommended Speed for Streaming Netflix

by Dan Ketchum

During peak usage hours in North America, Netflix accounts for about 35 percent of all downstream Internet traffic, according to 2014 data from Sandvine. Netflix's popularity partially explains this enormous figure -- during the same period, about 32 percent of Americans subscribed to the service -- but the app is also quite bandwidth hungry. It takes a hefty download speed to stream high-definition video content; a dial-up modem won't cut it.

The Baseline

In order to play Netflix at all, you must have a broadband connection speed of 0.5 megabits per second. **Netflix recommends a speed of 1.5 Mbps.** However, neither of these speeds guarantee standard-definition quality. If your speed is below 3.0 Mbps, you may experience substandard streaming video quality, characterized by pixelation and blurriness. These figures reflect your download speed; your upload speed has no direct impact on Netflix usage.

The Faster The Better

While download speeds of 3.0 Mbps have you covered for standard-def viewing, Netflix offers some content in high-definition, depending on your subscription level. **To view content at a resolution of 720p or greater, the company recommends a broadband connection speed of at least 5.0 Mbps.** Netflix offers selected content in Ultra HD, tailored for 4K televisions. Streaming at this resolution requires download speeds of 25 Mbps or higher.

The Variables

If you sign in to Netflix.com and access the “Playback settings” section of your profile, you can customize the service's data usage. The “Auto” setting automatically adjusts usage based on your connection, while “Low,” “Medium” and “High” quality settings range in usage from 0.3 gigabytes to 3 GB per hour, or up to 7 GB for Ultra HD content. The lower the data usage, however, the lower the video quality. Factors such as the number of devices sharing your Internet connection and the quality of wiring or the wireless standard you use also have an effect, as does the time of day -- Netflix sometimes streams slower or features lower quality during peak viewing hours.

The Test and The Rest

If you're curious about the viewing experience you might have with a Netflix subscription, you can check your download speeds using a free online test, such as [Ookla Speedtest](http://www.speedtest.net/). You can also use Netflix itself, by searching for and viewing the short film titled “Example Short 23.976,” which displays your video streaming speed and the resolution of your stream on the fly. To use the Netflix app on a computer, you'll need, at minimum, Windows XP or Mac OS X Tiger. Additionally, Netflix requires a browser with HTML 5, Silverlight 4 or Silverlight 5 plugins, present on browsers such as Internet Explorer 11, Safari on Mac OS X 10.1 and Google Chrome version 37 or later.

About the Author

Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images News/Getty Images