What Internet Speed Do You Need to Watch Streaming Video Online Without Breaks?

By Matt Koble

Choppy playback can quickly make video time into nap time.
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If you've ever streamed a video online, chances are you've felt the frustration of slow buffering and choppy playback. This is usually caused by a poor Internet connection with bandwidth too low to stream the video smoothly. Although most streaming video sites offer a minimum suggested speed, these figures often differ by site and video quality.


Before getting into the actual speed, it's crucial to know what the numbers and letters associated with Internet speed mean. Your Internet speed is typically presented with two figures representing bandwidth -- basically meaning speed. The first is your download speed, which determines how fast your computer receives data from the Internet. The second is upload speed, or how fast your computer sends information through the Internet. For streaming video to your computer, the download speed is the important information. Figures are typically presented in megabits per second, abbreviated as Mbps. This is not to be confused with megabytes per second, represented with the similar MBps.

Speed Requirements

Varying video sites require varying speeds. While YouTube's bandwidth system requirement is just 0.5Mbps, Hulu recommends three times that, with 1.5Mbps. Roku's support site suggests 3Mbps. Netflix also suggests 3Mbps for DVD-quality video. Three Mbps should be enough for standard-definition video and audio streaming. Higher quality requires higher bandwidth. For example, Netflix suggests a 5Mbps connection for high-definition video and a whopping 12Mbps for 3-D content.


Meeting the minimum required bandwidth for a site doesn't necessarily guarantee smooth, uninterrupted playback. If other computers are connected to the same Internet connection you're using, you're sharing the bandwidth with them. So your 2Mbps connection doesn't mean you'll see 2Mbps of download speed. Another factor is your Wi-Fi signal speed. Unless you're using a wired connection, chances are you're losing at least a bit of potential bandwidth. Even programs that use the Internet or other Internet tabs can affect playback, according to YouTube's system requirements page.

Test Your Speed

Using a speed test website, you can test your connection speed at any time (see Resources). Running one speed test might not provide an accurate answer though, so run the test multiple times or try different speed test sites. To get a clearer picture of your typical speeds, run a test daily for a week, testing at the same time each day. Consider testing close to when you normally watch videos online. For example, if you typically watch a streaming movie when you get home from work, run your tests then instead of in the early morning.