The COVID-19 pandemic changed how we watch movies and TV shows, dramatically increasing the popularity of streaming services. It’s no surprise that streaming has surpassed cable TV and movie-going. To emphasize this point, now subscribe to one or more streaming services.

With streaming, gaming, and working from home the new norm, it’s time to rethink the speed and efficiency of your internet connection. Let’s explore what you need to know about internet speeds for streaming TV and how to create the most robust and satisfying viewing experience.

Streaming internet speeds: “defining” your needs

How do you know if you have the best internet speeds required for streaming? One telltale factor is the definition or resolution of the show or movie. Here’s where numbers like 480p, 1080p, and 4K come in. These indicate how detailed the image is and help dictate what download speeds for streaming you’ll need for a smooth, uninterrupted viewing experience.

In simple terms, the higher the numbers, the better the image resolution and the more internet speed required for streaming. The lowest quality images you’ll typically encounter are 480p resolution, but resolutions of 1080p and higher are now more common. To better determine your needs, consider the following minimum download speeds for streaming TV and movies:

  • 480p (SD): 4 Mbps. Modern videos have higher-quality pictures than this, but you may sometimes encounter a standard definition resolution. For instance, if your streaming internet speeds aren’t fast enough to support modern resolutions, some services may downgrade the quality of your videos to SD to allow them to play.
  • 1080p (FHD): 8 Mbps. Short for “full high definition,” FHD is the baseline resolution for many modern devices. If you want to stream TV shows and movies as they’re intended to be seen, you need enough speed to stream FHD videos without any issues.
  • 4K (UHD): 25 Mbps. Many newer devices feature “ultra high definition” displays that offer even more detail—and require much faster download speeds for streaming—than 1080p screens. As technology advances, look for 4K streaming and content to become the norm.

Internet speed required for streaming​ live & on-demand TV

Women streaming tv on tablet while on couch eating popcorn.

Another critical factor in determining the internet speed you need to stream TV is how you view the content. Are you watching an on-demand video like a Netflix series, or streaming a live broadcast? In general, live broadcasts require more bandwidth than video on demand (VOD).

Suppose you’re streaming a live TV broadcast to follow a news story in real-time. If your internet speed for streaming TV can’t keep up with the live action, buffering can occur, putting you out of sync. Imagine you’re streaming an awards show, waiting to see if your favorite actor is the winner. Your internet lags, and a text from a friend spoils the outcome. Or maybe you’re streaming the big game live and miss the winning play because your connection slows to a crawl.

VOD allows you to adjust the video quality if your streaming internet speeds aren’t sufficient. Broadcast signals for live events can’t always offer the same variable quality, so make sure your connection provides enough Mbps for streaming TV if you want to go this route.

When determining what internet speed you need to stream TV, aim for a connection that provides twice as much speed as the recommendations for VOD of the same quality.

What speed internet do I need to stream TV​ and movies?

While “less is more” may be true in many scenarios, streaming TV isn’t one of them. Keep in mind that the minimum recommended speeds are just that. They don’t represent the best internet speeds for streaming movies or TV shows. And these speeds generally correspond to a single device on a connection that isn’t doing anything else.

To enjoy your viewing experience at its fastest and clearest, look for streaming internet speeds that exceed the minimum requirements. That’s especially true if you simultaneously use your connection for other activities. Suppose you want to binge your favorite show on your computer while other household members are playing games online or working from a home office. In that case, you’ll need more bandwidth.

Take our assessment quiz to learn how much bandwidth you need and how fiber can power your online life.