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Your Guide to Internet Speeds for Streaming Live TV

Smooth streaming requires a strong internet connection. Learn what providers offer the best internet speed for streaming in your area.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably figured out that streaming is quickly becoming the new gold standard for watching TV, which makes knowing the internet speed for streaming you’ll need all the more important. Pretty soon everybody will be choosing streaming options over expensive cable contracts.

But to get the most out of your streaming experience, you need the internet download speed to back it up. It’s easy to get intimidated when people start throwing around intense internet terms like megabits, broadband, and fiber. Let’s make sure you have everything you need to know about optimizing your internet speed for streaming.

Internet providers in your area

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Best internet speed for streaming

Now that you’ve got an idea of what internet speeds are like in your area, let’s talk about what you need to know before switching internet providers.

What’s my internet speed now?

There’s a good chance you’re wondering how much internet speed you’re working with right now. Thankfully, it’s easy to find out. Just visit highspeedinternet.com, which will run a quick speed test, and you’ll see how many Mbps you’re currently getting. This will confirm if you have the internet speed for streaming you need, or if it’s time to look at other packages or providers.

What is bandwidth?

Bandwidth is essentially a fancy term for the range of download speeds that your internet is capable of.

Let’s do a real-life example. In a 24-hour period, you have the bandwidth to go to work, make dinner, and go the gym. You can do those activities, no problem. But what if we threw in running a marathon? You simply don’t have the bandwidth to go to work, make dinner, go the gym, and run a marathon. Similarly, with internet speed, your bandwidth can only handle so much.

As opposed to your personal life, you can choose your internet’s bandwidth. Generally, the more you pay, the more internet bandwidth you get, and the more you can do with your internet. Higher bandwidth means higher-quality streaming.

That doesn’t mean you want the most expensive internet package around to stream TV, though. Eventually you’ll reach a point of diminishing returns. Thankfully, you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to get the internet speed for streaming you need.

What are Mbps?

If you’re researching internet speeds, inevitably you’ll come across the abbreviation Mbps, and it may confuse you.

For the record, Mbps stands for megabits per second. Just like we use inches for height and cups for cooking, we use megabits for internet speed. The higher the amount of megabits per second your internet can process, the faster your connection speed will be, and the smoother your stream will be. For example, to stream Hulu on demand with HD video, you’ll need at least 8 Mbps. In other words, the internet speed for streaming you’ll need will be determined by the quality of the service you use to watch your favorite shows.

How fast does my internet need to be?

Good question. It really depends on what you’re streaming and what you want it to look like. Streaming qualities are broken down into a few different categories:

  • Standard-definition video (480p)
  • High-definition video (720p)
  • Full high-definition video (1080p)
  • 4K video (2160p)

Hopefully this visual will give you a better idea of what these numbers mean to your streaming quality.

resolution comparison

As you can tell, there’s a pretty big difference between resolutions. You’ll probably want to avoid the 480p resolution and set your sights on something a bit better. If you want our opinion, we wouldn’t settle for less than an internet speed for streaming that gets us full HD at 1080p.

What internet speed do I need to stream live TV?

There are quite a few streaming services popping up, and you need to know how much internet speed you’ll need to stream each one. But where are you going to find a table that compares internet speed requirements for each major streaming service? Oh, that’s right—right here.

Streaming serviceStandard definition streaming (per stream)HD streaming speed
(per stream)
DIRECTV NOW logo2.5 Mbps7.5 Mbps
FuboTV logo10 Mbps15 Mbps
Hulu logo5 Mbps8 Mbps
PlayStation Vue logo5 Mbps10 Mbps
SlingTV logo5 Mbps12 Mbps
YouTube TV logo3 Mbps8 Mbps

As you can see, there’s a range of minimum and recommended speeds across the streaming services. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the lower the speed required, the better the streaming quality. For example, even though DIRECTV NOW has a lower minimum speed, we found Playstation Vue offers better streaming quality overall.

These numbers are mainly to give you a good idea of what internet speed to aim for. Remember, the higher the internet speed, the smoother the quality of the stream.

How much internet speed do I need to stream on-demand content?

Streaming your favorite shows on demand is a totally different beast than streaming live TV. Thankfully, on-demand streaming requires lower internet speeds. Here’s a breakdown of what internet download speeds you’ll need to watch your favorite shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and more.

Streaming serviceStandard definition streaming
(per stream)
HD streaming (per stream)Ultra HD/4K streaming (per stream)
Amazon Prime Video0.9 Mbps3.5 MbpsN/A
Apple TV2.5 Mbps8 MbpsN/A
HBO NOW/GO3 MbpsN/AN/A
Hulu1.5 Mbps3 MbpsN/A
Netflix1.5 Mbps5 Mbps25 Mbps
Twitch3 Mbps5-8 Mbps25 Mbps
VUDU1 Mbps4.5 Mbps11 Mbps
YouTube3 Mbps5 Mbps25 Mbps

As you can probably work out from the table above, internet speeds are less demanding when watching on-demand content—even for 4K streaming. If you’re the type of person who watches exclusively on-demand content, you can get away with slower internet speeds and still enjoy a quality experience.

Internet speed spectrum

Types of internet

What type of internet connection you get will affect the kind of speeds you’re able to use. A salesperson might tell you internet connections are more or less the same across the board, but that’s just dead wrong. For that reason, we’ve assembled a quick summary of internet types you should be aware of.

Keep in mind that not all internet types are available everywhere, so in some cases, you may have to settle for the best possible option in your area. Check out our tool above to see what types of internet connection speeds are available to you.

1. Streaming with fiber

Fiber internet connection speeds are the fastest around, but then again, they’re also the hardest to find. Hopefully in the future, all connections will end up being fiber, but we’re not quite there yet. Make sure to use the internet finder tool above to see if you can stream with fiber in your area.

Fiber internet delivers high-speed internet efficiency, offering speeds that exceed a whole gigabyte. How much is a gigabyte? Well, one gigabyte is equal to 1024 Mbps. You can do a lot of really nice streaming with internet speeds that fast.

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If it’s available in your area, Verizon FiOS has some of the most reliable fiber speeds for streaming, plus a great data cap (which basically just means you can binge-watch for days without the company slowing down your service. It comes in handy—trust us).

2. Streaming with cable

The second-best internet connection speed you can find is cable internet. Cable internet isn’t quite as fast as fiber, but it is much more common, so chances are you’ll be using a cable connection in your neighborhood.

It’s possible to find cable internet speeds over 150 Mbps, but most average around 38 Mbps. Fortunately, that’s plenty when it comes to streaming. Keep in mind cable internet can slow down considerably during peak streaming periods (usually in the evening).

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If you can get it, XFINITY has two things going for it: fast streaming speeds and wide availability. We recommend it for that reason, even if its customers service can sometimes be a pain.

3. Streaming with DSL

Harkening back to the good ol’ days of the early internet, DSL uses phone lines to establish a connection. Can’t you just hear the dial up tone ringing through your memory? Thankfully, current DSL internet connections allow you to use your internet and the phone at the same time.

You probably won’t need to think about using DSL, unless you live in a more rural area. Cable and fiber internet haven’t really found their way to rural areas just yet. Most DSL connections max out around 50 Mbps, which should certainly be enough for streaming.

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You know who still has a pretty strong DSL game? CenturyLink. It offers good speeds for a cheap price.

4. Streaming with satellite

If all else fails, you can look to the stars and use a satellite for your internet connection. Even in very rural areas, satellite connections are possible. So even if you want to live off-grid, there’s a way to keep up with your favorite TV shows.

The downside to satellite is that the internet download speeds max out around 25 Mbps. In theory, that should be enough for streaming, but satellite internet can be affected by weather and other users, so your mileage may vary.

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Want to know something cool? Viasat plans on launching a brand-spanking-new satellite in Spring 2018. So if you live on the outskirts of civilization, you might want to check it out. We have a good feeling about it.

How much should I pay for my internet?

How much you end up paying for internet will depend largely on what speeds you want and where you live.

As you might have guessed, the faster the internet, the more expensive it will be. Here’s a look at the average rates for different internet speed ranges:

  • 4–6 Mbps for $34.99 a month
  • 30–50 Mbps for $54.97 a month
  • 100–150 Mbps for $69.99 a month

So make sure you’re not being charged anything well above these rates for their respective internet speeds. Of course, where you live also factors into what you pay since prices vary by location.

For example, according to Netindex.com, those living in the Northeast or along the West Coast pay about $3.50 per Mbps for their internet connection speed, whereas those who live in the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, South, or Southeast pay around $3.75 per Mbps. You lucky New Englanders.

To get an idea of what you’ll pay in your area, enter your ZIP code in our tool.

Don’t feel overwhelmed

Finding the best internet for streaming can feel pretty overwhelming. We hope we’ve made things a little bit easier for you. Remember, a good place to start is entering your ZIP code in our tool and seeing what’s available in your area. Don’t feel like you need to get the most expensive package to get good quality—just make sure you have enough to stream your favorite shows.

Do you have any other questions about internet speeds for streaming that we didn’t discuss here? Leave a comment below, and we’ll do our best to get you your answer.

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