We get this question all time, and it is also very popular question all over the internet. Basically people want to know if their connection is fast enough to stream video, and if they buy a VPN, will it also be fast enough to stream video. This is really important for people buying VPN service to gain access to regional video content such as Hulu or BBC iPlayer. Since it’s a given that most VPNs will be slower than your native connection, it’s important to check the speed of providers beforehand. That’s why we go to such great lengths to do full speed tests of VPN providers. Most other sites don’t bother – they’ll test one or two servers. We test every single server if we can, and most of the time we do!
To start, understand that having a fast download speed is only part of the solution for smooth streaming video. A good computer will help, as will a good video stream provider! In other words, even the fastest connection on an outdated computer will produce problems. And websites that are already bogged down will be buffering streaming video regardless of how fast you are! It’s also worth noting that since most streaming video is done through Flash (sorry Apple!) the version of Flash you have installed will also be important. Just about every provider asks that you update Flash to the latest version to ensure the best streaming experience.
But, not to fear, we can still give some good recommendations on what kind of download speeds you will need. These recommendations are based on our research and experience over the years. We will also cite our sources where possible so you can see the evidence that supports our recommendations.
Note: for information on Megabits per second (Mbps) vs Kilobits per second (Kbps) vs Kilobytes per second (KBps), and other speed measurements, see our learn article here. for simplicity sake all speed ratings below will be listed in KiloBytes per second (KBps).
1000Kilobit/sec = 125KiloByte/sec = 1Megabit/sec
Hulu – 125KBps to 187.5KBps
The Hulu support information indicates, “Our videos stream at 480Kbps or 700Kbps, and we’ll adjust our stream based on your bandwidth, but we recommend a downstream bandwidth of 1000Kbps or higher for the smoothest playback experience.” They also say, “Some of our videos now come in a 1,000 Kbps, H.264, 480p stream. You can recognize these streams by the 480p Hi-Res button that will appear in the lower right of the player. To watch these high resolution streams, you’ll need to upgrade to Flash Player 10.0.32, and we recommend a downstream bandwidth of 1,500Kbps for the smoothest playback experience.”
Netflix – 187.5KBps to 625KBps
Netflix is kind of murky about their speed recommendations. This is partially because Netflix, like other big video providers, optimizes the stream based on your connection. Therefore, it’s a little bit harder for them to give recommendations. However, @NetflixHelps posted this on Twitter: “…download speed of at least 1.5Mbps, 3Mbps for DVD quality and 5Mbps for HD quality for the duration of a film.”
YouTube – 62.5KBps to 128KBps
YouTube is another provider that does not give clear reccomendations. They do however do something unique called “Video Speed History”. This is basically a graph of past video speeds in Mbps from your ISP, and your location. This will at least give you a yardstick to compare yourself to other people when wondering “Why the hell is this YouTube video always buffering?” On the subject of choppy video and buffering, YouTube says this in their support page: “…you’ll need a broadband connection with at least 500+Kbps for the best viewing experience.” That’s a really slow connection, and a really low recommendation. For all intensive purposes our editors recommend at least 125KBps (1000Kbps).
MLB.TV Channel – 250KBps to 375KBps
The popular streaming set top box makers, ROKU, posted this recommendation on MLB.TV download speeds: “For the best viewing results with archived games, we recommend a minimum of 2.0 Mbps. For live games, we recommend 3.0 Mbps.”
NBA League Pass Broadband – 187.5KB/s to 250KB/s
Another popular online streaming service for sports is NBA League Pass. This recommendation covers the League Pass Broadband service, which is different from the mobile service, or the League Pass International service. They state in their support information, “A broadband internet connection (DSL/cable or higher) of 1.5Mbps or higher is needed for League Pass. If you have an internet connection speed of 2.0 Mbps or higher and your computer meets the requirements below, you will be able to enjoy League Pass at its highest video quality.”
BBC iPlayer – 400KBps
The very popular BBC iPlayer offers the ability to download, sideload, and stream video. For HD video streaming, the BBC iPlayer support page has this to say on the subject of requirements: “We use h.264 with a bitrate of 3.2Mbps and 192kbps audio, which means that streaming and downloading will put demands on your network connection and computer’s graphics processing. We recommend then that you have…An internet connection fast enough to allow 3.2Mbps playback”
ESPN3 Videos – 56.25KBps to 96KBps
ESPN3 Videos are free online videos that can be streamed over the internet. The videos are normally live (or recorded) sporting events from sports such as Poker, Soccer, Golf, and other amateur or “less popular” sports. Although the occasional MLB game is also available. You have the option of watching the events live, or watching the replays. We were able to find speed recommendations for ESPN3 Videos via Comcast, “Recommended Connection Speed: 768 Kbps (minimum of 450 Kbps).”
Vimeo -250KBps to 625KBps
Vimeo doesn’t come right out and say it either, but they do offer some compression guidelines. These guidelines can be used to also give some recommendations on download speed, since it generally follows that your download speed should equal to, or preferably greater than, the data rate of the original uploaded video. Vimeo has these recommendations for data rate, “Use 2000 kbps for standard definition or 5000 kbps for high definition video.”
CBS -187.5KBps to 437.5KBps
CBS.com offers a lot of their TV shows for free, but only to users inside the United States (hello VPN!). They actually have a very straight forward set of recommendations (link removed) for download speeds, “For 480p at least 1.5Mbps, for 720p HD at least 2.5Mbps, and for 1080p HD at least 3.5Mbps.” Jan 2013 Update: Seems CBS has removed this page and updated their website. They now say, “300 Kbps“, which is um, how shall we say, very very low. We think somebody misunderstood the difference between 300 KBps and 300 Kbps. Their recommendation of 300 Kbps is obviously wrong, and the first attempt from CBS was best…Notice how 300 KBps (KiloBytes per second) fits nicely in our range…
Wikipedia – 312.5KB/s to 1250KB/s
When all else fails, try the Wiki! So what does Wiki say about speeds for streaming video? Well, as usual, they have something, but the citation sucks. Here it is anyway: “A broadband speed of 2.5 Mbit/s or more is recommended for streaming movies, for example to an Apple TV, Google TV or a Sony TV Blu-ray Disc Player, 10 Mbit/s for High Definition content.” It should be noted that the citation is absolutely terrible on the 10Mbit/s HD recommendation. Basically somebody got that from some scrap of paper attached to a Netflix DVD, which talked about requirements for streaming to a Sony Blu-ray Disc Player. Like we said, the citation sucks.
So there you have it, a good set of recommended download speeds for various streaming video providers. But what does it all mean? What is the general recommendation? Well, if you hold our feet to fire, this is what we recommend: no lower than 187.5KB/sec (1.5Mbps) for low quality video with no buffering, and somewhere near 625KB/sec (5Mbps) if you want high def (HD) video and the best possible viewing experience.
How do you test your connection speed? Simple, Google “speed test”, or head on over to any free service – like the always reliable speedtest.net. And if you’ve made it this far, we definitely recommend you take a look at our VPN Service Comparison page. At the bottom you’ll find the list of services that we have completed speed tests: