Terms like Standard Definition (SD), High Definition (HD), and Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD) are used a lot when talking about streaming video quality, bandwidth, and data caps. They are all resolutions that Netflix supports, but what do they all mean? And what do they mean to a satellite Internet subscriber?
First, it is important to note that your Netflix subscription determines whether or not you have access to HD content. If you are paying for the lowest tier, you can stream to 1 device at the same time, and the content will be in SD. If you are paying for the middle tier, you can stream to 2 devices at the same time, and the content will be in HD. If you are paying for the highest tier, you can stream to 4 devices at the same time, and the content will be in Ultra HD.
Second, the amount of data required for Netflix to stream each title in the highest quality available varies based on the detail of each video frame. If there is more motion, such as quick scene changes or high speed car chases, the title will require more data to stream in HD. A cartoon on the other hand, with more still frames and less movement, will require less data to stream in HD. To keep things simple, this blog will refer to typical data usage for each resolution.
This next part might be a little scary if you are a satellite Internet subscriber: How much bandwidth each of the resolutions will use and what that means for your data cap. To make it easier, each resolution will be explained so you can better understand the impact on video quality it has, and why each resolution affects your data differently.
Low Definition (below 480i)
Low Definition is not how you want to be watching content on Netflix, but it will automatically be forced to if your bandwidth cannot support at least a 1.5 Mbps download speed. This can happen when you go over your Data Allowance Policy, or if your Internet is slower to begin with. You can either set Netflix to use 0.3 GB per hour in the Playback Settings or force Netflix to use a lower bit rate by pressing Ctrl + Alt + Shift while the title is playing. Although you can stream Netflix at a lower bit rate on satellite Internet, as you can see from the image below, it is not desirable.
Standard Definition (480i and 480p)
Though far from modern, don’t let the term “Standard” fool you. It is tried-and-true, and can still be appreciated for the special atmosphere that it gives to older titles (especially old Walt Disney flicks). Quite a few titles on Netflix still only play in SD, which is a good thing for satellite Internet subscribers because it means you are getting the highest video quality available for these titles. Streaming in SD uses 0.7 GB per hour, or 1.5 Mbps. If you stream an hour of SD content a day, that is 5 GBs a week. That is not including all of the other Internet surfing you will be doing.
High Definition (720p, 1080i and 1080p)
This is the first noticeable jump in video quality. HD means you will enjoy crisper video for a better viewing experience. Unfortunately, this is when the problems begin for satellite Internet subscribers. Streaming content in HD requires up to 5 Mbps. That’s 3 GBs an hour! If your plan does not support that high of a speed, you will not be able to stream Netflix in HD at all. If you watch an hour of HD content a day, you will have used 21 GBs within a week. If you have a lower data cap, that could mean the difference between you choosing Netflix or watching a funny cat video. The image below is how you want to be streaming Netflix.
Ultra High Definition (4K)
Ultra HD is the highest resolution currently supported by Netflix, and is only supported on certain devices. The video quality is crisp and crystal clear. It’s almost like watching the action happening through a window. The downside for satellite Internet subscribers: Netflix requires 25 Mbps to stream this uninterrupted. You may have a high enough bandwidth to stream it, but that also means that it will eat through 7 GB per hour. That will not last you very long unless you are paying for a top tier package.
With NightShift, you can stream Netflix in the best resolution that suits your Internet plan. The best part is that NightShift is configured to work with Exede or HughesNet by preloading content from Netflix during the hours that fit your plan. It will let you take advantage of your free zone, your Liberty Pass, or your bonus bytes. If you are with another ISP, it will still let you watch Netflix in peace without constant buffering.
*Note: Ultra HD is not yet fully supported by NightShift, but as more subscribers request it, the quicker it will happen.
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