Here’s how much data Netflix uses, and how to limit it

Netflix can drain your data in a hurry. Here's how to turn it down a notch

Ever wondered how much data you need to stream a show (or movie) on Netflix? You aren’t alone. The rough answer is from 1GB per hour to 7GB per hour depending on the video quality you choose. But there’s a little more to it than that.

How much data does Netflix use?

Here’s a quick look at how much data Netflix uses to serve up piping hot bowls of your favorite content.

SD Full HD 4K Ultra HD
Up to 1GB per hour of video Up to 3GB per hour of video Up to 7GB per hour of video

Netflix states that those are worst-case scenario figures, however. In actuality, the content you’re streaming could use a lot less data. It all comes down to how long the material is, the average frame rate, and the color depth.

Downloading the show won’t save on data usage, either. It takes around the same amount of bandwidth to retrieve all the resources required to save the video locally, plus you’ll need to have the space to store it.

Netflix buffering loading

How to limit Netflix data usage

Those of us on a strict data plan can’t afford to be shelling out 7GB per hour of 4K Ultra HD video. Moreover, you’re unlikely to need resolution that high on smaller devices. Netflix is aware of that, though, so it’s built some neat features into both its Android and iOS applications that let you limit how much data they use. (Note: If you want to know more about resolution adjustment across other devices, our guide to Netflix resolution quality can help with that too.)

Rather frustratingly, you can’t tell it how much data you wish to offload. Instead, it presents you with four basic options: Automatic, Maximum Data, Save Data, and Wi-Fi Only. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, but here’s an overview just in case:

  • Automatic: This mode balances frugal data usage with good video quality to squeeze about four hours worth of video per GB (results may vary).
  • Maximum Data: This mode will stream at the highest possible quality for your device and the content you’re viewing, which in most cases is 4K Ultra HD.
  • Save Data: As the name implies, this mode reduces quality to scale data usage to the absolute bare minimum, delivering around six hours of video per GB.
  • Wi-Fi Only: You will only be able to stream on the device while connected to Wi-Fi here. Downloaded content can still be consumed when Wi-Fi is disabled.

Like the sound of one of those options? Here’s how to adjust your mobile data usage:

  • Open up the Netflix application.
  • Select the Menu icon that’s present in either the upper-left or upper-right corner, depending on the device you’re using.
  • Tap Cellular Data Usage.
  • Select either Automatic, Maximum Data, Save Data, or Wi-Fi Only.

You also have the option to set data caps for each profile on your Netflix account, so if you watch across multiple devices, or have a child on a cellular plan that’s skimping on the data front, you can ensure it consumes minimal data at all times.

Once again, you aren’t given the option to specify exactly how much data you’d like to use per hour. Rather, Netflix has four choices: Automatic, Low, Medium, and High. This time, however, they’re a lot more specific on how much data is used.

Here’s the lowdown:

  • Automatic: This adjusts automatically to deliver the highest possible quality, based on your current internet connection speed.
  • Low: Low allows 0.3GB per hour per device.
  • Medium: This allows 0.7 GB per hour per device at an SD resolution.
  • High: This option allows up to 3GB per hour per device for HD; 7GB per hour per device for 4K Ultra HD.

To set a profile-specific usage setting:

  • Head over to Netflix.com on a computer and sign in.
  • Select the profile you’d like to change the data usage settings for.
  • Tap Account.
  • Under My Profile, tap Playback Settings.
  • Choose your preferred data consumption option.
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