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How much data does YouTube use?

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Gone are the days of slow dial-up internet connections and blurry 144p YouTube clips. Now, the popular video streaming giant offers more playback-quality options and lets its viewers watch the latest blockbuster trailer or viral internet sensation in 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD).

But with improved video quality comes great data usage, especially when you’re using the YouTube app on your lunch break, or during your daily commute – basically anywhere outside Wi-Fi range. So, how much data does YouTube actually use? It all depends on a range of factors like bitrate, frame-rate, and how much bandwidth is required for each video. Whether the clip is displayed as a standard video or experienced as either a 3D or 360-degree video also comes into play.

Cheap phone plans with 40GB of data

Want lots of data on your phone plan so you can enjoy hours of YouTube streaming? More telcos are offering big chunks of data at cheaper prices. So how much will you be paying if you want at least 40GB of data? The following table shows a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 40GB data, listed in order of advertised cost, lowest first, then by data allowance, highest to lowest. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. There are products with links to referral partners.

How much data does a one-hour YouTube video use?

Unlike fellow streaming sites Netflix and Stan, YouTube doesn’t have an official guide as to how much data an average 60-minute sitting might use. A 480p YouTube video will likely eat up a minimum of 480MB worth of data per hour. Videos using higher quality settings like 720p (HD) are said to use a minimum of 1.2GB per hour, 1080p (Full HD) video playback needs at least 2.5GB an hour, while 4K (UHD) uses a minimum of 5.5GB per hour.

How does YouTube’s data usage compare to other streaming sites?

Compared to other big players like Netflix and Stan, YouTube seems to be a light offender when it comes to data usage. For example, watching YouTube videos in HD for an hour might use about 1.2GB. But an hour-long television show or movie on Netflix could use up to 3GB. The viewing experience is similar on Stan, with high definition videos also likely to rack up 2.89GB in a 60-minute sitting.

How to reduce your data usage

Before you dive deep into another YouTube binge session, here are some tips for staying in control of your data usage.

Adjust the video quality in two steps

  1. Once you’ve clicked on a video on the YouTube app, tap the menu icon (three vertical dots) on the screen.
  2. Choose ‘quality’ to see the various quality settings available for that particular video.

The YouTube app on Android phones usually remembers your preferred option and will automatically play future videos on this setting as a default. But this same feature isn’t currently available on iOS, so you’ll have to manually change the settings between videos. Sorry, iPhone users.

Manage your data

Do you want more data or a higher quality viewing experience? Certain smartphones allow you to make all the tough decision by allowing you to limit data or restrict the streaming quality for audio and video. For example, the Apple Music iOS app contains a ‘streaming and downloads’ tab in the phone’s regular Settings app. This allows you to either turn off mobile data or continue using mobile data to stream media on low quality.

The settings function on your phone might also help you find out how much data YouTube is eating up. Android users operating 6.0 Marshmallow or later can head to the ‘data usage’ tab, while iPhone users running iOS 9.0 or newer can tap ‘Mobile’.

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What’s the deal with video streaming sites and data usage?

YouTube and other streaming sites will have a couple of low setting options which allow you to enjoy on-the-go entertainment with minimal data usage? If you’ve selected the auto-quality settings option, then your streaming app will automatically adjust the quality depending on the strength of your network conditions. So, if you’re stuck under a tunnel, don’t expect to load a few episodes of Game of Thrones without any lag.

For the best video streaming experience, videos in UHD can take up to a whopping 7GB per hour. This can be more than the average monthly data cap for some Australians.

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