Whether you’re trying to stream your gaming sessions on Twitch, binging the latest episode of Stranger Things on Netflix or The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu, or whatever else - you kinda need decent internet to be able to do so buffer-free (or in Twitch’s case - at all).
Not every Internet Service Provider (ISP) is made equally, though, and some ISPs just aren’t as good for streaming as others. But how much speed do you actually need for streaming in standard definition (SD), High Definition (HD), or Ultra High Definition (4K)?
What about for live-streaming your gaming?
We intend to answer those questions and more, including giving you our recommendations for the best providers for those uses and why we chose them. Plus, we’ll talk about minimum recommended speeds for each streaming type.
Best Speed for Streaming Twitch - Verizon Fios
|Resolution||Frame rate||Upload speed||Download speed|
We’ll start with the oddball of our list, first – streaming on Twitch. Because you’re actually actively uploading data constantly when you’re recording your game sessions, upload speed matters more than download speed here.
Now let’s get something out of the way quick - the FCC recommends a minimum of 4Mbps of download speed to play most multiplayer games. Assuming you don’t have satellite internet, in theory that looks fine, right?
Not so fast – for most modern multiplayer games that’s not going to be enough. Plus even if it is, in most cases download/upload speeds are asymmetrical, favoring download speeds over upload – so with 4Mbps in download you’d be lucky to have an upload speed of 1Mbps.
In most cases you’d need at least 25Mbps of download to hit Twitch’s minimum recommended upload speed of 3Mbps – and that’s if you actually get those speeds.
So, if you’re just starting with Twitch, check out their recommendations here – we made an abbreviated version of them in our table above. For you individually, the speeds you need are going to depend on your specific situation: what your game needs, what system you’re using, how many other internet users you have in your home, etc.
But, to dodge the mismatch between download and upload speeds and give yourself the best shot at hitting both what your game requires in download speeds and what Twitch requires in upload – go with a Fiber-optic internet provider.
Fiber will give you the best upload speeds to handle your streams, plus ultra-stable download speeds to handle your gameplay, too.
Specifically, if they’re in your area: Verizon Fios.
Why we chose Verizon Fios
|Best for||Plans||Speeds (Download/Upload)||Price||View plans|
|Budget||Fios Internet 100/100||Up to 100/100Mbps||$39.99/mo.*||View plans|
*With autopay, plus taxes, equipment charges, and other fees.
We chose Verizon Fios because they provide an awesome speed-to-price ratio. And, they’re simply the best fiber provider - we rated them the #1 for gaming in our review of the best ISPs for gaming in 2019.
So with upload speeds starting at 100Mbps and going up to 880Mbps – you’ll be just fine for the best resolution (assuming your device can handle it).
The biggest downside to Fios, however, is that they’re available in just 9 states – all on the eastern seaboard. So, if they’re not in your area, then you’re out of luck.
Otherwise AT&T Fiber will probably be more available – and although prices start about $10 higher per month, it tends to be in areas Verizon Fios isn’t, making AT&T worth the money.
Internet Speed for Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, and more - AT&T Internet
|Service||Netflix||Hulu||Vudu||Amazon Video||iTunes Video|
|SD recommended minimum||1.5Mbps/3Mbps||1.5Mbps||1-2.3Mbps||1Mbps||2.5Mbps|
For Standard Definition video streaming, you really don’t need a whole heck of a lot of download speed; in fact, although we state 1.5Mbps as the minimum recommended (per Netflix), you can actually have download speeds as low as 0.5Mbps - but on a TV screen, that’ll look pretty grainy. And in actuality, Netflix truly recommends 3Mbps for SD quality.
That said, most of the other popular streaming services recommend similar numbers for SD quality video – a notable exception is live content with Hulu, which even at SD quality recommends 8Mbps.
However, regardless, even satellite internet providers HughesNet and Viasat typically provide speeds of at least these minimums – so choosing the right provider comes down to other things – namely availability, actual performance, and price.
Why we chose AT&T
|Plans||Speeds||Price||Price (First 12 months/After)|
|Internet 10, Internet 25, Internet 50, Internet 75, Internet 100 (DSL)||10 to 100 Mbps**||$50/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet 100 (Fiber)||100 Mbps||$50/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet 300 (Fiber)||300 Mbps||$50/mo.*||View plans|
|Internet 1000 (Fiber)||1000 Mbps||$70/mo.*||View plans|
*Starting price for the first 12 months, effective 07/16/19. All offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
**Speed dependent on area.
AT&T Internet is widely available – the most of all DSL providers in the U.S. Their plans cover the minimum SD download speed requirements and more – for solid rates. And if you can get get their Fiber 100 plan, you’ll get great speeds for not a lot.
Even if you can’t, the FCC ranks them as exceeding their advertised speeds for 80% of users, 80% of the time – so chances are, you’ll be doing just fine.
Internet Speed for HD streaming - Xfinity Internet
|Service||Netflix||Hulu||Vudu||Amazon Video||iTunes Video||YouTube TV|
|HD recommended minimum||4Mbps||3Mbps (720p), 6Mbps (1080p)||2.3Mbps (720p), 4.5Mbps (1080p)||3.5Mbps||6Mbps (720p), 8Mbps (1080p)||2.5Mbps (720p), 4Mbps (1080p)|
Megabits tend to double or a little more when you move from SD to HD streaming, although the exact amount depends on whether you’re looking at 720p (passed off as HD) or 1080p (true HD).
In any case, once again, it’s not a heck of a lot; but, the main thing to worry about is potentially sharing bandwidth with other internet users in the area that have the same ISP as you – which could cause lagging during peak use times (evening hours).
Why we chose Xfinity
|Performance Starter Internet||Up to 25Mbps||$29.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Plus Internet||Up to 60Mbps||$34.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Performance Pro Internet||Up to 150Mbps||$44.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Blast! Pro Internet||Up to 250Mbps||$59.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Extreme Pro Internet||Up to 400Mbps||$74.99/mo.*||View plans|
|Gigabit Internet||Up to 1,000Mbps||(Not available)||View plans|
|Gigabit Pro Internet||Up to 2,000Mbps||(Not available)||View plans|
*Prices per month plus taxes for length of contract. Additional fees and terms may apply.
**Actual speeds vary with location.
We named Comcast’s Xfinity internet as our #1 choice overall for internet, and we stand by that. They have a lot going for them: coverage in 38 states, a wide variety of affordably-priced plans ranging from 25Mbps all the way up to 2Gbps (the fastest around!), and rock-solid performance.
Starting at about $30 bucks a month, in most cases you’ll easily hit the minimum speeds for HD streaming. Plus, Xfinity won Ookla's speedtest for having the greater consistency in hitting or exceeding a minimum test-threshold of 25Mbps. They also come in 4th place overall on Netflix’s June 2019 ISP leaderboard, tying with Cox Communications and just behind Spectrum internet.
They’ve also got 1TB data caps – huge, and perfect for most HD-streaming unless you’re a true super-user. And lastly, you get 1-, 2-year, and no-contract options, although that will adjust the pricing.
Internet Speed for 4K Streaming - Spectrum
|Service||Netflix||Hulu||Vudu||Amazon Video||iTunes Video||YouTube TV|
|4K HD recommended minimum||15Mbps, 25Mbps||16Mbps||11Mbps||15Mbps||25Mbps||15Mbps|
4K streaming is where you see a considerable jump in bandwidth necessary. Most of the popular streaming services recommend in the area of 15Mbps to be able to stream well, but 25Mbps will get you a more stable viewing quality.
Since most ISPs start with at least 25Mbps, begin there and you should be okay – so long as you consistently get those numbers. But if there’s any doubt about whether you’ll actually reach those speeds consistently – or you have more than 1 internet user in your household – , go with a higher-data plan.
Plus, since 4K uses more bandwidth, you’ll want to make sure your data limit is rock-solid – preferably unlimited.
Why we chose Spectrum
*Advertised speed; actual speeds for price range from 30Mbps to 400Mbps, dependent on area.
**Starting price for the first 12 months, effective 07/16/19. All offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
Spectrum is cable internet, so if there are other subscribers in your neighborhood, you may wind up sharing bandwidth with them if you’re all on at the same time. However, Spectrum starts with 100Mbps – and depending on your area, you might get 200Mbps or even 400Mbps speeds for the same price. Not bad in the bandwidth-game.
Plus, while AT&T offers fiber service, Spectrum has a few other things going for it: unlimited data (meaning no overages or slow-down), about twice the availability, and notably better ranking from all portions of the same Ookla test referenced earlier.
We also chose Spectrum over Xfinity for 4K for a simple reason: unlimited data versus 1TB data caps. For most, that’s not a big deal – but the 2 ISPs were so close in our race that something had to tip the scale.
So basically with Spectrum, you’ll get enough speed at a good price, more of the time, and without having to worry about data caps and overages.
That’s a win for us in the 4K category.
How did we pick our internet speeds?
We’ve already outlined how we picked each provider for the categories, but how did we find the speeds to base them off of?
To start with, we went straight to the streaming services. You can find each of those sources in our list here:
To evaluate our recommended internet service providers, we went to the FCC, Netflix’s ISP leaderboard, and Ookla’s latest fixed-broadband report. The FCC and Ookla’s tests give rankings based on actual speeds reached and how much (expressed in percentage) those speeds are reached for most people.
Netflix, on the other hand, targets primarily peak-usage data speeds for each ISP – so it’s considerably less comprehensive.
So to recap speeds and recommendations:
- For Twitch streaming: You need at least 3mbps of upload speed, and 4Mbps of download speed. We chose Verizon Fios as it fits the bill for fast, stable speeds on both sides of that coin, for affordable prices.
- For Video streaming in SD: You need around 1.5mbps minimum in most cases, but for better viewing, 3mbps is what you want. We chose AT&T Internet because you’ll get higher than those minimums the majority of the time and the provider is widely available.
- For HD video: For HD, minimum recommendations run the gamut from 2.5Mbps (YouTube TV, 720p) to 8Mbps (iTunes Video, 1080p) – so we’d suggest checking on the specific services you plan to use most often and basing your choice off of that. However, we chose Xfinity for its availability, affordability, and great consistency of hitting advertised plan speeds.
- For 4K: You need at least 15Mbps in most cases, but will be better off with 25Mbps of speed. We suggest Spectrum because they’re the 2nd-most consistent performer for 4K speeds and offer unlimited data caps – plus you might get double or quadruple their starting speeds if you live in the right region.
How much speed to I really need for streaming?
That depends on what type of streaming you’re doing (see sections above) and how many users are in your household. The FCC recommends at least 15-25Mbps for multiple online users who frequently stream online.
What’s a fast internet speed?
A fast internet connection for you may look different than for another person. If you’re the only user of your internet, 25Mbps or 50Mbps may provide you enough speed to easily stream 4K video to your heart’s content. That would be fast internet for you.
But, to a household of 4 roommates who like to stream 4K or game, that same 25 or 50Mbps internet speed will not be enough if they do so at the same time. They would need more megabits to have fast internet – probably in the range of 200, 400, or more megabits.
What’s the fastest internet available?
Comcast Xfinity currently offers the fastest internet speeds available in the U.S.: 2Gbps (2000mbps). It’s available in very select regions.
How can I find out my internet speed?
You can use any number of online speed tests to find out what speeds you’re actually getting. For example, speedtest.net is run by Ookla. Many ISPs also provide internet speed tests to subscribers, as well, like Spectrum and AT&T.
When you visit one of these speed test websites, all you have to do is click “Go” or the equivalent, and it will automatically check your download, upload, and ping speeds. Running a speed test is a good way to see if you’re actually getting the speeds you were advertised. You’ll want to run the test at different times during the day to observe accurate results.