A photo of the YouTube resolution selector

YouTube is the world’s most popular video streaming website. It’s easy to fall down a rabbit hole and watch several videos back-to-back or even for hours at a time. Some content is good enough to watch like a television show. Thus, it’s quite easy to rack up quite the data bill without a bit of caution. There are some correct assumptions you can make immediately. Lower resolution videos obviously don’t use nearly as much data as higher resolution videos. However, do you really know how much data YouTube uses? If not, we plan to tell you.

A photo of Datally showing YouTube's data usage

Our testing method

The testing method is actually pretty simple. Android has a data monitoring tool in the OS already. However, for the sake of verification, we also used Google’s Datally app as well as GlassWire. Both apps also record data usage in nearly real-time. That way we have three total sources so we can compare and average results for better accuracy. Otherwise, it’s just watching a video and seeing what the data apps all say.

We used this 8k, 60FPS, HDR video tour of Peru because Peru is a beautiful place and also this video had every available resolution on YouTube at the fastest possible frame rate with HDR. We viewed the video at a locked resolution for three minutes and measured the data. Unfortunately, not all resolutions are always available on mobile. Thus, for 4k and 8k, we used the Windows data monitor along with, well, GlassWire because it’s available on PC as well. It also helped confirm continuity between platforms.

We also ultimately measured all available resolutions on PC because we could and used Google’s Stats for Nerds option by right-clicking the video for the bitrate numbers. We also sourced YouTube’s bitrate recommendations since they likely encode videos in those birates anyway.

There were some troubles. The computer I used had no problem playing the 8k video. However, my monitor doesn’t support HDR so I don’t believe I saw the maximum possible bitrates for 8k. Until we do further testing, our 8k numbers are estimates.

A photograph of YouTube's main video player

YouTube data usage, by the numbers

Check the table below for our findings:

Video QualityResolution (pixels)Framrate (FPS)Bitrate (average)Data used per minuteData used per 60 minutes
144p256x1443080-100 Kbps0.5-1.5 MB30-90 MB
240p426x24030300-700 Kbps3-4.5 MB180-250 MB
360p640x36030400-1,000 Kbps5-7.5 MB300-450 MB
480p854x48030500-2,000 Kbps8-11 MB480-660 MB
720p (HD)1280x72030-601.5-6.0 Mbps20-45 MB1.2-2.7 GB
1080p (FHD)1920x108030-603.0-9.0 Mbps50-68 MB2.5-4.1 GB
1440p (QHD)2560x144030-606.0-18.0 Mbps45-135 MB2.7-8.1 GB
2160p (4k) (UHD)3840x216030-6013.0-51.0 Mbps95-385 MB5.5-23.0 GB
4320p (8k) (FUHD)7680x432030-6020-50 Mbps (estimated @30FPS)150-375 MB (estimated at 30FPS)9.0-22.5 GB (estimated @30FPS)

YouTube Data Patterns

Some additional observations

These measurements are far from cut and dry. Our first observation is that a 30FPS, non-HDR video uses less data than a 60FPS, HDR-enabled video. That is why our graph has ranges rather than exact numbers. Those watching low bitrate videos at 30FPS and no HDR should clock in toward the bottom end of the spectrum. Obviously, those watching high bitrate videos at 60FPS and HDR will see significantly higher data usage rates.

YouTube buffers more video than you actually watch and that affects your usage-per-minute.

Another fun little observation is how YouTube loads data. It loads data in chunks rather than a continuous stream of data. In lower quality video, these chunks are easily identifiable because YouTube loads larger portions of the video all at once. For instance, in the 144p test YouTube loaded almost the entire video in about six very clean chunks (shown above). Meanwhile, the 4k video loaded in chunks so small that it looks like a continuous data stream. The 4k video also did not buffer as far into the video as the 144p did during our testing.

We did not correct our data for this behavior. The reason is because YouTube does this whether you want it to or not. If you watch a three minutes of a five minute video in 144p, YouTube still buffers almost the entire video. We could easily use math to remove the excess data and give you something closer to an exact per-minute usage. However, that would be inaccurate to real-world use.

Live streamed videos and regular videos had roughly the same bitrates and overall data usage, but live streams require a stable connection to function.

We also tested during a livestream and the data usage was about the same there as well. However, it is consistent data usage instead of chunks so those with less stable Internet connections may have buffer troubles even if your data speeds show sufficiently fast data to stream.

The last observation was how big of a range the data consumption is relative to the resolution. At 144p, the variance over the course of an hour is a mere 60MB. However, the variance for 4k is more than 15GB. Bitrates matter a great deal. However, YouTube uses a variable bitrate that makes exact numbers difficult to pinpoint.

It’s also interesting that the sizes can overlap. For instance, a low bitrate 480p video consumes less data than 360p video with a maxed out bitrate. We recommend averaging the top and bottom numbers for an idea of what you’ll use, but understand that number is very inexact and it could vary greatly depending on the content you watch.

A second photo of YouTube's various video resolutions

How to save data on YouTube

This is fairly easy. Simply lower the resolution of the video you want to watch. Going from 1080p to 720p can cut your data usage in half. It uses about one sixth of the data dropping from 1080p to 480p. Those numbers get more absurd if you go from an even higher resolution. Simply tap the three-dot menu button to choose your video quality.

Some other obvious choices include switching to WiFi whenever possible. This helps ease the use on your data cap, especially for those with lower caps. Additionally, some data saving apps can help even further. Google’s Datally app has such a feature and you can also find it in the Settings menu of most Android phones.

Have you ever tried to measure your YouTube data speeds? If so, tell us your results in the comments!

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