Audio and video aren’t created equal when it comes to their demands on your broadband service. The difference is measured in bit rate—how much data travels to your home each second. You can see the bit rates needed to stream a few types of entertainment below.

But even though you may be getting relatively fast Internet service, the actual speed can vary, especially at peak viewing times, like right after work. During these times, services such as Netflix may compensate for a slower connection by downgrading the video quality you see. And if most of your streaming device are connected to the internet wirelessly, your WiFi also affect performance. (See "How WiFi Makes Waves," below).

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Fast Broadband
Broadband networks of just a few years ago would have sputtered and stalled if faced with today’s consumers and their appetite for streaming services.

However, networks are faster now. The average U.S. broadband speed hit 50 megabits per second last summer. That’s a 40 percent jump from 2015, according to Ookla, the company behind Speedtest.net, a tool consumers can use to measure their home’s internet speed.

Download speed is critical for video streaming; upload speed matters if you share a lot of videos or play online games. Note that web speeds can slow in the evening during the data equivalent of rush hour.

Your household’s viewing habits matter, too. As data enters your home, it’s distributed via WiFi. If several people are watching movies on separate devices, you may start to notice decreased performance.

A final factor is WiFi strength, which may be inconsistent from room to room. If it is, try moving the router to a central spot. If you have a very old router, consider buying one that follows the 802.11ac standard; the router should be faster and more secure.


Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.