How Much Data Does YouTube Use?

Find out how much data you’re using watching those hilarious cat videos

Screenshot of YouTube video with Quality settings in lower right

If you suspect YouTube is using up a lot of your alloted data, you might be right. But if you want to figure out how much you are likely to use it gets pretty complicated (if not downright impossible). That’s because the amount of data a video uses will vary based on:

  • The quality of the original video uploaded to YouTube,
  • The YouTube player you use to watch the video,
  • The video resolution setting selected, and
  • Your internet connection.

Here’s how each of those items affects your YouTube data viewing usage.

The higher the quality of the original video uploaded to YouTube, the more potential data there is to be streamed. A 2160p video (3840 x 2160), known as “4K”, represents more potential data to stream than a 1080p video (1920 x 1080), known as full HD. The numbers indicate the number of lines along a vertical axis in a video. The greater the number, the more potential data stored for YouTube to stream.

Need to estimate YouTube data usage?

While specific numbers are hard to come by, streaming a YouTube video at HD quality will likely use no more than 2.5 GB of data per hour. But if you stream a 4K video, it may increase to as much as 8 GB per hour.

The device, browser, or app you use also affects how much data you use as you watch YouTube. For example, consider a video with an original resolution of 4K uploaded to YouTube. For playback, YouTube compresses and encodes versions of that video optimized for many different player sizes. When you watch that video on a low-resolution phone, you’ll receive a video stream that uses less data than when you watch that same video on a top-of the line desktop with a 4K display.

YouTube Quality Settings

The YouTube quality setting also affects data usage, and it is the main way that you can influence how much data YouTube uses. YouTube offers as many as eight different options that include, in decreasing quality order, 2160p, 1440p, 1080p, 720p, 480p, 360p, 240p, and even 144p. You can only select a resolution setting equal to or lower than the original video. And not every resolution will necessarily be available on every device: Some devices only offer a few of these settings. A lower setting reduces the quality and reduces the data used.

To change the quality setting for YouTube in a browser on Windows or macOS, select the sprocket in the lower-right corner of the YouTube player, then Quality, and adjust the quality setting to one of the eight listed above. On Android, iOS, or a TV, while playing a YouTube video, tap the three vertical dots (the More menu) in the upper-right corner of the YouTube player, then tap the Quality menu and choose your setting.

The quality of your internet connection also affects how much data YouTube uses. If you leave the YouTube quality setting on “Auto”, then YouTube “adjusts the quality of your video stream from standard definition (such as 240p or 360p) to high definition (720p or 1080p), based on the speed of your Internet connection.” YouTube will improve or degrade the quality of the stream dynamically, as the video streams. So if you haven’t adjusted any settings and you watch YouTube on a powerful device connected to a fast internet connection, YouTube will show a high-quality stream that will use a significant amount of data.

Connection Info and Mobile Controls

YouTube provides two ways for you to learn more about the quality of your internet connection. Visit the Google Video Quality Report site to see the general quality of streaming you should expect, based on your location and your internet service provider. The site shows the performance of several local internet service providers, although the service doesn’t rate cellular network connections.

Screenshot of Google YouTube video quality report results for Comcast in Ann Arbor, MI. Shows graph of streams at 3 different quality rates.

However, on mobile connections you can adjust a setting to limit mobile data usage. On Android devices, open YouTube, tap your profile (in the upper right corner), tap Settings, then General, and move the slider to “Limit mobile data usage: Only stream HD video on Wi-Fi”. On an iPhone or iPad with a cellular connection, open YouTube, tap your profile (in the upper right corner), tap Settings, then move the slider to “Play HD on Wi-Fi only”.

3 Android screenshots (left to right): Limit mobile data usage setting; Enable stats for nerds; Quality setting (1080p) and other options

And to see how much mobile data YouTube has used on an iPhone or iPad with cellular connection, go to system Settings, then Cellular, and scroll through the list of apps until you locate YouTube. If cellular data access is enabled for YouTube, you’ll see a data usage number below it. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the screen to see what time period the data covers.

3 iPhone YouTube screenshots (left to right): YouTube data usage (243MB shown); Play HD on Wi-Fi only and Stats for nerds settings enabled; Quality & other options

Finally, you can display streaming technical details overlayed on a specific video with a feature called “Stats for nerds.” The stats shown include details such as the dimension of the window in which the video plays, the resolution (size) the video playing, the connection speed, and a dropped frames count. If the dropped frames count is high, adjust the YouTube quality setting to a lower one to try to obtain a smoother stream.

Screenshot of Android YouTube player with Stats for Nerds overlay displayed

On Android and iOS, you have to enable “Stats for nerds” before you can view the data. In the YouTube app on iOS, tap your profile, then Settings, and enable the “Stats for nerds” slider. In the YouTube Android app, tap your profile, then Settings, then General, then enable the “Stats for nerds” slider. After it is enabled, while watching a video on either iOS or Android, choose the three vertical dots menu (“More”) and tap “Stats for nerds”. On a computer, right click (or two-finger click on a touchpad, or ctrl-click on macOS) within the YouTube player while a video plays, then select the “Stats for nerds” menu option. You’ll see the real-time stats overlaid on your video as you watch.