How to Make Sure You’re Getting the Best Streaming Quality

If you put down money every month for a streaming service (or seven), then you probably want the best possible video quality your service provides. However, that’s not always going to be what you get by default.

Here we’ll cover the different factors that affect streaming video quality—not just the speed of the Wi-Fi reaching your device but also the type of device you’re watching on, and the particular plan that you’ve signed up for.

By the time you’ve finished this checklist, you’ll be enjoying your shows and movies in crisp, sharp 4K resolution, if your devices support it. If that’s not the case, at least you’re going to know why.

Check Your Plan

You can only view Netflix in 4K on the most expensive plan.

Netflix via David Nield

Perhaps it’s been a long time since you first signed up for your streaming plan (or plans), or perhaps you’ve never thought about the different plans each service offers. Whatever the case, it’s important to know that some platforms offer different levels of quality depending on how much you pay each month.

Netflix is perhaps the best example of this. At the cheapest $9.99 level you don’t even get true HD (High Definition)—720p, or 720 horizontal lines in each frame. You need to pay $15.49 a month for 1080p HD, and you need to pay $19.99 a month for Ultra HD or 4K. That top resolution is 2160p, or 2,160 lines in each frame, three times the quality of standard HD.

The good news is that most other platforms just offer a single option with resolutions up to 4K, though it’s worth double-checking with the ones you’re signed up for. HBO Max is another service that gives you a choice of plans, with the cheaper $9.99-a-month option introducing advertising breaks and limiting the streaming resolution to 720p HD. To get the full quality and remove the ads, you need to pay $14.99 a month.

What does apply to all streaming services, however, is that not everything is going to be available in crisp 4K resolution. Older shows and movies in particular may fall back to 720p HD, so that might be another reason that the picture quality you’re seeing isn’t great—it may be that whatever you’re watching just isn’t available in the best format.

Check Your Device

Most streaming apps have settings for video quality.

Disney Plus via David Nield

Along with checking your streaming plan, you also need to check the device you’re using. A smartphone or a tablet with a 1080p resolution (1,080 horizontal lines of pixels) obviously isn’t going to be able to show a 2160p 4K picture as it was originally intended. A quick search on the web should be enough to determine whether or not your streaming service of choice is available in 4K on your streaming device of choice.

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