Back to top
Back to all guidesBack to all guides

Streaming services explained

Check out our handy guide explaining everything you need to know about streaming services.

Last updated: 07 April 2021

Streaming services explained
Streaming is fast becoming the most popular way to consume content, with dozens of sites offering thousands of TV shows, films and other media at the click of a button. But how does it all work?

What is streaming?

Streaming is fast becoming the most popular way to consume content, with dozens of sites offering thousands of TV shows, films and other media at the click of a button. But how does it all work?

Is streaming the same as downloading?

Not quite. When you download something, it’s then available to watch offline. That means you can catch up on the latest episode of your favourite show whilst on the tube, or listen to your playlists wherever you are.Of course, you need an internet connection to download it in the first place, but once that’s done the content is stored on your device, which you can access anytime.

Streaming, by contrast, means the content is stored on a server, rather than on your device. Content therefore doesn’t take up precious storage space, but does however require a solid internet connection to run properly.

It’s worth noting that many streaming services allow you to download content directly through their platform for you to enjoy later.

Streaming services in the UK

While there are dozens of streaming platforms to choose from, with seemingly more popping up every week, these are amongst the top services available in the UK.

Netflix

Probably the most commonly known streaming service in the world. You’ll need to purchase a monthly subscription to view content, which varies in cost depending on how many devices you want to have access from. You can watch in a web browser or by downloading the app; if you have a smart TV, it’ll likely come with Netflix already installed.

Amazon Prime Video

Netflix’s up-and-coming competitor with a huge library of content that is growing considerably. You’ll need a Prime membership, which has additional perks, though if you just want to stream the occasional film or show you can look to Amazon Instant video instead. 

BBC iPlayer

Available to all UK users, provided you have a valid TV licence. You can catch-up on missed shows, watch live TV and explore a huge back catalogue of favourites.

Sky Go

A streaming service for those with a Sky TV package. They have a vast range of movies and box sets available, and tend to get access to American shows from the likes of HBO et al before anyone else. 

Youtube

Though it may still have associations of home-video blunders, there are in fact many TV shows and films available to watch via the site, particularly older releases. You’ll also find no-end of music on Youtube.

For more information on TV streaming services, read our guide.

Spotify

Easily the most prolific music streaming service available. You can open a free account and listen to your favourite songs and albums for a limited number of times, or sign up to Spotify Premium which gives you unlimited usage. Because music files are considerably smaller than video ones, you can enjoy Spotify lag-free on even the most precarious of broadband connections.

For more information on music streaming services, click here.

What broadband speed do you need for streaming?

Basic broadband deals tend to have average speeds of around 11 Mbps. A standard ADSL connection will more than suffice for HD streaming if your speeds are over 5Mbps. With speeds lower than this, you may need to stream in SD.

When there are several users streaming simultaneously, you may find your connection is too slow or your quality is reduced in order to compensate. If this sounds like your household, it’s worth looking at fibre optic broadband in order to avoid the annoyance of buffering. 

For 4K Ultra HD streaming you’ll need a faster connection with consistent speeds of over 15 Mbps.

Can I stream if I have a data allowance?

Almost all broadband deals now come with unlimited data allowance, so you can stream to your heart’s content. However, some of the cheapest packages instead offer capped usage in return for their low prices.

Streaming one hour of TV in HD could use as much as 3GB of data, which may well be a considerable portion of your monthly allowance. As such, capped usage deals are only ever suitable for those who use the internet for intermittent browsing.

If you want to switch to unlimited data though, there is no end of packages available. Use our search tool to compare broadband deals in your area, so you can start binging all your favourite shows and albums worry-free. 

Michael Quinn

Author: Michael Quinn

Michael is a dedicated author helping usave to write guides, blogs and news for the last four years. When not writing articles, you can usually find him at wine tasting events or having a political debate on the night tube.

Don't miss these