Article updated November 2017 to reflect current plans and pricing.
Once upon a time, what you watched on TV was dictated by programming directors and beamed out across the country on a limited number of channels, giving you the choice of watching Countdown, The Mike Walsh show, or Neighbours, with occasional foreign imports such as Dallas, which you could watch with your gran on a Friday night.
But this is the 21st century – We have smart TVs, PVRs, video on demand and catch-up services at our fingertips, available to play through almost any device capable of connecting to the Internet, so we’re no longer limited to watching the same 30-year-old reruns of The Young Doctors, simultaneously with countless millions of other viewers. Finally, we’re free.
Well, not quite. There is one limiting factor which is capable of stifling your enjoyment in this new, golden age of entertainment, and that, unfortunately, is your Internet service provider (ISP).
When you sign up for a broadband package, do you actually know what you’re going to get? Sure, if you’re browsing the web and looking at pictures of cats, you can get by with a minimum package from your local provider, but if you and your family want to take advantage of all of the entertainment options available to you, you’re going to need something a little better than that.
Let us put this into perspective: at the low end, Provider TPG offers a budget DSL connection for $30/month, which comes with a cap of fifty gigabytes of peak and off peak data. But while a DSL line will certainly provide enough bandwidth for you to watch Guardians of The Galaxy in HD, streaming will use 1GB for every hour of standard definition, and 3 GB per hour for each stream of HD video. Cheap isn’t necessarily looking so good now, is it?
Like many other things in Australia, broadband doesn’t come cheap. And you may want to calculate who is going to be using what and when before handing over your credit card details to a provider.
Last audited 14 September 2020
Keep in mind those figures – 1GB per hour for SD streaming and 3 GB per hour for HD. Now how many people are watching TV and for how long?
The chances are that if you have kids over the age of five, they have a mobile device of some kind, whether it be a tablet or a mobile phone, and whatever they’re doing online, they’re doing it while attached to your home’s wireless network. It could that while the grown-ups are hiding behind the sofa cushions, watching Judas Ghost, your eight year old is streaming back-to-back episodes of Doctor Who, and the 15 year old is under his covers watching… whatever it is that 15 year old boys watch when they’re alone.
So, that’s anywhere between 3GB and 9GB per hour right there. Even if every member of the household only watches for one hour per night, you’ll be looking at somewhere between 100GB and 300GB per month. In our experience, a DSL package with a cap of 500GB of peak and off peak data will cost in the region of $50/month. For a household which plans on streaming a decent amount of video of any definition, this is probably the minimum package you should be looking for.
The other vitally important factor in determining which ISP product to choose is the bandwidth. By that we mean the speed at which data can travel down from your local exchange to your home.
While you may not be planning to watch anything in high definition, having too little bandwidth available will result in the picture on your TV screen being pixelated and blurry, as well as giving additional problems such as heavy buffering and occasional stalling. Most IPTV services recommend a bandwidth of at least 3Mbs to allow them to function as they should. Again, bear in mind that this figure is for each device, and if more than one person is streaming at once, or even downloading large files from the internet, you will need more bandwidth from your provider. It is generally the case that cable operators have more bandwidth to spare, but all of the major ISPs offer packages which allow a healthy 20Mbs.
If you overuse your monthly data allowance, it’s unlikely that your ISP will cut you off completely, but it’s quite feasible that they will throttle your bandwidth down as far as 64kbs, rendering your favourite films as barely seen blurs, shadows and stutters.
Obviously, what providers are available to you depends on where you live and other factors. But if you stream a lot, a fast broadband plan with unlimited data may be your best bet.