Q. What’s the difference between streaming video and downloading video? I’m really confused. A friend of mine convinced me to sign up for Netflix so I can watch his favorite show, House of Cards. I figure I can catch up on movies before the Academy Awards too. I’m traveling a lot and want to watch the movies on my iPad during my flights.
My friend said that I couldn’t watch Netflix on my iPad when I fly because Netflix movies are streaming, not downloaded (I didn’t get the DVD plan). I have no idea what the difference is. I didn’t want to ask my friend because he was already giving me grief, saying I was the last person on the planet to sign up for Netflix.
Can you explain the difference between streaming and downloading videos?
A. You’re not alone in being confused. I get this question from a lot of people who don’t understand the difference between streaming and downloading videos. There is a big difference in how you watch the videos so it is important to learn about streaming vs. downloading.
Streaming vs. Downloading Videos
Streaming videos are videos that are played on one device but are stored on another device. You need to have a connection between the two devices in order to play the video.
Downloaded videos are stored on the device that plays them. You need a connection to download the video file to get it onto your device, but after it has been downloaded you can watch the video without any connection.
The difference between streaming vs. downloaded videos is like the difference between listening to a song on the radio vs. listening to a song that has been downloaded to your iPad. If you’re listening to a song on the radio, you need to have reception — a connection to the radio station. If you’re listening to a song on iTunes that has been downloaded on your iPad, you can listen to it anywhere, you don’t need reception or a connection.
Netflix videos are streamed, similar to songs you listen to on the radio. The video files are stored by Netflix and are sent to your iPad over an Internet connection. Your iPad must be connected to the Internet for you to be able to watch a streaming Netflix video. YouTube, HBO Go, Google Play, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video also offer streaming videos for your iPad.
Your friend is correct, you probably won’t be able to watch Netflix movies during your airline flights. Some airplanes do have Wi-Fi available, but the speeds aren’t usually fast enough to stream video. You may be able to watch the movies when you arrive at your hotel, if the Wi-Fi connection is fast enough to stream video.
Another option is for you to download videos to your iPad to watch even when you’re away from an Internet connection. You can buy or rent videos that you download onto your iPad from Amazon, iTunes and/or Google Play, but not from your Netflix subscription which only includes streaming videos.
When you rent a downloaded video, you have a limited time to watch the video after which it disappears from your device. If you buy a downloaded video you can keep it without a time limit.
Streaming vs. Downloading Pros and Cons
Time Before You Watch
With streaming video you can begin watching your movie almost instantly. The video streams to your device and begins playing without a long wait for downloading the entire file.
With downloaded videos you may have to wait quite a while for the file to be downloaded on to your iPad, depending on the speed of your Internet connection. Some services, such as iTunes, allow you to start watching a video while it’s still in the process of downloading.
Space on Your Device
Streaming videos do not take up space on your device. If you don’t have a lot of free space on your iPad, you may not have room to download a movie. HD movie files are especially large. Les Misérables is 5.45 GB in HD and 2.28 GB in SD.
You can check how much space you have available on your iPad by going to:
Settings => General => About => Available.
Access to Internet
You are going to need access to the Internet for both downloading and streaming videos. With downloaded videos you only need Internet access while you’re downloading the video file to your iPad. You can watch the downloaded videos any time, even when you’re not connected to the Internet.
With streaming videos you need to be connected to the Internet while you’re watching the movie. If you disconnect from the Internet then you won’t be able to continue watching the movie.
When you stream videos, generally the video buffers or pre-loads a few seconds to a few minutes of the video to help ensure a smooth viewing experience. If your video isn’t clear or pauses frequently, then your Internet connection may not be fast enough to keep up with the video streaming.
If you have a data plan with a cell phone carrier to be able to access the Internet on your iPad when you’re away from Wi-Fi, be sure to Mind the Cap! Most plans these days have a monthly cap on the amount of data you can use. Streaming video is probably the fastest way to reach that cap. For example, if you have a data cap of 2 GB per month, you wouldn’t be able to finish streaming or downloading Les Misérables in HD (5.45 GB) or SD (2.28 GB) over your cell network without hitting your data cap.
Best to wait until you’re connected to Wi-Fi if you’re streaming or downloading more than a few minutes of video.
To watch Netflix streaming videos on your iPad you will need a high-speed Internet connection. You can watch videos that have been downloaded to your iPad at any time, even without an Internet connection, but you will need to have sufficient space on your iPad for the video file.
Your friend was correct about the difficulty you will have watching streaming Netflix videos on an airplane. But he wasn’t correct about you being the last person on the planet to sign up for Netflix!
Did you know the difference between streaming and downloaded videos? Have you ever tried to watch a streaming video, only to discover that you didn’t have an Internet connection? Have you ever tried to download a video and found out that you didn’t have enough space on your device? Let us know in the Comments section below!
* Netflix iPad image courtesy of Placeit (edited)