The Hidden Cost of the New 4K Apple TV


Before you rush out and buy the latest and greatest Apple TV (the 5th generation Apple TV that supports 4K and HDR video) you need think about the additional data this new device is going to consume. If you have an Apple TV now and use it with a TV that can display HD video (720p or 1080i) then you are already needing to have an internet data connection capable of at least 5 Mb/sec in order to stream video of that quality. But if you want to stream a 4K movie or TV show you are going to need a faster internet connection and that means you are consuming more data for every minute you are watching the higher definition video content.

How Fast Does Your Connection Need To Be?

Netflix recommends that if you want to stream 4K content that you have at least 25 Mb/sec internet speeds (some sources are even recommending a minimum speed of 50 Mb/sec but let's just stick with 25 Mb/sec for now). If you watch 1 hour of 4K video using a 25 Mb/sec internet connection you are going to consume up to 11.25 Gb/hour. If you assume you watch 2 hours of 4K content per day that means you could easily end up using 675 Gb of data each month just to stream 2 hours of 4K content per day (that doesn't even count all the other things you use internet data for).

Data Caps

So why is this such a big deal? Most cable companies put a data cap on your home internet whether you are aware of it or not and some of these data caps are quite small. I use AT&T currently for my home internet service and we have one of the larger data caps, which is 1 Tb (terabyte) per month (or 1000 Gb). Over the last several months I have either run over this data cap or come very close to doing so. In June I went over the 1 Tb limit and the way AT&T handles the data cap is they automatically add on an additional 50 Gb of data at a cost of $10 to your monthly bill. Before the month of June was over I had to add on 3 of these 50 Gb packets of data for a total overage cost of $30. I had 3 kids at home all summer (one of them being an online gamer) so it was no wonder I went over the limit in June. In July and Aug I was able to stay under the limit, but just barely (853 Gb in July and 985 Gb in Aug).

What Does All This Mean?

I have a 4K TV in my house and I would love to take advantage of the higher video resolution, but if I start streaming 4K content to my TV I will with 100% certainty go over my monthly data limit. So if I want 4K content I am either going to have to start paying for these 50 Gb add-ons or switch to an unlimited internet data plan with AT&T for another $30 a month. Given the amount of data 4K streaming takes up my only real option is to go with the unlimited data package. But at $30 a month that is an extra $360 a year I am going to be paying just in home internet data charges alone.

There is a war brewing with internet data providers and it has been brewing for quite some time. Most of the companies (and you are lucky if you have more than one available to you) in your area that offer home internet are also often the same provider of cable TV. They don't want you to buy your movies and TV shows from someone else and stream that content using the data they are providing you, they want to sell you that content instead. So they have structured their "internet data only" plans in such a way as to penalize you if you stream a lot of content. It is their way of getting money out of you in one way or another. But with more content being made available to stream in 4K the average home consumer is going to start using more and more data and start running into these data caps. People are going to get really angry when they realize why these caps are there to begin with and that these internet providers essentially have a monopoly on home internet data services. The only real solution to this problem is for the government to step in a start regulating home internet service like a utility to ensure companies like AT&T are providing internet data to you at fair price regardless of whether you choose to purchase your video content from them or from someone else. Why is this necessary? Because companies like AT&T and other local cable providers have been arguing for years that the cost of putting in place the cables and equipment infrastructure to support internet and cable are so large that they have to be allowed to essentially run the business/service as the sole provider of that service in a given area (the definition of a monopoly). So until the dust settles on this looming data war I think I am going to just try and stay under my current data cap and pocket that $360 a year. It's just not worth that kind of money for a better video resolution.

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