Is It Better To Stream or To Download?
It’s easy enough to stream a sea of entertainment when you’re at home with a stable internet connection, especially if you’ve got fiber. When it comes to traveling, a dilemma arises: Should you stream your favorite shows and movies while you’re on the go, or is it better to download them onto your devices to watch them offline?
The problem with streaming on the go
At first glance, streaming seems perfect. You’ve got instant, anywhere access to content platforms right from your devices. But you’re not traveling with your excellent, carefully chosen home network. You can’t count on having a reliable internet connection.
This can be a particularly annoying problem in remote and rural areas, which includes many vacation spots, or you’re up in a plane, out on a boat or driving down the highway. And, if there is no strong Wi-Fi connection available, you may have to rely on your cellular network data. Streaming will quickly eat into your monthly data cap if you don’t have an unlimited mobile data plan. And even unlimited plans often have caps on high-speed 5G data, throttling your connection to a slower speed after you’ve reached your monthly allowance.
The solution: video downloads
This is where downloading comes in. Many streaming apps let you download content directly onto your device, allowing you to enjoy the entertainment later, when your internet access might be limited and streaming video isn’t a viable option.
There are ways to be smart about your downloads. First, be sure you have sufficient storage space on whichever device you use to watch your entertainment. High-definition video can take up a lot of space on your device, although you should have the option to download in lower-resolution standard definition to save room. Second, you can only view the content using the device on which it’s been downloaded. If you’re the type to frequently juggle between gadgets while streaming, you’ll have to do some planning and choose the right streaming device to use on your travels.
Yes, it’s obvious, but still worth mentioning that you’ll need to plan which content you want to watch, considering that you’re downloading it in advance. If your route or destination doesn’t offer fast and stable internet connectivity, you’ll be limited to the content you’ve downloaded ahead of your trip. Furthermore, downloading large video files can take time and requires a good internet connection. Don’t expect to be able to download shows and movies a few minutes before you head out the door—you’ll want to do it well in advance of your trip to guarantee you have sufficient time for the videos to download.
Finally, legal and licensing restrictions might come into play. For example, streaming services may restrict how often you can download and for how long you can keep content on your device for offline viewing. Such limitations will vary by platform and geographic location, so review the policies of your streaming services if you suspect this could be a problem on your travels.
How to decide: streaming vs. downloading
If you’re having trouble deciding whether you should stream or download videos onto your device for your next trip, you’ll need to evaluate your specific situation. Here are the main factors to consider:
- Internet connectivity – Assess the availability, speed and reliability of the internet connections available to you on your route and at your destination. If you can reasonably expect to have similar internet speeds that you enjoy while streaming at home (especially if you’re streaming on fiber), then there’s probably no pressing need to deal with video downloads. If not, downloading videos may be a favorable option.
- Storage capacity – If you have ample on-device storage and are okay with temporarily committing it to video downloads, then this shouldn’t be a problem. Keep in mind, you could be taking a lot of vacation pics and not uploading to the cloud until you’re back home, so this could be a good time to free up some storage.
- Streaming vs. downloading data usage – Downloading and streaming videos at home using your home internet connection won’t incur data costs if you have a plan without data caps, but doing so on your cellular data network might. Check your mobile carrier’s plan. If you don’t want to hit your data limit, consider downloading instead of streaming on your travels.
- Content availability – The availability of certain content varies across streaming platforms, as you already know. Streaming services also have different download policies and limitations. Evaluate the availability of content you’d like to watch on your travels, and assess whether or not it’s available for offline viewing. If you’re traveling internationally, regional content restrictions might also come into play, so look into those as well (although this is more a concern with live programming, such as sports, rather than on-demand shows and movies). And a reminder to stay secure: Only download from a reputable site that offers legal downloads. Those “free” movies could be infected with malware.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of streaming vs. downloading. Streaming video provides instant on-demand access to a bevy of content, while video downloads reduce your dependence on high-speed internet, which is not always available when you travel. The only way to be sure you’ve got plenty to watch is to stream your content of choice from your reliable home connection and save to your on-the-go devices. And enjoy your vacation.
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