To find out how many hours of video iCloud could stream per month on a 2GB data plan, we again decided to compare data taken from a similar video streaming service: Netflix.
Like Spotify, Netflix uses multiple bitrates to encode its shows in various quality streams. What quality a video is streamed in depends a lot on the quality of a user’s internet connection. To test at what bitrate Netflix streams video in over 3G, we loaded up Netflix on our iPad 2 and played the sixth season Futurama episode, “Attack of the Killer App.” After twenty one minutes and forty one seconds, our 2GB data plan was 105MB poorer.
Doing some math, it seems that Netflix streamed video to our iPad at an average rate of 644kbps. According to Netflix, the lowest quality they stream video is at 375kbps and their HD quality encodes start at a whopping 2600kbps.
If iCloud follows a similar compression scheme to Netflix, here’s how many hours of video streaming you can manage in a 2GB plan.
375kbps (Low Quality) — 11.85 hours of streaming per month
644kbps (Medium Quality) — 6.9 hours of streaming per month
2600kbps (High Quality) — 1.7 hours of streaming per month
We don’t know for sure if iCloud will launch with video streaming capabilities, but if it does, these numbers make it clear that if iCloud does support video, it’ll have some serious limitations. Either Apple will allow only videos of a certain size to be streamed, or they’ll lower the bit rate as low as they can. Either way, you won’t be able to watch a lot of video through iCloud: the best you can hope is about six movies a month.
The easiest solution for Apple here is to only allow video to be streamed over WiFi, and I expect this will be the compromise Apple ultimately makes when video comes to iCloud.
The bottom line is that as exciting as iCloud is, it’s true potential will be hobbled in the near future by the mandatory 2GB data caps imposed by mobile carriers upon iPhone and iPad customers.
In its current incarnation, iCloud will supplement your iPod, iPhone or iPad’s local media library, allowing you to stream that occasional album or video that you forgot to load up at home. What iCloud won’t do is obviate the need to sync your music and videos to your device manually through iTunes. If data caps ever go the way of the dodo, though, you can bet that’s exactly where Apple intends on bringing iCloud next.
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