written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/30/2011
Wondering whether or not your current network can stream full HD movies? Check out our comprehensive look at Wireless networks and HD streaming.
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N or G?
Full HD is a complicated subject to tackle because it’s hard to get a single definition of what exactly FULL HD is? Full HD in my opinion involves an MKV file and a wired Ethernet connection; however, for others it may involve an MP4 file, or in some cases even an AVI file over a wireless connection.
Here are the facts of the matter. As of this article, the only true standards for HD that exist and can be piped into an entertainment system are two kinds of files – the MKV file and the high-definition MP4 file. However, this choice is further narrowed by the fact that an MKV file can only be played by VLC media player and nothing else. Therefore, we’re left with streaming MP4 files as the only viable alternative.
It comes down to a simple matter of math. A full, 1080p, magnificent MP4 file of a movie is roughly 8 to 9 Gb when compressed down from the original 25Gb Blu-Ray disc.
First, let’s analyze the N connection because it’s the one that’s most interesting in terms of speed to actually try and carry this out. A modern N connection has a “speed" (formally defined as a net bit-rate) of between 144 Mbit/s and 600 Mbit/s, this means that in a second, it is capable of transferring up to 600 MegaBITS, not Megabytes. The difference is about a factor of 8, as 8 bits comprise a byte. At 600 Mbit/s, it will take theoretically 3 minutes to stream the 9 Gb movie to your hard drive. Of course, these numbers are derived from connections directly to the Internet, and only if everything goes PERFECTLY. Let’s account for interference and assume that the connection works closer to the 150 Mbit/s rate that seems more reasonable. Again, taking all that into account, it should theoretically take 10 minutes to stream the whole movie.
Does something sound wrong with this picture? The techies among you are probably screaming out at the screen right now because those numbers are absurd. You’d be lucky to get 54 Mbit/s in a traditional network these days, and that’s close to maximum speed. I’m usually ecstatic when my network can download at 600 Kb/s, so what exactly is the problem? Mainly that the router can operate at the speeds indicated above, that’s not a lie. However, the software and hardware that actually receives the Internet signal can’t possibly re-encode at those speeds.
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Streaming Full HD over G or N?
Simply put, until manufacturers start “promising" us hardware on both sides that can deliver Gbit/s speeds, full HD streaming is impossible. As a reminder, these tests I’m telling you about are tests I’ve personally done on my home N network – the speeds I get for online gaming and streaming from Hulu are great, but trying to stream in a movie across my network that was a mere 2 Gb in size already had the PS3 sputtering and telling me to try again.
Here’s the situation that will happen if you try to stream a 1080p video over an N network (again, the fastest available). I hook up an N adapter to my PS3 and have it try to receive the signal – the movie may start playing after a little while, but not only will it stutter because of the massive file size, but it may also cause my other network connections to drop due to overload.
It comes down to several factors – the network’s speed is often exaggerated, the router can’t handle that much information, and the processor on the other side of the connection has to be a monster to handle that sort of information while STREAMING. Furthermore, continuous streaming at those speeds causes the network to drop in a lot of the cases.
Here’s what I think you should do rather than investing in a wireless network to try to support this lunacy. First, make sure your streaming device (be it a PC, Xbox or PS3) can handle a new hard drive. Go out and buy a 1TB hard drive for your machine (if it can support it) and FTP into the hard drive. Once you have the video (again, we don’t support piracy, so let’s assume you ripped the disc from your personal connection) – connect to the HDD and transfer it over and into the drive. That way, when it comes time for you to watch the movie, you can go ahead and just play it from the Hard Drive, which looks and sounds amazing.
For the record, those of you crying foul over the fact that I have yet to mention NetFlix and their great “HD" streaming service on the Xbox, I’d like to remind you that the Xbox streaming service is NOT free, and that it isn’t true HD, rather it’s a streaming 720p, if it’s all that.