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Thought Your Broadband Was Fast Enough for the Future of TV and Gaming? Think Again!

It seems we've finally arrived at the digital dream these days, with the ability to catch up with TV whenever we like on Netflix and some exciting next generation gaming consoles on the way full of new features.

It seems we've finally arrived at the digital dream these days, with the ability to catch up with TV whenever we like on Netflix and some exciting next generation gaming consoles on the way full of new features.

Well, that is the digital dream at least. Unfortunately for many of us the digital reality still needs a lot more time to buffer.

While digital downloads for games consoles are not new they do avoid the need to queue overnight at high street shops on launch days or waiting for the post to arrive. The next generation of games console takes size of downloads to new extremes, Killzone: Shadow Fall on the PS4 will be an eye watering 50GB download.

To put that into perspective, 50GB about as much data as 11 single layer DVDs, and a really good broadband connection running at 30 Mbps will still take 3 hours and 45 minutes to download the entire game.

Unfortunately for lots of us in the UK, 30 Mbps is still a distant vision and a download like this is quite an undertaking. A measly 6 Mbps connection is the best my area can manage, and for those stuck on 2 Mbps, you're in for a 55 hour download wait that would send even the most ardent fan to sleep.

Heaven forbid if anyone else in the house wants to use the connection at the same time too.

The next generation of consoles are introducing the option to start playing before a game has fully downloaded, but the big unknown is how much of the download is needed before gameplay gets underway. It's very likely most of us will still need to wait for the postman for a copy of the game, or take the even more old-school method of actually going out to the shop to pick one up.

It's not just gaming that is starting to stretch our broadband either, and the world of TV is also making advances that will make your connection creak.

A 2 Mbps broadband connection can just about watch a Standard Definition (SD) video stream, with around 5 Mbps as the sensible minimum for HD content, but now Netflix is rapidly pushing the boundaries.

The Super HD service, which is the same resolution as normal HD but with less compression, needs a connection speed in the region of 8 to 10 Mbps, offering a benefit similar to the difference between watching a badly mastered DVD release (i.e. the usual bargain bin DVD) and one where lots of care was lavished to get the best image quality.

If 10 Mbps seems like a lot, brace yourself because next year will see Netflix roll out 4K streams, offering a 3860 x 2160 resolution image that needs around 15 to 20 Mbps to stream and stay at the best quality setting.

The Netflix iOS app recently gained the ability to stream HD videos, so mobile users on smaller data allowances had better restrict the quality settings now before they stumble into a big data usage fee.

It's also worth bearing in mind that while download speeds tend to get most of the headlines, it's important not to overlook uploads, especially as we now have phones and other cameras that can record 4K video. Those trying to produce the best video content on their blogs and YouTube accounts will have to get used to uploading content overnight again.

The UK has been working towards a universal service commitment for broadband speeds so that everyone should have a 2 Mbps minimum connection, but with these kinds of demands, 2 Mbps is really the new dial-up. The UK did at least see this coming and adopt a programme to deliver 30 Mbps to as many places as possible. Although this programme is not without controversy and there are many doubts as to what it can actually achieve.

Many other countries have similar targets but they are rapidly being left behind by advances in technology. While some smaller and more agile broadband operators are able to keep pace with the new demands, the old fashioned firms and politicians are forever playing catch-up.

At present the only broadband speed that seems a sensible bet to survive ten years is 1000 Mbps (Gigabit), but as it costs many times more than the average connection, most will opt for cheaper alternatives for some time to come.

It's funny to think that in just a few years' time, our current broadband speeds will be as quaint as the almost extinct dial-up connection. Whatever speeds we achieve over the next decade though, you can bet that Sony, Netflix and the rest will have released something that has users wanting even more.

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