Video Streaming - How To Avoid Buffering Issues

How to avoid buffering and loading screens when streaming video

Vudu Internet Speed Test
Vudu Internet Speed Test. Image provided by Vudu

When watching a streaming video on your smart TV or through a media streamer/network media player, there is nothing more annoying than constant stopping and starting and/or showing a screen that reads "loading."

To prevent the video from stopping to load, your networked component "buffers" the video. That is, it downloads the video ahead of what you are watching so you don't have to wait for more of the video to be received by your player.

When the streaming video catches up to the point where the file has been downloaded, there may be a wait. The result is the dreaded "loading" screen and a pause in the movie playback.

If the streaming video reaches a point where it has to wait until more information is downloaded, the video will pause and you will see rotating arrow or spinning circle in the middle of your TV screen. Once the available video stream catches up, the video will begin to play again.

This process may take just a few seconds or may last several minutes. Also, if the video is long (such as a movie or TV show) you might encounter several of these "buffering" sessions during your viewing time, which is definitely quite annoying.

Sometimes this is the result of a technical problem with the content provider or your internet service, but it can also be the result of too many devices in your location using the internet at the same time. However, most of the time, it is simply a function of your internet speed.

What "Speed" Means

As mentioned above, if you watch an online video using a slow internet connection, you may experience interruptions and buffering. The internet speed or in-home connection speed refers to how much data (in this case, the streaming of photo, music and movie files) can be sent from its source to your player. A source may stream a Netflix movie from online, photos, music or videos stored on a computer on your home network, or media from other online or in-home sources.

A slow connection will cause the delivery of a movie's audio and video information to be delayed, in which case you will see the loading screen. A fast connection can not only stream movies without interruption but can also accommodate high-definition or 3D video and up to 7.1 channels of surround sound.

Fast Internet Speeds

You may have heard internet providers advertising that they offer fast internet connection speeds. Where we once had dial-up and DSL speeds measured in kilobytes per second (Kb/s), we now measure speeds in megabytes per second (Mb/s). A megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes. Broadband and cable internet providers may offer download speeds of more than 50 Mb/s. In urban areas, expect over 10 Mb/s.

For more details on the how internet speed affects access to online video content read: Internet Speed Requirements For Video Streaming. If you want to test your bandwidth for a particular service, such as Netflix, take a look at Internet Speed Test Sites.

How Fast Is Your Home Network?

It's not only how fast the internet brings the video into your house. Once there, the information must be sent from the modem to a router.

The next consideration is how fast the router can send the video and other information to the computers, network media players/media streamers, smart TVs and internet-enabled Blu-ray Disc players, that may be connected to it. Routers designed to work with streaming video, often called AV routers, will be capable of streaming more data, reducing playback interruptions.

The speed of the connection from the router to a media streaming/playback device is the final variable here. A router may be capable of streaming media at a high speed, but the audio and video can only get to your media streamer/player as fast as the connection can transfer it.

Connect Using an Ethernet Cable or Accessories Designed for "AV"

Using an Ethernet cable (Cat 5, 5e, or 6) to connect your network media player or another compatible component to the router, is the most dependable. This type of physical connection will usually maintain the speed of the router's capabilities.

However, if you connect your network media player or component wirelessly (Wi-Fi) or by using a powerline adapter, speeds will often drop dramatically. This is why, even though you may have 10 Mb/s internet speed, to your router, if the router can maintain that speed to your device, it may show that it is receiving less than 5 Mb/s and you get a message that the video quality is being downgraded on your Netflix or Vudu.

When looking for wireless and power-line adapter accessories, check the speed ratings which will indicate whether they are optimized for AV, so you can stream high definition video and audio. Also, another thing to take into consideration with wireless routers is how far they can transmit a stable signal. In other words, if your media streamer/playback device, such as a smart TV, is located a long distance away (in another room, for example) that could also affect the stability of the signal received through the wireless router.

Internet Speeds Will Continue To Increase

Now that our media is digital, it is possible to send it around our home like never before, services such as Google Fiber and Cox Gigablast can deliver broadband speeds as high as 1Gbps. Of course, with those much higher speeds comes higher monthly service costs for consumers.

Electronics designers are also on a continuous quest to develop streaming and delivery systems that can move large amounts of high definition video (with special attention now to 4K video) to several TVs and computers at the same time, as well as playing video games without hesitation (latency).

Increased speed capabilities of routers, wireless dongles, and power-line adapters are one step. Technologies like the Sigma Design chips, which could be built into network home theater components, purport speeds over 1 Gb/s (one gigabyte per second). Other solutions available on a growing number of components include WHDI, WiHD, and HDBaseT.

4K video is getting easier for consumers. Combining internet speed with new video compression techniques, such as the ability to stream video data with 8K resolution, is not that far down the road.