How to Avoid Buffering Issues When Streaming Video

Tired of sputtering internet video? Check out some solutions

When watching a streaming video through a media streamer, smart Blu-ray disc player, or directly on a smart TV, there's nothing more annoying than constant stopping and starting and/or showing a screen that reads "loading."

This information applies to TVs and other devices from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, those made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

How Streaming Video and Buffering Work

Streaming devices "buffer" video. This means they stream video ahead of what you are watching so it plays continuously. At least that's the idea.

When the video catches up to the point where the file has been streaming, there might be a delay. This means it will pause, and you'll see a rotating arrow, spinning circle, or loading message on your TV screen. Once the video stream catches up, it plays again.

This may take a few seconds or several minutes. If the video is long (movie or TV show), you may experience several buffering sessions during your viewing time.

An illustration of the causes for video buffering.
 ©Lifewire

Repeated buffering may result from a technical problem with the content provider or your internet service provider (ISP), but it can also occur when too many devices are using an internet connection at the same time. However, in most cases, it's a function of your internet speed.

What Speed Means

Internet speed is how much data (such as streaming photo, music, and movie files) can be sent from a source to a player. A source may stream a Netflix movie from online, and photos, music, or videos stored on a computer on your home network.

A slow connection delays audio and video data, resulting in a loading screen. Fast connections can stream movies without interruption and accommodate high-definition or 4K video and up to 7.1 channel surround sound.

Vudu Internet Speed Test
Vudu

Most internet providers advertise 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 offer download speeds of more than 50 Mb/s in many areas.

You can test your internet speed on a variety of sites.

In addition to a service provider's internet speed, content providers such as Netflix and Vudu have their own video-streaming speed requirements.

How Fast Is Your Home Network?

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

The next obstacle is how fast the router can send video and other data to the computers, media streamers, smart TVs, and internet-enabled Blu-ray disc players connected to it. Routers designed to work with streaming video (aka AV routers), can stream more data, reducing playback interruptions.

The speed of the router's connection to a media streaming/playback device is the final variable. A router may be capable of streaming media at a high speed, but the audio and video can get to your media streamer/player only 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) is the most dependable way to connect a media streamer or another compatible component to a router, as it usually maintains the speed of the router's capabilities.

If you connect a media streamer or component wirelessly (Wi-Fi) or with a powerline adapter, speeds often drop, sometimes dramatically. Even though you might have 10 Mb/s internet speed to your router, it may not 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 account.

When looking for wireless and power-line adapter accessories, check speed ratings. They indicate whether the device is optimized for AV.

Another consideration with wireless routers is how far they can transmit stable signals. Locating your media streamer/playback device, such as a smart TV, a long distance away (in another room) could affect the stability of the signal received via the wireless router.

Internet Speeds Continue To Increase

Services such as Google Fiber, Verizon FIOS, and Cox Gigablast can deliver broadband speeds as high as 1Gbps. Of course, with those much higher speeds come higher monthly service costs.

Streaming and delivery systems such as HDBaseT routers, wireless dongles, and powerline adapters are continuously being improved so that they can move large amounts of high-definition and/or 4K video to several TVs and computers at the same time, as well as play video games without hesitation (latency).

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 — and that dreaded buffering screen just might become a thing of the past.