How to Optimize Windows Media Player Video Streaming

Fix buffering problems in WMP that cause videos to stutter and freeze

Windows Media Player Options Menu
Options screen in Windows Media Player. Image © Mark Harris - Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Streaming Videos From Websites Using Windows Media Player

If you are getting a lot of choppy video playback or slow / constant buffering while watching streaming video from websites then your Windows Media Player (WMP) installation might need a bit of tweaking. But, before doing this it's worth checking the state of your Internet connection.

Performing an Internet Connection Speed Test

For this, you can use a free service such as SpeedTest.net to test just how fast your Internet connection really is.

Ideally, you'll want your broadband / cable speed to be:

  • 3 Mbps or higher for standard definition (SD) video streaming.
  • 5 Mbps or higher to stream high-definition (HD) video (720p+).

Once you've done this test, look at the download speed result to see if your connection is fast enough to stream video. If you are getting at least 3 Mbps then tweaking Windows Media Player is the next step.

Tweaking Windows Media Player to Optimize Video Streaming Performance

  • Difficulty: Easy.
  • Time Required: Approx. 5 Minutes.
  • Windows Media Player Version: 7 or higher

In the following steps, we'll show you which settings in WMP to adjust in order to improve playback when watching video streams from websites.

  1. Switch to library view mode if not already displayed. If you don't know how to do this, then the quickest way is via the keyboard. Hold down the [CTRL] key and press 1.

  2. In Windows Media Player, click the Tools menu tab and select Options... from the menu list. If you don't see the main menu bar at the top of WMP's screen then it has probably been disabled. To toggle the menu display, hold down the [CTRL] key and press M. Alternatively, hold down the [ALT] key and press [T] to display the tools menu. You can then press the letter 'O' key to get to the settings menu.

  1. On the options screen, click the Performance tab.

  2. Look in the Network Buffering section. This is set to default buffering but this can be changed in order to enter a custom value. Click the radio button next to Buffer. The default setting is 5 seconds, but we'll increase this -- type 10 in the box. The maximum you can enter is 60, but it's worth trying a low number first because more memory is used for larger buffer sizes.

  1. Click the Apply button and then OK to finish.

Tip: Using too much buffer time (step 4) can impact on WMP and overall system performance. So, it's wise to change the buffer value in small increments until you've got satisfactory video streaming.

Other Ways to Improve Video Streaming Playback

If you find that video playback still isn't ideal then there are further tweaks you can do to try and improve this. These are:

Disable UDP Protocol

Some home routers that use NAT don't forward UDP packets correctly. This can result in buffer looping, freezing etc. To combat this you can disable UDP in Windows Media Player. To do this:

  1. Go to WMP's options menu and click the Network tab.
  2. Clear the RTSP/UDP setting in the protocols section.
  3. Click Apply and then OK to save.

Tweak WMP's Connection to The Internet

If you are having streaming problems that seem to be related to your Internet connection then try the following:

  1. Go to WMP's options menu and click the Player tab.
  2. In the Player Settings section, make sure that the Connect to The Internet (Overrides Other Commands) option is enabled.
  3. Click Apply and then OK to finish.

Only enable this feature if you're having Internet connection problems. This is because enabling this setting will keep certain WMP services connected to the Internet all the time, rather than just when WMP is used.