on June 16, 2012 at 10:45 AM
Whether you are new to streaming, or have been streaming for awhile without any issues and all of a sudden are developing buffering problems, there are a few things to check initially that may be an easy fix. While dealing with technical issues can be very frustrating, often times with a little insight even the non-technical person can trouble shoot and navigating a fix.
It is helpful before we go any further to define what buffering is. The term has a negative connotation, but in reality buffering takes place all the time. When you are experiencing no problems with your video playback, it is an indicator that the streaming server that is delivering the video is properly interacting with the streaming media software on your device.
The software analyzes the formats available for playing the video, determines the bandwidth that the connection currently has, and the streaming media player being used to view the file, and makes adjustments based upon all of the variables these three factors may impose on the experience. These adjustments are made to maximize the end user experience, including reacting to any messages it receives from the media player (e.g. if the viewer decides to pause, play, rewind or fast forward, for example).
So - if any of these components are not optimal for streaming, you may experience stalled or dropped video. It should be noted that the problem could lie with the hosting site, or there could be issues with extremely high traffic or technical problems with your internet provider that may be causing problems as well. But there are some steps you can take to make sure the problem is not on your end.
- Check your internet speed. If your internet connection is new, work with your internet provider to determine if the problem is on their end. In my case when I upgraded to 6 Mbps from 1.5 Mbps, I was still registering a speed of 1.5. We eventually determined the issue was on the internet provider's end after several phone calls. But first, we had to make sure we weren't the cause of the bottleneck. For instance, if you are using older technology to broadcast your internet connection via WiFi (such as using a wireless g router instead of wireless n), you will want to upgrade to a wireless n connection, or simply connect your router directly to your device via an Ethernet connection, because cables simply work better than WiFi. In our case, we opted for utilizing an Ethernet connection to any devices we rely heavily on, such as my computer and my Roku player. You may also want to try rebooting your router by disconnecting it from the power source and waiting at least 30 seconds, and then reconnect it.
- Check the number of users on your internet connection. If several people are trying to stream video or music simultaneously, but you don't have the bandwidth to handle multiple users, you will experience problems. In my case, we can view video and stream music at the same time from two devices, but will probably experience some problems if we added more load simultaneously because we only have a 6 Mbps DSL speed plan. If we opted for cable or fiber optics internet, which in some cases provides some serious speed plans (even up to 50 Mbps or higher), there would not be issues of buffering.
- Determine if your internet provider engages in throttling practices. This is particularly common for ISPs who advertise unlimited wireless data plans. There is a wireless spectrum shortage that won't be easily solved due to antitrust issues; but suffice it to say that you may have issues with some of these data plans if you intend to use it heavily. There are some cable internet providers who in the past have told their customers that if they use their internet connection during off-peak times (such as midnight to 6 a.m.) they won't experience problems because traffic is lower. In reality, it's likely this internet provider is enaging in throtting to discourage high bandwidth usage activities like streaming. Not all internet providers engage in these underhanded tactics these days, but it's not unheard of. Bottom line - best internet plans for streaming are DSL, cable or fiber internet plans 6 Mbps and higher. Make sure you check to see if a monthly data cap is placed on your plan as well.
- Streaming on your PC can be met with several problems. For example, you may need to update your graphic drivers; you may have some type of virus that is causing problems with your available memory; your anti-virus software doesn't play nice with streaming (in which case you may need to turn off any shields or live scanning while you're streaming); you may need to turn off your firewall; you may need to use a different browser, or remove some of the plug-ins that don't interact well with the streaming media player.
- Determine if the problem is being caused by your internet provider. The best way to do this is to test 2 laptops or PCs, and 2 internet providers. Start at home and try streaming on 2 different devices, and then stream at a friend's house using the 2 different devices (make sure your friend has a different ISP). If you can stream just fine on both laptops at your friends house, but not at home, then the issue is likely with your internet provider or some bottleneck within your house (see point #1 above). If you can stream with one device at home but not the other, the issue is likely with your device.
If you have been streaming just fine up until a certain point, then the issue may be with the host server on the file or even the server level. Netflix allows you to report problems on video you've recently watched by logging into your account & help screen:
For more information, check out our articles and pages on Streaming 411 to help you troubleshoot your streaming problems.
For more detailed instructions, check out this great article.