Improving the video streaming experience

Now that we’ve cut the cord, we get a lot of our home entertainment by streaming (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc).

This is not always a pleasant experience – pretty much inevitably, at some point the video will stop. We’ll get a spinning clock or equivalent message, or sometimes it’ll just freeze with no explanation. Sometimes it picks up again quickly…sometimes, not. Often we can un-freeze it by rewinding or starting over…sometimes, not.

I assume that it’s buffering, or the bandwidth is choking, or something like that.

How can I keep this from happening? Is it my ISP (Comcast cable)? my modem/router? The hardware on the TV (Roku or Tivo, depending)? Environmental?

It could be happening for a number of reasons, but my WAG is that your ISP is throttling you. Does it happen to your neighbors who are using the same ISP? If not, then I would swap out your router or Roku box and see if the problem persists.

Have you run the same show on your computer? Do you have video issues when using the PC or laptop? If no, then you can probably rule out service issues and concentrate on a hardware issue, either the receiving box or TV.

Run an internet speed test on a browser that is connected the same way as your viewing devise (computer, TV or whatever else). I have Comcast cable as well and run streaming video through a new desktop computer connected to a large TV via a wireless connection. I generally do not have the problem you are describing. My connection is advertised as 50 mb/s but usually averages about 20 mb/s during prime hours in the evening. Even half of that should be plenty sufficient.

These things are fairly straightforward to diagnose but not always easy because there are many potential bottlenecks.

You have to look at:

  1. Your internet connection (the speed test linked above)

  2. Wireless signal issues if you are connected through a wireless router. It may be limiting your bandwidth because it is using an old standard or the bandwidth may be throttling down because the signal is weak. You can fix that by getting a more powerful router, signal booster or by moving your router to a better location.

  3. The display hardware (TV, computer, tablet or Smartphone). It may be old, have memory issues, be connected incorrectly or lots of other things. That is usually the hardest to solve so it is best to look at the first two closely before you start that type of diagnosis.

Streaming video should not have regular stuttering or buffering as long as you are using a fast internet connection and have newer hardware that is connected properly. However, it can happen no matter how powerful your setup is because of spikes in traffic on the ISP or content provider side (i.e. Netflix). You have to know your baseline because it is not ever going to be 100% with current technology. I see it briefly a couple of times a week at the most and I use it for hours daily.

Try a different browser. I get choppy stops watching live-stream sports events on Firefox, but not on Chrome. You might also need to make sure your browser is updated to the latest version.

Took the speedtest – download speed was 72 Mbps.

It might be the wi/fi router; I’m not sure what version of 8.xxwhatever it is, but I suspect it’s not current.

Also, try and do a speed test while streaming a movie, and again while streaming a movie while it is choking.

That is really fast even for high-definition video. It is something else. Nice wireless 802.AC routers aren’t that expensive if you don’t already have one and you need one to support a trunk speed that fast. The other choke point could be the wireless adapter on the display device itself. Those can be cheap for computers but are more of a hassle for SmartTV’s (that is why I don’t like smart TV’s). You maybe able to get a Chromecast or a Ruku that fixes the problem as long as your signal reaches it well. They are pretty inexpensive as well.

These issues almost always boil down to poor wifi signal. I bought an extra-long ethernet cable and ran it from my router to my streaming devices and never had another problem.