Saturday, July 30, 2022

Buffering issues when streaming

One complaint I see on support forums is about streaming devices buffering. You know, you're watching something on your Roku or you Fire TV device (or whatever) and suddenly the image stops, the circle appears, and after a few to several seconds, things pick up again.

Why does this happen? Well, there are a variety of possible causes. And the one that most people jump to most often isn't always the actual reason.

For many, the default response is to increase the Internet service speed. That may or may not be the problem. And, to make it more confusing, even if speed isn't the cause, it may be the solution, though not the best solution.

If you are experiencing buffering, it could be that your Internet service speed is too slow. So how do you find out? Well, that depends on how you stream. For example, I'm not an Internet gamer. No online games for me. It's just not something in which I have an interest. But, if you are a gamer, you want to get as much bandwidth as you can.

But if you are not a gamer, you should ask  yourself how much streaming does your household do? One stream at a time? Two? Three?

Generally, 25 Mbps is sufficient to stream. Sure, you'll find some that say you must have 200 Mbps or 1000 Mbps or some other high number. But, that's not so. If you are a simple streamer, with one stream, you can stream 4K video quality with 25 Mbps. But there's a catch. There's always a catch.

The catch is that you must have a good quality network delivering the 25 Mbps to your streaming device. If you network is sub-par, then you'll get sub-par performance. Your router can be getting 100 Mbps, but a wireless device may not be getting 25 Mbps consistently if your network isn't delivering it consistently.

All of the pieces involved in streaming -- your streaming device, your wireless network, your service speed, the Internet connections between  you and the source -- all are a part of the chain. And whichever link is the weakest is the strength of the chain. If your network can't provide proper coverage in your location, then it doesn't really matter how fast your service speed is if it can't maintain a connection to utilize it.

The TV Answer Man has an article recently about a similar topic, and he offered four solutions. I think what he offered was good, and covered many aspects of it, but I did want to expand a little on something I think needs more stress.

At the high level, here are his suggestions. Click the link to see the details on each.

  1. Change the channel or show.
  2. Reset your home WiFi network.
  3. Upgrade your Internet plan.
  4. Delete and reinstall the app.

Here are some thoughts I have on what he offered.

  1. Change the channel or show. This will help determine if it's a problem at the source. If the originating stream has a problem, there's nothing you can do about it. If changing fixes it, then it's probably the source. And switching back may allow you to skip whatever in the stream was a problem and the stream will be clear going forward.
  2. Reset your home WiFi network. Not that by "reset" he's not saying "factory reset." He means turn it off and on again. Sometimes your network my simply need that. All networks run into issues on occasion and simply turning it off and on again may fix it. It's cliche, but it's cliche for a reason: it often works.
  3. Upgrade your Internet plan. This is the last resort in my mind. Don't spend money if  you don't need to spend money. Besides, if the problem isn't your Internet speed, you will still have the issue. But his thoughts on 25 Mbps are in line with mine, so no disagreement there.
  4. Delete and reinstall the app. This is a more drastic version of "turn it off and on again." And I will add that it's a good idea -- and for Roku a requirement -- to reboot the machine after removing the app and before reinstalling the app. A lot of people skip the reboot, or do the order differently, but the order matters. Remove/Reboot/Reinstall is not the same as Remove/Reinstall/Reboot or Reboot/Remove/Reinstall. Do it as Remove/Reboot/Reinstall every time.

Again, I don't really disagree with him, but I do think that your local network should receive some scrutiny, especially if your Internet speed is already above the recommended speed. Going higher isn't really the best answer. Getting a good network is the best answer.

If you are having streaming issues, give the suggestions the TV Answer Man had a try. But if your speed is sufficient, look at upgrading your network before you increase your plan's speed. It will be better in the long run for  your Streaming Life.

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