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What Is Video Buffering and How Can You Stop It?

It's an experience we’ve all had at some point. You’re sitting there, watching whatever series you’re currently binging, and the video just keeps buffering. That little circle of death just keeps spinning and spinning. 

And this issue isn’t unique to on demand streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. It can also occur with sites such as YouTube and even music streaming applications like Spotify and YouTube Music. 

If this issue wasn’t annoying enough before, it has become worse in the last year as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to spend more time indoors than ever before. Naturally, this has led to an increase in the amount of time people spend online, with much of it being spent using online streaming services and gaming. 

So how can you stop buffering? 

In this guide we’re going to look at exactly what causes buffering, what it is, and some of the most effective ways to reduce it.

 

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What Causes Buffering?

When you watch something on Netflix, or any other streaming service, the software downloads a certain amount of data into a designated memory reserve called the buffer.

The purpose of the buffer is to give viewers an uninterrupted streaming service by loading a decent amount of data into the buffer before it begins playing the movie or episode. Once it’s started playing, the software downloads the next portion of the video file in the background, and the process continues in this way until the end.

When you experience buffering it’s almost the result of a lack of available bandwidth, most commonly caused by a slow or unstable Internet connection. In some cases, as seen at the start of the lockdown, buffering can occur when a content provider is overrun with requests, and it begins to put users into a queue.

How to Stop Buffering 

When buffering occurs, especially during the release of a new episode or movie, the continual stopping and starting can be exceptionally frustrating. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to fix this issue.

Close Unused Applications and Tabs

Even with the high amount of RAM and CPU power most devices possess these days, having too many applications running in the background can eat up a system's processing resources, resulting in longer loading times and even buffering. 

If you’re using a computer and have a low-quality graphics card, you’re even more likely to experience buffering, as a low-quality graphics card requires increased resources to process incoming video data.

What’s more, many background applications take up bandwidth by checking for updates, downloading data, and sending information. 

When it comes to this issue, some of the biggest culprits include BitTorrent clients, Skype and other VoIP/video conferencing software, Discord, Steam, and video games that are loaded but not being played. 

Even when minimized, these programs are always sending and receiving data and should be the first to be closed when you encounter buffering.

Another major source of buffering is having too many browser tabs open at once. Every website you have loaded consumes bandwidth, and some people have the habit of having 20 or more tabs open at once, sometimes across several different browsers.  

Moreover, some websites use up a much greater degree of bandwidth than others, and the biggest offenders include Facebook, YouTube, Dropbox, Twitch and Twitter.

Ensure Nothing is Downloading in Background

Downloading large files can take up a significant amount of bandwidth, and this can be compounded when you have multiple items downloading at once. A good example of this would be a BitTorrent client, which is often used to download and share files with relative ease. 

In some cases, transfer speeds can be extremely fast, and may end up occupying the majority of your bandwidth limit. Another example of a large background download could be a Windows update or piece of software.

If you start experiencing buffering while you have other downloads going on, your best bet is to either wait for the files to stop downloading or simply put them on pause until you're done streaming.

Put the Stream on Pause For A Few Minutes

Sometimes the buffer may need a few moments to load enough data before playing. Instead of continually restarting the video, it is best to step away for a few moments and allow the program to build up a sufficient buffer of information. The more data in the buffer a video has, the fewer interruptions you will experience.

 

Lower the Video Quality

If you have limited bandwidth resources or you can’t pause or shut off background processes, there is always the option of reducing the video quality slightly. 

 

To demonstrate this point, here’s how much bandwidth different video quality settings use.

 

Video Quality

Mbps Required

720p standard frame rate

5 Mbps

720p high frame rate

7 Mbps

1080p standard frame rate

8 Mbps

1080p high frame rate

12 Mbps

2k standard frame rate

16 Mbps

2k high frame rate

24 Mbps

4k standard frame rate

45 Mbps

4k high frame rate

68 Mbps

 

As you can see, there is quite a difference in bandwidth requirements between 720p and 4k, and sometimes all you need to do to effectively reduce buffering is reduce the video quality to a setting that requires less Mbps.

Purchase A Faster Internet Package

In some cases, no matter how many tabs you close or how low you set the video quality, some Internet packages simply don’t provide sufficient bandwidth to stream videos in peace, especially with other applications running in the background.  

For light gaming and streaming needs, with just a few devices, a 25Mbps connection should be fine. However, if you’re looking to stream HD or 4K video to multiple devices and have a serious gamer in the household you should consider High-Speed Internet connections of 50Mbps or 100Mbps.

If you don’t know your current Internet speed, there are several free speed testing tools available online. The most popular is speedtest.net.

If this is the case, your only option is to upgrade to a faster Internet speed that can handle streaming without buffering. 

 

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Check If Other Devices Are Connected to Your Network

Much like excess browser tabs and background programs, other devices connected to your Internet network can have a draining effect on your bandwidth. 

In years past this was not a major issue, since most people only had a few devices connected at once. These days, however, the number of devices connected to a single network has increased dramatically, and can include items such as smartphones, tablets, assistance devices like Google Home/Alexa, and even smart appliances.

Just like background applications, all these devices are constantly sending and receiving information, and if your overall bandwidth capacity is on the lower side, it could leave little resources available when it comes time to stream your favorite series.

Clear Temporary Cache Files

When people encounter problems loading or using certain webpages, one of the most common pieces of advice given by IT professionals is to clear their cache. While most people are likely to be familiar with the term, not everyone knows exactly what it means. 

Cache files were created based on the assumption that your computer is faster than your Internet connection. Because of this, certain HTML files, such as images and web content, are stored in your web browser and loaded when you revisit the corresponding website. In general, this process helps to reduce bandwidth consumed, since it doesn’t require loading everything from an external server every visit.

Sometimes, however, a browser can get overloaded with temporary cache data, which results in the use of more bandwidth. In this case, simply entering the settings option in your browser and selecting ‘delete cache files’ is enough to fix this problem.

Switched to A Wired Ethernet Connection

Although WiFi is significantly more convenient, a wired ethernet connection is measurably faster. This is why serious gamers opt for wired connection instead of a wireless router signal.

To illustrate this point, one of the fastest wireless network standards, called 802.11ac, can deliver max speeds of close to 1 gig per second. While this is impressive, it pales in comparison to the top-rated Ethernet cable, which can deliver speeds of up to 10 gigs per second! 

Of course, the average person does not have an Internet package that allows them to reach anything even close to these speeds, but it is still a good example of how much faster a wired connection is.

On top of this, connection speed is not solely about raw bandwidth, and latency has a large factor to play in Internet speed as well. Latency, in the simplest of terms, refers to how long it takes data to get from one device to its destination. In the arena of networking and online gaming, latency is also called ping, and the best way to lower your ping is by running a wired ethernet connection.

 

Buffering on Your Smart TV

Some of the above strategies above may not be applicable if you are experiencing buffering while watching on a Smart TV (closing tabs, closing other applications, etc.). 

However, there are still some things you can do to improve the quality of your streaming:

  • Connect your TV directly to your router with an ethernet cable. If this improves the issue, you may have a connection problem between your TV and router.
  • Test different streaming apps (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) on your TV. If only one app buffers, the problem is probably with the platform itself, not your TV or connection.
  • Check your connection speed at different times of the day. Oftentimes, download speeds decrease later in the day as more people use the Internet.
     
  • Try moving your router closer to your TV. Walls and other structural elements can interfere with WiFi signals, causing your connection speed to suffer.
  • Restart your Smart TV and see if that helps things. To do this, unplug your TV for one minute and hold down the power button for five seconds. Then plug your TV back in and turn it on.
  • Reduce your video quality. For example, reducing Netflix from 4k playback to 1080p reduces the bandwidth needed from 25 Mbps to around 5 Mbps. 

 

Conclusion

Issues with buffering don’t mean you have to miss out on watching the latest episode of your newest show or viewing a highly anticipated live sporting event. 

In most cases, buffering issues can be greatly reduced simply by following the different steps we have covered in this article.

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Tired of buffering? Click here to get blazing fast High-Speed Internet up to 100Mbps.

Or Call 330-775-7712 and ask about savings and promotions available in your area.

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