September 20th, 2016

It’s a sight familiar to many cordcutters. No, not Richard Belzer’s face (although it’s hard not to be) — that all-too-common buffering icon. The infuriating, interrupting spinning wheel that signals the end of a smooth viewing experience. For the rest of the episode, you’ll be putting up with constant stop-starts as your crummy internet connection tries to contend with streaming in HD, that wheel taunting you all the while.

Buffering in all its forms — from the pixelated downturn in streaming quality to just cutting out completely — is the result of issues with your internet connection. Whether it’s overloaded, weak, or somewhere in between, that’s the main culprit.

This is 2016! It shouldn’t be an issue anymore! You’re quite right. In fact, there are ways to combat this scourge and make sure your weekend binge of your favorite flavor of Real Housewives doesn’t keep freezing at the exact moment the shade is being thrown. We’ve collated these top tips for reducing buffering when streaming television at home.

1.Check Your Current Connection

Before we can furnish you with a cure, we need to make sure of the diagnosis. First things first, when sorting out these buffering problems, check to see exactly what you’re working with. There are numerous online services that can measure the current upload and download speeds your internet connection is giving you at any given moment — that is, how much is being expended on putting stuff out there (sending emails, writing Facebook updates, etc.), and how much is spent on bringing data in (downloading web pages, streaming video).

Our friends at DigitalTrends have done an excellent job at rounding up the best internet sites to truly test your internet speed. Check out one or two of their suggestions to see what kind of numbers you end up with. Remember that the most important number for streaming is the download speed. Here’s a recent picture of one of my tests.

Sample internet speed test results

With this information to hand, you can see if your upload/download speeds are especially terrible, compared to the data allowance given by your service provider. Depending on your plan, there could be a cap on your speeds — which might explain the buffering problem, meaning you might consider shelling out a little more for a bigger allowance — or there might be something else to blame for the holdup… In case you are not satisfied with your results, it may be a good idea to call your internet service provider and ask about their advertised speed versus your current internet speed.

2. Get Up To Speed

One more thing to get clear before moving forward with the buffering-busting. If you want to get streaming video at your desired quality, then there are requirements on how fast your internet connection is. For a streaming video service such as VIDGO, you at least need a broadband connection speed of 0.5 Megabits per second, with 1.5 Megabits per second being the recommended threshold for video that’s actually watchable.

There’s a curve upwards in proportion to the quality of the video, too. Around 3.0 Megabits per second is needed for standard definition quality, 5.0 Megabits for HD, and for that crystal-clear verging-on-4K picture? You’re looking at a massive 25 Megabits per second. Whether you can reach any of these requirements will depend on the strength of your signal, the data speeds in your area, and the allowance your service provider gives you. Is that all clear? Then we shall proceed!

3. Close Everything Else

The second screen experience is steadily gaining traction. Watching a TV show in and of itself isn’t enough: whilst you’re streaming a show through your television, you’re also looking up that supporting cast member you vaguely recognize on your tablet, tweeting your reactions to the latest plot twist on your phone, updating your Facebook, and so on. All of which is the equivalent of having a lot of tabs open on your laptop; which is to say it has the cumulative effect of slowing everything down.

Makes sense, right? If you have too much going on at once, it becomes difficult to juggle everything. Not to mention it’s exhausting. So spare a thought for your poor internet connection, struggling to deal with downloading and uploading all of this data whilst also streaming in the high definition you’ve become accustomed to. This is the first thing to try if you’re having buffering woes: close everything else, have the show be the only thing your internet is dealing with. It probably pays to focus on the TV, too, you might catch something before Detective Munch does!

4. Clear The Cache

If you’re still streaming stuff on your computer, there’s a whole host of other issues that could be stopping you from having a smooth viewing experience. You may have noticed slow-down issues with your laptop’s performance in general, which more often than not has to do with the amount of memory you’re working with. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to run out and upgrade your hard drive or RAM, however. Nope, it could be as easy as just clearing out the cache.

The cache is part of your computer’s internal memory which holds onto things like cookies and Temporary Internet Files. These things can be handy in loading web pages faster, remembering passwords, and that sort of thing. Ironically, though, they can also cause delays in processes like streaming because they’re taking up so much space. Clearing the cache is a doddle on both PC and Macs: the former has a “Disk Cleanup” program, and on either you can go to your web browser of choice and clean things up in the options menu. (Here’s a more technical explanation of cache, for those of you who want to dig deeper)

5. Change The Channel

You’ve tried those simple solutions, and, still, there’s that wheel separating you from that new episode of American Horror Story. We hear it’s really good this season. Now, we’re not suggesting you change the channel on your streaming service — that’s not going to help with a slow internet connection, .but this proposed solution to the buffering blues is almost as easy as pressing a button on your remote.

Except that in this case, it’s not the television dial you’re adjusting, but your router. The little box that sits by your phone line and pumps out sweet wifi isn’t always configured in the best way for your particular set up. The only problem is that sometimes your signal can clash with those of neighboring devices. Most routers have something like 13 channels to choose from, with the idea being that you can cease these clashes. Your internet service provider should be giving you detailed instructions on this quick fix.

6. Invest In A Wifi Extender

The channels fix is a neat one, and easy to put into action. In some cases, though, it’s just not enough. You could have the profound misfortune of watching most of your streaming television in a wifi deadspot, where the signal is constantly cutting out for mysterious reasons. The reasons for those places in your house with weak signal can be to do with interference from rival signals, thickness of walls, or simply because your wireless signal isn’t quite strong enough to make it from the router to your device of choice.

There are a number of fixes to this, but the most elegant is probably just investing in a wifi extender. These little gadgets can help boost your signal in those hard-to-reach places. You simply plug it into a socket in an area with stronger wifi, preferably somewhere halfway between your router and the problem area, and the wireless internet will piggyback off the extender. Be warned, though: this solution won’t work for everyone, and because the extender is “sharing” the bandwidth of your router, your internet may remain just as slow.

7. Try An Ethernet Connection

It might seem antithetical to the whole “cordcutting” thing, but honestly: if you’ve gotten this far and none of the solutions have worked, then introducing new cables to your house might actually be the answer. Especially for an app like VIDGO, the addition of new cables behind your television won’t be all that much of a problem, aesthetically. It can feel like a bit of a throwback to be plugging your computer straight into your phone line (via the router, at least) — it’s worth it, though, for that stronger connection.

This one’s fairly common sense. Not a particularly strong wireless signal? If that’s the reason you’re having so much buffering trouble, then it stands to reason you might try a wired connection. Ethernet cables are easy to come by, available at most basic electrical stores. You can get them in lengths both short and long, too, meaning that wherever you’re looking to hook up a more stable internet connection, you’ll be sorted. So long as it’s in your house. We wouldn’t recommend you trail one down to the beach, much as you might want to catch up on Law and Order in the beautiful sunshine…

Are there any other tips you have tried to solve a buffering issue?

Originally published at vidgotv.com on September 20, 2016.

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