There is no doubt that the thing that has changed our TV viewing habits more that perhaps anything else, is the creation of Smart TV and video streaming services. With Smart TV and Video on Demand you can choose what you want to watch and when you want to watch it, you probably don’t need your TV/ Satellite/ Freeview recorder anymore and maybe not even a live TV aerial or satellite connection. But, and it can be a big but, if for whatever reason your internet/ WIFI speed is running slow or not working you will get a buffering symbol up on screen which can completely ruin your TV viewing. In this blog, I discuss practical tips and advice on how to remove or reduce your buffering while streaming online TV services, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer etc. Let’s begin.
What is Buffering?
Before we begin addressing how to reduce or remove buffering when streaming video, we should cover what exactly is it so we can understand more about what it is we wish to achieve. Buffering is when your device stops temporarily mid-task, causing your video or audio to stop. It is usually accompanied with a logo like an hourglass or an infinite loop. The reason for buffering is because your TV/ device can not download data fast enough to perform that task that you require it to do it must pause temporarily to gather more data before resuming the paused task. Streaming video is quite “band-width hungry”, especially higher HD resolutions like 4K/ UHD/ 8K meaning that you typically need a faster, more reliable internet connection to stream video than you otherwise do with other online services like browsing the internet or answering e-mails. You could compare this to running a 100m race, you may only be able to do this in 15 seconds but you happen to be racing against Usain Bolt. As you run, he would quickly get ahead and you would need him to stop to allow you to catch up.
Common Causes of Buffering
Slow Internet Speed
Weak WIFI Signal
Too many devices using internet connection at the same time
Faulty/ damaged equipment
System/ network not optimised for broadband speed
Connect Smart TV With An Ethernet Cable (Hardwired Connection)
When you set up your TV to connect to the internet, you have a couple of options to do this. Most TV’s have wireless capability nowadays, meaning you can connect direct to your WIFI and most also have a RJ45 network connection in which an Ethernet lead or data cable can be connected. Setting up your TV to connect is the easiest way to do things, as no extra cabling is required and it usually works fine. But, the problem with WIFI is it doesn’t always provide reliable coverage across your house, especially large houses meaning that you could have WIFI black spots. If you were to install your TV in one of these locations, you might be able to connect to the WIFI fine but it may be a weak WIFI signal making it run much slower than it otherwise does which can cause a slower TV stream and more buffering.
An ideal solution to this would be to connect your Smart TV with an Ethernet cable which would not rely on your WIFI weak signal and maximise the speed of your internet connection. Generally speaking a wired internet connection will nearly always out-perform a wireless connection. The obvious downside of connecting with an Ethernet cable is that your TV may not be near or in the same room as your TV so you may need to drill holes or lift floorboards to do this. This is why it’s a good idea to install network cabling in your house when wiring or re-wiring your property.
Install Powerline Extenders
It’s not always practical to have to pull cables from one part of your home to another, it can be messy, require specialist skills and tools and you may be wondering if there is an easier way. Fortunately, there is with Powerline Extenders. These transmit data over your mains electrical wiring meaning that it is possible to extend a wired LAN or WIFI without having to install new cables. These vary in type and quality and are not as good as installing a dedicated network cable, they are much easier- often just plug-in and go. I discuss these at length my previous article, ‘Powerline Extenders – All You Need To Know’ which I recommend that you read when you’re done here. Another possible downside to Powerline Adapters is that for them to work you must be on the same electrical circuit which isn’t always the case.
Move Broadband Router (WIFI) Closer To Your TV
If your router is in a room which is impractical and you have a weak WIFI signal to your TV, it may be a good idea to move your broadband router closer to where you TV is to improve the WIFI signal and strength. It was common once upon a time to install the main telephone master socket in hallways, where the phone house family phone calls would be made with a chair and a pen and paper. Well, that was a long time ago now and it may be a good idea to move your in your lounge nearby you TV. To do this you would need to either move your telephone master socket, install a telephone extension socket or have a long DSL cable feeding between your telephone socket and your broadband router in your new room. Obviously, this is similar to the work required to route a data cable for an Ethernet connection but the upside of this would be that you would also have a better WIFI connection within your lounge which could be advantageous for things like Smart Phones and tablets.
Install Access Point Near TV
This is sort of a combination of a wired internet connection and moving your broadband hub closer to your TV. You may require an improved wireless internet connection in another part of your property but need to keep your existing WIFI in another part of your property. In which case you could install an access point, this (usually) connects to a LAN/ Ethernet connection which is hard-wired back to your broadband router and acts as a second wireless connection. These are becoming increasingly common with people requiring a reliable wireless connection all across their home/ building and can be used to remove/ reduce WIFI blackspots. Once installed, when connecting your TV to the WIFI, instead of connecting to your main WIFI from your internet router you would instead connect to the access point which will usually have a separate SSID and password. There are ways of setting up multiple access points with a single SSID/ password but that is another article for another day.
WIFI Amplifiers/ WIFI Repeaters
A lot of people I speak with about improving WIFI reception around their house, will have this idea that they can just plug something in and it will fix the weak WIFI signal. This is rarely the case and WIFI repeaters/ amplifiers are often more “miss”, than “hit”. If you were to plug one of these nearby your TV technically you could have a strong WIFI connection, but the problem remains between the main wireless signal between your broadband WIFI and the WIFI repeater. To have any sort of success with repeaters/ amplifiers these should be installed in a position where the main WIFI is good and not too far away from your TV/ other device requiring WIFI. Rather than doing this though and finding that it still doesn’t work satisfactory, wasting your time, energy, money. Another solution would be to use Powerline Extenders that are also capable of providing a WIFI connection or using standard Powerline Adapters and then connecting into a standard access point.
Upgrade Your Broadband Service
You may find that by just changing broadband provider or upgrading your tariff, you could be getting faster broadband speeds by doing this alone. Fibre optic cabling which is capable of providing considerably faster internet speeds is gradually being rolled out, if you’re not using a fibre connection or VDSL connection which has fibre to your nearest data cabinet and utilises the existing copper cabling to improve your broadband speed you could be missing out. Broadband speeds differ depending on your location and fibre so you will need to check what’s possible in your area to maximise your broadband speed.
Pause Program & Return Later
If there is little than can be done to improve the internet connection to your TV, maybe you already have you TV hard-wired over Ethernet but you have a very slow internet connection there are still things in which you can do. One thing is to pause the video stream for a while and allow your TV a chance to download all or part of the TV programme you wish to watch. This obviously isn’t ideal, but if you knew you wanted to watch a programme in the evening after dinner for example, as soon as you got home from work or before you could set the programme up to watch before your dinner, go away, enjoy your food and return to a programme buffer-free.
Stream In A Lower Resolution
The higher quality the picture, the more information is required. This means that if you were trying to stream in 4K with an internet connection not fast enough to sustain that you are going to get buffering. It is a compromise but you could settle on a lower resolution like HD or SD and remove the much or all of the buffering. It depends on the way you’re streaming your video but with service such as Youtube or iPlayer you can change there solution. Services such as Netflix and others are quite clever in the sense that to remove buffering from the downloaded stream it will automatically reduce the picture quality before buffering. This is often visible when viewing programmes or when you first start the programme and the picture quality improves shortly after. Obviously, this isn’t ideal if you want to stream content to maximise the picture quality on your TV where fewer programmes are broadcast over-the-air with services that use a TV aerial or satellite dish.
Stop Other Tasks Requiring An Internet Connection
I hear all the time when speaking with customers, that their internet connection works fine until their children get home who all jump online with multiple devices and starting “zapping” all of their internet connection. As your broadband speed your is limited to your download speed, the more you divide and separate the broadband connection the slower your internet speed will be on each of the devices. If you were to switch off your PC, or tell the children to get off of the WIFI, you may find that this resolves your buffering issues. You can then return to your other tasks once you have finished watching the programme or film that you were streaming.
Optimise Your System For Maximum Broadband Speed
This is mostly for people with old telephone systems and cabling. There are a few simple changes that you can make to your telephone/ internet system to optimise your broadband speed. A couple of suggestions include, make sure you have an up to date telephone master socket. The earliest models were never intended for broadband and can impede your internet speed. Remove or disconnect any redundant telephone extension cabling as this can feed interference back into your telephone system. Make sure you have ADSL filters plugged in where needed or install an ADSL faceplate on your telephone master socket. I recommend installing Active ADSL filters rather than the passive ones.
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