How to Get Your Streaming Video to Stop Buffering So Darn Much

“Buffering… buffering.. buffering…” It’s maddening, especially if you’ve cut the cord and embraced streaming video. If you’re dealing with stuttering, hanging, or just low quality video, there are a few things you can do to improve it.

Check Your Internet Connection Speed

Before you do anything, run a speed test to see how your internet is performing. Some connections are just too slow to play videos at high quality settings without buffering.

If you want to know how fast your connection is, try visiting Netflix’s own Fast.com or Speedtest.net. Netflix’s website recommends specific Internet speeds for different quality levels. For example, if you want to stream in HD quality, Netflix recommends a speed of at least 5 Mbps.

If the tools say your connection is slower than that, your connection speed may just be too slow for streaming video. You may be able to contact your Internet service provider and pay more for a faster Internet connection—or switch to another Internet service provider that provides one.

If you know you pay for a faster connection than what you’re getting, there could be a few issues at play. Maybe your Wi-Fi network isn’t very strong in that room–try connecting your computer to the router with an Ethernet cable and running the test again. If it shows better speeds, your Wi-Fi network may be to blame (see below). If you get poor speeds even when wired up, though, you’ll want to contact your internet provider’s customer service and find out why you aren’t getting the speeds you pay for.

Improve Your Wi-Fi Signal

wireless-router-isolation

If, after running the above tests, you find that your Wi-Fi network is to blame, it’s time to go to work. There are many different ways to improve your Wi-Fi connection and reduce interference. Position your router in a place where walls, metal objects, and equipment won’t block or interfere with its signal. If it’s on the other side of the house, consider moving your modem and router closer to the living room, where your streaming devices are. Check out our full guide to improving your Wi-Fi for more tips in this arena.

If you have an older router, consider upgrading your router to a new one that supports the latest, fastest Wi-Fi standards. If your streaming devices support new Wi-Fi standards but your router doesn’t, you won’t get the benefits of them until you upgrade that router.

Try a Wired Ethernet Connection

Improving your Wi-Fi is useful, but is a big hassle–and just isn’t easy in some houses. If you can, consider connecting your streaming device directly to your router with an Ethernet cable. It’s easy to go straight for Wi-Fi when setting these devices up, but Wi-Fi is rarely the best option when it comes to speed and reliability.

Most modern streaming devices have an Ethernet port, including Roku boxes, the Apple TV, and Amazon fire TV box, not to mention video game consoles like the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. Many smart TVs have built-in Ethernet ports too, which helps if you’re streaming with the smart TV’s built-in apps.

Not every device has Ethernet ports, though. In particular, you won’t find them on smaller streaming sticks like the Google Chromecast, Fire TV stick, and Roku stick.

If a device does have an Ethernet port, you can connect it to one of the ports on the back of your router with an Ethernet cable. There shouldn’t even be any software setup involved–the device should notice and use the Ethernet connection automatically, and you’ll hopefully see a noticeable increase in quality and speed.

Ensure You Aren’t Maxing Out Your Connection

For most people, the above tips should do wonders. But in some cases, even a fast internet plan and a wired connection won’t solve buffering problems–and that’s usually a result of you overloading the connection.

For example, someone else in your house may also be trying to stream on another TV, or you may be maxing out your connection with BitTorrent downloads, large PC game downloads, or other heavy activity on another PC. Ensure none of your devices are doing heavy downloading or streaming, which can saturate your connection.

You could even try setting up Quality of Service on your router, if your router offers it. QoS would allow you to prioritize streaming video traffic and deprioritize other tips of traffic, making your router automatically slow traffic you deem less important.

Configure Streaming Settings on YouTube, Netflix, and Other Services

It’s possible to dig into the settings on many different services, including YouTube and Netflix, and choose your desired quality setting.

However, these services are all set to automatically provide you with the optimal quality setting depending on your connection. That’s why video quality sometimes decreases when your internet is slow or saturated—the service is choosing to provide you with lower video quality rather than freeze the video and wait to buffer.

If you do see buffering messages, you may have configured the service to always choose high video quality levels that your connection isn’t fast enough to handle.

On YouTube, the automatic setting in the lower right-hand corner of a video helps ensure that it doesn’t buffer. If you immediately choose a high setting when videos start playing and your connection isn’t fast enough, the video will have to buffer first.

On Netflix, you can visit the Your Account page and click “Playback Settings” under My Profile. You’ll then be able to choose Low, Medium, High, or Auto. Auto is the best option—you’ll get the best possible video quality. If you set it to High, Netflix may need to buffer videos before you play them if your connection is slow. Set it to Auto and you’ll get high quality if your connection can handle it, anyway.

These settings should exist on most other services, too. Go into the service’s settings on their web page or on your streaming device, and look for an option that allows you to control its video quality. Be sure it’s set to “Auto” and not a high quality level for buffer-free streaming on your Internet connection.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Twitter.