Sound familiar: The tension rises — and the movie stops. All because the video is buffering. Read on to learn what buffering is in terms of online streaming, what causes buffering issues, and how to prevent buffering. We’ll also tell you how Avira Free Security’s junk cleaner, antivirus protection, VPN, Browser Safety add-on, and software updater can help you play videos more smoothly and increase video quality.
On-demand streaming allows you to watch movies and series however, whenever, and wherever you want — all thanks to the internet. Whether video platforms such as YouTube, broadcaster media libraries, or streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, or WOW TV — the streaming offering is now huge. There are also many live TV providers that allow you to watch TV online in real time.
You can now enjoy all these streaming offerings on just as many devices. These often include smart TVs or dumb TVs with a streaming stick or streaming box, desktop computers and laptops, tablets and smartphones as well as video game consoles.
However, constant buffering can really spoil your streaming enjoyment. Especially when watching online TV or streaming live content, it’s really annoying when — particularly at peak times — your viewing experience is interrupted temporarily right in the middle of the action and you’re left having to look at a spinning buffering icon.
What is buffering?
With online streaming, media content such as movies, music, or podcasts are played directly over the internet. The required data is not downloaded to your device prior to you viewing or listening to it but is instead transmitted in a continuous stream. To do this, the stream is divided into small data packets and delivered in chunks, so to speak. To compensate for irregularities in the data connection and to minimize delays, some data segments are preloaded and cached.
This caching is called buffering. It’s what allows you to start playing a video before the video is fully loaded. When you watch the video, the remaining data packets are then delivered. The progress bar in the media player shows you how much of the process has been done. You only notice the buffering process if it’s too slow and playback stutters or stops.
You can’t avoid buffering or caching when streaming content, but you can eliminate the causes that lead to buffering delays and issues.
What causes buffering issues and how do you resolve them?
A range of reasons might lie behind buffering issues, including the internet connection, router, browser, or streaming device. Depending on the cause or device, different solutions are available to minimize or even stop the buffering delay. Before we take a closer look at some of the possible causes, here are a few quick first-aid measures you can take to stop buffering:
- Pause the video stream: Stop the video stream and let it preload for a few minutes to build up a larger buffer.
- Switch off the router briefly: Sometimes, it also helps to switch the router off and then on again after about 30 seconds or to briefly unplug it from the mains. By the way, the Wi-Fi signal will be stronger and the connection more stable the closer the router is to the device.
- Switch off the device for a few moments: The same applies to the device on which you are consuming streaming content — whether that’s a PC, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or smart TV.
- Restart the browser, app, or Fire TV stick: Also restarting the web browser, the streaming app, or the TV stick can stop buffering delays.
- Reduce the video quality: The higher the video quality setting, the more data needs to be streamed. It may therefore help to reduce the resolution to stop buffering, especially if you don’t have a fast internet connection.
- Remove other devices connected to the network: Having multiple devices connected to a network can slow down content loading times. To stop buffering, disconnect all unnecessary devices from your network.
- Download the video: Download the desired video to your device and watch it offline. Most streaming services offer apps for different devices. That’s really handy when you’re traveling and there’s no stable or you only have a very patchy Wi-Fi connection — as is often the case especially when traveling by train.
- Check for faults: Discover here if your internet service provider or streaming service has a technical fault such as due to the service is being overloaded as too many people are accessing it at the same time in the evening at prime time.
The root cause: A slow, overused, or unstable internet connection
Most of the time, buffering delays are caused by the internet connection speed being too slow, there not being enough bandwidth, or the Wi-Fi signal being too weak. If data transfer speeds are too slow to keep up with video playback, the stream will be interrupted.
Depending on the resolution, different minimum speeds are recommended for streaming — although these are usually well below empirical values. In the case of Netflix, they recommend you have a minimum download speed of 1 Mbit/s for standard definition (SD) @ 480p, 3 Mbit/s for high definition (HD) @ 720p, 5 Mbit/s for full high definition (FHD) @ 1080p, and 15 Mbit/s for ultra high definition (UHD) @ 4K. Visit Speed Test to check the speed of your internet connection.
If your internet connection is too slow and if you’re also experiencing issues with less data-hungry online applications, it may be worth changing your internet package — such as switching to a DSL plan with higher data transfer speeds, meaning more megabits per second, or – if possible – to a fiber optic or VDSL connection.
This is really worth it if several people in your household share the same internet connection to frequently play online games, stream videos, or video chat — activities that consume vast amounts of data. This is because the total bandwidth of your network is divided among the various connected devices. The more devices that are connected to the network, the lower the speed will be and the more frequently delays will occur when buffering content.
Also check if your router is outdated or its firmware needs updating, and make sure it’s not too far from your streaming device. That way, you can enjoy the strongest Wi-Fi signal. If you can’t get any closer to the router and the signal’s too weak, you can also use a Wi-Fi repeater to boost the signal. Using an Ethernet cable can also give you a more stable internet connection, even if using Wi-Fi is much more convenient.
Contact your internet service provider in cases of doubt to resolve any issues or to get to the bottom of the fault.
Check out our blogpost about how to fix a slow internet connection.
How to stop buffering on your computer or laptop
When enjoying streamed content on a laptop or computer, you’ll typically use a browser. That’s because some streaming services don’t offer apps for those devices. As such, let’s take a closer look at browsers first.
- Use recommended browsers: Some streaming services recommend certain browsers for their offering — and typically always the latest version.
- Close browser tabs: Having too many tabs open at the same time can slow down your browser speed. So close all those tabs that you don’t currently need and avoid using other data-hungry online apps when streaming video.
- Declutter your browser: Your browser saves accessed content such as text and images in what’s known as the cache. This enables the browser to make this content available quickly when accessed again. Over time, a lot of things can build up in the cache and affect your surfing speed. Therefore, it’s worth clearing the cache on a regular basis.
Avira’s junk cleaner is an essential tool to help you do precisely that. Not only does it help you clear the browser cache but it also deletes other unnecessary files and junk to make your device run faster and smoother again. Avira Free Security includes our free junkcleaner, among other useful tune-up utilities. Avira Prime for Mac also has a cookie cleaner that clears your browser of this unnecessary clutter. Check out our blogpost on how to delete browser cookies on other devices for more info.
- Protect your browser: Adware can also sap your browser speed. Avira Browser Safety not only helps you block adware but also other browser dangers.
- Close other programs: Too many programs running at the same time can also consume resources and lead to slow buffering when streaming. So close applications that you don’t need to have open — including inactive ones that only run in the background and strain your device without you noticing.
- Check your device for malware: Malware, especially spyware, can also reduce your surfing speed, causing buffering issues when streaming. Antivirus protection, which is also included in Avira Free Security, helps you check your device for malware and remove it, if necessary.
- Download updates: Make sure that both your device’s operating system and graphics card driver are up to date and install any updates, if needed. Avira Software Updater for Windows, which is part of Avira Free Security, helps you find outdated programs and drivers, and update them.
- Change your VPN server: You may experience buffering delays when streaming via a VPN. That’s because data is transmitted in an encrypted format and sometimes redirected over long distances. So either choose a VPN server near you or try another server in your chosen country, which may be less busy. Avira Phantom VPN from the already mentioned all-in-one solution Avira Free Security offers you a choice of 1,400 servers in 37 countries. In the application’s overview screen, you’ll see the current response time in milliseconds next to the server location, so you can always find the fastest connection.
How to stop buffering on your smartphone or tablet
If you’re streaming over a cellular network on your mobile device and don’t have an unlimited data plan, any buffering issues may be due to your data volume being used up and your surfing speed being throttled. That’s because streaming, in particular, uses a vast amount of data.
- Reduce the resolution: You can prevent buffering issues by reducing your video resolution. As your smartphone’s screen is small, a lower resolution won’t be as noticeable as it would on a large smart TV, for example. Some streaming apps such as YouTube also offer a data saver mode in their settings, which automatically reduces image quality as soon as you use the app when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi.
- Use Wi-Fi: It goes without saying that connecting to Wi-Fi is always the best option when streaming on your smartphone or tablet to avoid buffer-related delays and preserve your precious data plan.
- Download the video: Alternatively, you can view the desired video by downloading it in your streaming app before disconnecting from your home network.
- Install updates: Also check for updates to your mobile operating system and streaming app, and install them if necessary to stop slow buffering on your iOS or Android device.
- Clear your app cache: Android users can clear the cache of individual apps in the app settings under Storage to minimize buffering issues.
How to stop buffering on your smart TV
To stop buffering on your smart TV, first try simply switching the device and/or the router off and on again or restarting the app.
Also check whether your smart TV’s apps and firmware, also known as the operating or system software, are up to date and update them, if needed. It’s best to select Automatic updates in the settings, then you won’t have to worry about doing that anymore.
Since smart TVs also store frequently used data in cache, buffering problems when streaming can also be solved by clearing the app cache.
How to stop buffering on an Amazon Fire TV stick
You can sometimes stop buffering on a Fire TV stick by restarting the TV stick or streaming app. As with all streaming devices, the latest updates usually ensure better streaming performance. So update your apps regularly and check for new software updates. On the Amazon TV stick, you can find app updates in the settings under Apps and system updates under My Fire TV > About > Check for system update.
Since storage space on your Fire stick is limited, it may be worth clearing the cache on your TV stick every now and then to ensure a better streaming experience with fewer buffering interruptions. To do this, go to Apps in the settings and then Manage installed apps. Now select the app you want and choose Clear cache.
Conclusion: One solution to several buffering issues
If you’ve got this far and followed our tips, buffering delays should now be a thing of the past — regardless of your device and whether you’re enjoying live or on-demand content. As you now know, buffering issues can have many causes — some of which can be fixed easily with a free solution. All that remains for us to say is enjoy buffer-free video streaming!
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