Many of us aren’t watching live TV any more, instead we're turning to subscriptions from the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+.
But for all its advantages, there’s one problem common to all streaming services: the dreaded buffering that reduces video to a stuttering, unplayable mess.
What can you do when buffering threatens to ruin a good TV show binge? In this guide, we’ll offer up a few tips explaining how to get the most from your broadband and hopefully banish buffering forever.
Streaming and buffering: the key points
What is buffering?
When streaming a video, the video data is sent as you view it.
Buffering occurs because a video isn’t being delivered fast enough to keep up with the rate that it’s being viewed. This will cause the video to stop playing until the stream can download, or buffer, the right amount of data.
Video buffering can be seen even on the fastest internet connection speed. But if the connection is poor, it'll happen constantly as you repeatedly catch up to the stream, or run out of data. And then have to wait for it to buffer again.
What causes buffering?
There are a variety of issues that can cause problems with buffering.
Your broadband might be too slow. Or maybe it's fast enough, but instead, you have a weak Wi-Fi signal. Maybe there’s a network fault through your internet service provider or a problem with the streaming service itself.
If it’s a broadband network or streaming service error, there may not be much you can do. But often, it’ll be caused by the equipment in your home and is something that we can attempt to fix.
The tips below are focused on solving common issues with home broadband wireless routers and playback devices, as this is the stuff you can actually control. But if you find there’s still no improvement, you may need to speak to your ISP (internet service provider) tech support team or check with the streaming service to see if there are any known outages.
A speed of 5Mb is a comfortable minimum. This can allow you to stream one video in HD. As a very bare minimum, 2Mb should support low-quality streams without too much buffering, but it wouldn't give you the best experience.
If you are going to regularly stream video and want to enjoy HD while not worrying too much about what else is going on with the broadband, we highly recommend you choose fibre broadband with a speed of at least 35Mb.
Need help understand what 'Mb' means? Head over to our 'quick guide to bits and bytes'.
How to stop buffering and improve video streaming
Test your broadband
Use our free online speed test to see how your broadband is performing. This can help show whether the problem is with your equipment or the broadband line.
Not sure what speed you should be getting? Your broadband provider should have given you an estimated speed when signing up, but if you can’t find any record of this, call and ask. You may also find this information in your latest bill or your online account portal.
If the broadband speed is much slower than normal, there may be a problem. This could be with your broadband router, your broadband or phone line, or the ISP’s network. You can contact technical support if you need help finding a solution.
It’s not unusual to see the speed fluctuate at different times of the day. To get a clearer picture of whether this is a temporary or ongoing problem, you should test the speed morning, afternoon and evening over several days. If it’s consistently below the estimated speed, then get in touch with your broadband provider.
If your provider has signed up to the Ofcom code of conduct for broadband speed, it commits to either fix the problem, give you a discount, or let you leave the contract without penalty.
It’s crucial that you disable all other devices and unnecessary software connected to your broadband when testing speed. Also, the device you’re using to test the speed should be connected to the router with a network cable. If that’s not possible, then sit right next to the router to ensure the Wi-Fi signal is as strong as possible.
Reduce the streaming video quality
The higher the video quality, the faster broadband speed it’ll need. Adjusting the video stream quality to suit your broadband connection is often an immediate and easy fix to buffering.
Most streaming services let you manually configure this, some by selecting a specific resolution such as 1080p or 4K.
Other services offer ‘high’, ‘medium’, or ‘low’ settings. Typically, ‘low’ will mean 480p or standard definition, while high equates to 1080p or Full HD.
Some services use an automatic quality feature that dynamically adjusts the video to suit your broadband speed. So rather than experiencing buffering, you might instead notice a reduction in the video quality.
Shut down other devices and apps
Every device connected to your broadband will reduce the available bandwidth. When you’re going to stream, try switching off everything that’s not being used to ensure there’s enough room for the video.
Watch out for apps or services running in the background that might place additional strain on your connection. Shut these off or pause them until you’re done.
This is not generally going to be an issue on something like a TV box, smart TV, or dedicated streaming device like an Amazon Fire Stick. But if you’re streaming on your computer it can be a cause of buffering.
Pause the stream and let it buffer
Try to avoid an endless play/buffer/play cycle by pausing the video to let the buffer fill well ahead of where you are on the video. That way, you won’t continually run into the end of the available stream.
Most software will indicate how much of the content has been buffered within the video player’s seek bar or ‘scrubber’. You can see this for yourself right now by going to any video on YouTube and pausing it. However, if your internet speed is slow, you may need to pause the video multiple times.
High-speed internet but slow buffering? Try Limiting bandwidth on other devices and apps
Modern broadband can be fast, but even the best connection may be overwhelmed if you throw too much at it. Certain activities, such as file downloads, may simply use up as much bandwidth as possible if not restrained, choking anything else.
If you want to keep something else running during a stream, check the software settings for a bandwidth limit to cap its usage and leave enough spare capacity for your video.
Restart your hardware and software
The classic 'turn it off and on again' can solve many problems.
Begin by restarting the software. If that doesn’t work, reboot the streaming device. You can also try disconnecting from the internet on the device and reconnecting.
Finally, try power cycling your home broadband router. Just remember this will cut off the internet to your entire home, and it can take a few minutes to reconnect. To do this, you just need to turn off the router itself, leave it for a couple of minutes, and then switch it back on.
Reset and upgrade your software
It could be that the software you’re trying to stream with needs updating. Though your TV, Android or iOS device will often tell you if it’s necessary, it doesn’t hurt to check for yourself.
If there are no updates available, you can try uninstalling and reinstalling the app.
Download the video
Some streaming services give the option to download the video instead of streaming it.
You’ll have to wait for the download, and these can be quite large, but once complete, you’ll be able to play it without interruption. Or even play offline if you’re going somewhere without internet.
Get the best Wi-Fi signal
Weak Wi-Fi is a common culprit of broadband problems. Taking the time to set this up correctly is important.
Make sure your Wi-Fi router is in the best position possible. Ideally, you want the router to be in a central location in your home, away from appliances such as microwaves, fridges, and cordless phones.
Most routers are now dual-band, which means they can operate 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks at the same time. Enable both to get the best performance from all your devices.
The 2.4Ghz frequency is slower but has a longer range and may be the only one supported by older devices. 5Ghz is used for newer Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 devices; it’s much faster but has a shorter range.
If you need to extend the range of a network, there are a few options.
- Wi-Fi boosters are a cheap way to get more range, but the boosted signal isn’t as fast.
- A Wi-Fi mesh network kit can provide great coverage and speed around your home, but it will cost more than a booster.
- Powerline networking transmits data over electrical circuits and can be an easy and relatively affordable way to get both wired and wireless connections in any room. It just depends on the configuration of your home’s circuitry.
For further information and help, read these guides:
Clean up your browser settings
If you’re streaming something like ITV Hub or the BBC iPlayer on a browser, your problem could be with the browser. You might need to clear the cache.
To do this in Google Chrome, click on the three dots in the top right and click on settings. In your settings, you go down to privacy and security settings. You can click to clear browsing data for whatever amount of time you feel is necessary.
Use QoS to optimise for streaming
Quality of Service or QoS is a feature found on many Wi-Fi routers which allows you to prioritise specific applications or activities.
Using QoS, you can reserve a portion of your broadband bandwidth just for streaming to ensure you always meet the minimum speed requirements.
Remember that this will reduce the speed of everything else on your connection. You must be mindful of the impact on your shared broadband for other people in the home.
Check your router’s admin console or dig out the user manual to find out how to use QoS.
Use a wired connection
Wi-Fi is useful, but it’s not always the best way to stream.
If you can, use a wired network Ethernet cable to bring broadband to your streaming device. This will often result in a faster and more reliable connection.
Upgrade your broadband speed
If your broadband isn’t faulty but simply not quick enough to cope with the video, then it’s a good reason to consider an upgrade.
Most homes in the UK now have access to fibre optic broadband, and there are lots of cheap broadband deals, or bundled TV and broadband packages. Here are some of the best going at the moment:
Enter your address below to see what else you could get.
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Buffering is something that we all wind up dealing with at some point. But with fast broadband, you’ll definitely need to put up with it less often.
Use our speed test to see what speeds you’re getting now. Compare that to the recommended speeds of the services that you want to use. If you’re not getting the speeds you need, even when connected to the router with everything off, you can look into other broadband providers. We recommend you get fibre broadband if it's available in your area.
If the speeds are fine, but you’re still having problems, you might need to improve your wireless signal. You can use Wi-Fi boosters or powerline networking to do that. You can also move your router to a better location and see if that helps.
Why do we need your address?
We need your address to show you the broadband deals available at your home. This information is gathered in partnership with thinkbroadband.