Dear Lifehacker, I like to watch TV episodes from Australian TV online, but am often disappointed with jerky playback. Can you give some pointers on how to diagnose what is the worst link in the chain? And of course, if there is anything I can do to improve matters! Thanks, Square Eyes
Dear Square Eyes,
Online catchup is indeed great — when it works. When the playback is slow and jumpy and frames go missing and the sound appears to come from the bottom of a well, it’s not so great.
The first issue to consider is whether you’re experiencing playback issues with every single network site, or just selected channels. If you’re only have problems with one particular site, realistically there might not be much you can do about it. (I used to have a lot of problems with Ten last year, for instance, but it has been better for me in recent times.)
If you have consistent video playback issues on every site you visit, then you’ve either got a problem with the overall speed of your internet connection, or with the way it gets delivered to your PC (or other device). A useful basic diagnostic tool for checking this out is the bandwidth tester on the ABC’s iView site. Just go to the iView site and click on the Bandwidth link at the top. If this tells you that you haven’t got sufficient speed for video playback, you may need to consider changes.
There are three obvious elements you can alter to improve matters:
- The plan from your ISP. If you’re only on a slower ADSL1 connection, you’ll often find video playback a struggle. If you can get ADSL2+ (not always an option in regional areas), the results will be better. Your current connection type should be indicated on your ISP bill. You can use Whirlpool’s Broadband Choice tool to check if ADSL2+ services are available in your area, and from which providers.
- Your router. If you’ve got an older wireless router, it might not be performing to scratch, and it won’t offer higher speed Wi-Fi connections. While you can install new firmware on it, if it’s more than four years old I’d be tempted to buy a new one and be done with it.
- How you connect. Wi-Fi is handy and portable, but using a cabled connection will ultimately give you better performance. Try connecting directly to your router using an Ethernet cable and see if your performance improves. If it does, it might also be time to wire your house with Ethernet cable. (If it works fine over cable, you’ll also know you don’t need to change ISP.)
Two other thoughts: if you’ve changed your DNS settings (say to use Google’s DNS system), you might want to switch back to your ISP’s defaults. Using a non-standard DNS can often slow things down. And some streaming video sites seem to work better in different browsers, so you could try cycling through those to see if it makes a difference. (I haven’t found that with local TV sites, but some US streaming video sites seem to work much better for me in IE rather than Chrome.)
As always, if readers want to share additional tactics for ensuring a better online TV playback experience, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.
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