Ask LH: How Can I Fix My Jerky Online TV Playback?

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Personally, I find iview works well, especially on XBMC, but SBS catchup, is just terrible on the Browser, what ever the movie player is they use, its weak, and just plain bad in either FF or IE.

      iview is the best of the bunch by far, and the only one I really use.

      The ABC was the one remaining station I watched on the actual tv. Now I can catch up on the shows I want whenever I have free time, I find myself watching a lot more ABC content.

    For Australian TV you could always download the entire program first using iViewNapper, SBSNapper etc. Then playback without glitches. They download pretty quickly so you don't have to wait long.

      I'd never heard of those, so thanks for that Pete. iView is fine for me on its own but SBS is unwatchable. All I need to do is get it working in Wine under Linux (I foresee a late night or two coming up).

      Rich: The Wikipedia thing is encredible and blntaat. This may work for better publicity and proactiveness among your readers than anything else. The matriarchy is awesomely powerful but even they cannot suppress the truth. Keep your cool and sense of humor and dont give up!! I am same age as you and watched the same phenomena the last 30+ years occur and agree with most if not all of your conclusions. The US is the most propagandized nation on earth and as we both know it has to be!! Talk to you later.

    Thanks for these useful tips. Like others I find ABC iView not bad but SBS rather poor.

    No one's mentioned the machine's specs. Rather than bandwidth or other network issues it could be that Flash just runs poorly on your machine, especially if its a netbook or old PC.

      exactly... most internet connections are fast enough to stream video properly, and if not, just pause it and wait for it to load?

      Yeah my netbook doesn't do full screen streaming of 7's catch up service at all, it does iview ok'ish though

    i have no problem the downloading/buffering aspect of online videos, but the video still jerks every time since my computer does something every few seconds during playback. Doesn't seem to help even if it's the only tab open. :(

      Hi, if you're using Firefox, then it might be the reason why you're getting stuttering video. As part of its visited page snapshot feature it's constantly backing up your viewing session. You can change the interval for the backup with these instructions: http://lifehacker.com/5342636/

        Hi. I have had problems with iview. The sound will be okay, but the vision seems to play in small slices of the complete stream ie. a slow procession of images. Is there a refresh rate or something that is affecting this. My wife's PC uses a wireless router and she has no issues with iview at all. I've made sure I have all the latest versions of Shockwave and Java. It's not the session interval either. At wits end.

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