When watching a streaming video on your media streamer/network media player, there is little that is more annoying than constant stopping and starting and showing a screen that reads "loading." To prevent the video from stopping to load, your networked component "buffers" the video. That is, it downloads the video ahead of what you are watching so you don't have to wait for more of the video to be received by your player.
When the streaming video catches up to the point where the file has been downloaded, there may be a wait. The result is the dreaded "loading" screen, and a pause in the movie playback.
What "Speed" Means
If you watch an online video using a slow internet connection, you may experience interruptions and buffering. The internet speed or in-home connection speed refers to how much data — in this case, the streaming of photo, music and movie files — can be sent from its source to your player. A source may stream a Netflix movie from online; photos, music or videos stored on a computer on your home network; or media from other online or in-home sources.
A slow connection will cause the delivery of a movie's audio and video information to be delayed, in which case you will see the loading screen. A fast connection can not only stream movies without interruption, but can also accommodate high definition or 3D video and up to 7.1 channels of digital surround sound.
Fast Internet Speeds
You may have heard internet providers advertising that they offer fast internet connection speeds. Where we once had dial-up and DSL speeds measured in kilobytes per second (Kb/s), we now measure speeds in megabytes per second (Mb/s). A megabyte is 1,000 kilobytes. Broadband cable internet providers may offer download speeds of more than 50 Mb/s. In urban areas, expect over 10 Mb/s.
How Fast Is Your Home Network?
It's not only how fast the internet brings the video into your house. Once there, the information must be sent from the modem to a router.
The next consideration is how fast the router can send the video and other information to the computers and network media players that are connected to it. Routers designed to work with streaming video — often called AV routers — will be capable of streaming more data, reducing playback interruptions.
The speed of the connection from the router to the network media player is the final variable here. A router may be capable of streaming media at a high speed, but the audio and video can only get to your network media player as fast as the connection can transfer it.
Connect Using an Ethernet Cable or Accessories Designed for "AV"
If you use an Ethernet cable to connect your network media player or component to the router, it will usually maintain the speed of the router's capabilities. However, if you connect your network media player or component wirelessly (Wi-Fi) or by using a powerline adapter, speeds will often drop dramatically. This is why — even though you may have 10 Mb/s internet speed — your device shows that it is receiving less than 5 Mb/s and you get a message that the video quality is being downgraded on your Netflix or Vudu video.
Again, look for wireless and power-line adapter accessories that are designated as optimized for AV, so you can stream high definition video and audio.
Future Technologies Will Continue to Increase Speed
Now that our media is digital, it is possible to send it around our home like never before. Consider that there is digital cable and satellite, digital broadcast TV, DVDs and CDs. Electronics designers are in search of ways to move large amounts of high definition video to several TVs and computers at the same time, as well as playing video games without hesitation (latency).
Increased speed capabilities of routers, wireless dongles and power-line adapters are one step. Technologies like the Sigma Design G.hn chips, which could be built into network home theater components, purport speeds over 1 Gb/s (one gigabyte per second). Other solutions to connect your devices include WHDI, HDBaseT and Intel's WiDi.
Whichever technologies become mainstream, we can be sure that streaming high definition 3D, or possibly even 4K video will be easy, smooth and frustration free in the future.