However, anyone who has actually used a computer to play video on a regular basis has probably run into a few problems with this theory. While computers can run just about every video format imagined, and they have the performance to do so; software and hardware conflicts can rob computers of their advantage. Laptop computers and older computers are at a particular disadvantage, and it isn’t uncommon to have trouble playing video on these machines.
So what do you really need to guarantee smooth video playback? To answer that question fully, we have to discuss both the hardware inside your computer and the software that runs on top of it.
The Hardware Question
Software can hold up decent hardware and render it unable to smoothly play back video, but software can not make hardware surge past its normal abilities. Hardware can be a hard barrier. If your hardware is not up to the task of playing back video smoothly there isn’t anything you can do about it besides buying new hardware. Figuring out the bottleneck will make it easier to find the right hardware, however.
The GPU, or graphics processing unit, in your computer is becoming increasingly important. Once used mostly for 3D games, there are now many video players that support accelerating video on the GPU. If you don’t know what GPU is in your computer you can find out using GPU-Z. To run video smoothly on your GPU, you will want to have one of the following graphics solutions.
- ATI Radeon 3000 series or newer
- Nvidia Geforce 8000 series or newer
- Intel Integrated Graphics GMA X3000, X3100, X3500, X4500, or HD
That is not to say, you absolutely won’t be able to run video smoothly on an older graphics solution – it might be possible – but I am confident that anyone who has one of the GPUs listed above will be able to run video smoothly when using a media player that support GPU acceleration.
The second part of the equation is your computer’s CPU, or computer processing unit. The CPU is the main brain of your computer. You’re probably already pretty well acquainted with the CPU in your computer, but if you’re not sure you can check using CPU-Z, a program that provides detailed information about your processor.
Having a fast processor is important because it will be asked to pick up the slack when you play video in a media player that does not support GPU acceleration. Also, even those media players that support GPU acceleration have some reliance on the CPU. To play back video smoothly, it is recommended that you have one of the following processors.
- Dual-Core AMD Athlon or Athlon II
- AMD Phenom or Phemon II
- Intel Pentium Dual Core
- Intel Core/Core 2 Dual or Quad Core
- Intel Core i3/i5/i7 Dual or Quad Core
Again, this is not to say you absolutely can’t run video smoothly on other processors, but these are the processors that are recommended.
The Software Question
Having looked over the above information, you may be confused. You may have all the hardware side of the equation covered but still have trouble playing back video smoothly. This is because the software on your computer is also very important. Powerful hardware can still stumble if the software is lacking.
GPU drivers are the first piece of software you should consider. The driver is the software that tells your hardware how to perform. The drivers that control your GPU are updated frequently, but most users forget to download the updates. These updates include new features and performance enhancements that may improve the performance of GPU-accelerated media players. If you’re having problems achieving smooth video playback, check the website of your GPU manufacturer to see if a driver update is available.
The media player itself also is a factor in the performance of video. As mentioned above, some video players support GPU acceleration, while others don’t. There is really no reason not to use a media player that supports GPU acceleration. Windows Media Player, VLC Media Player, and Media Player Classic are some of the most popular media players that support GPU acceleration in Windows. Adobe Flash also now supports GPU acceleration. Note that in all cases, you must be sure to use the most recent version of the media player.
A final roadblock that can cause video playback issues is the type of file that you are playing. While the above media players listed do support GPU acceleration, they don’t support acceleration for all formats. The most commonly supported video formats are x.264, H.264, VC-1 and MPEG-2. If the video format is not supported your CPU will be asked to handle the entire load of video playback. The most common video format that trips up Windows machines is the Quicktime format, but there are many other formats that are not supported.
The PC is a popular device, and that means there is room for lots of competing hardware, media players and video formats. If you have video playback problems, just ask yourself the following questions.
- Is my hardware powerful enough?
- Do I have the latest drivers installed?
- Am I used the most recent version of my media player?
- Is the video I am trying to watch encoded in a common format?
Exploring these questions will usually lead to the source of the problem.
Still having trouble? Shoot away in the comments, we’ll help you to diagnose the issue.