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smooth video playbackIn theory, a computer should be great for playing video. There is a wealth of video available for free online, and that is in addition to the computer’s ability to play DVDs and, if equipped with the proper drive, Blu-Ray.

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 Digital Video Formats and Video Conversion Explained Digital Video Formats and Video Conversion Explained Read More 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.

smooth video playback

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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 What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] What Is A CPU and What Does It Do? [Technology Explained] Read More . 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.

video playback

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.

smooth video playback

The media player The Top 5 Free Media Players For Windows The Top 5 Free Media Players For Windows When it comes to video playback, there are way too many choices available - even if you look at only the FREE options. Within that selection, some players are fantastic and others are sorely lagging... Read More 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 10 Great Windows Media Player 11 Tips and Tricks 10 Great Windows Media Player 11 Tips and Tricks Read More , VLC Media Player The Top 5 Free Media Players For Windows The Top 5 Free Media Players For Windows When it comes to video playback, there are way too many choices available - even if you look at only the FREE options. Within that selection, some players are fantastic and others are sorely lagging... Read More , 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.

Conclusion

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.

  1. Roger Owen
    March 17, 2016 at 11:11 am

    I can run youtube videos without a problem, but video on AOL is very bumpy (unless it's a Youtube video). I also have problems with Vimeo videos on websites. If I can run YouTube OK this must point at software issues.

  2. Vanessa
    July 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    "Am I used the most recent version of my media player?" that doesn't make sense.. :(

    • Yourmom
      July 18, 2010 at 6:31 am

      I'm sure he meant "Am I using the most... ...". Don't be stupid.

  3. james
    July 7, 2010 at 7:52 am

    i get some wavy lines on my monitor when there's lots of action going on, and yes i have all the latest hardware, 28" monitor with hdmi and all that great stuff. what could it be? i also get it when playing games

  4. kumar
    July 7, 2010 at 6:25 am

    cool

  5. pceasies
    July 6, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    You can do some estimations using WolframAlpha, but that's assuming you're going to get maximum throughput.

    40GB at 54Mbps (Wireless G standard) is 1hr and 38min
    One can assume if the movie is longer than 1hr45m that you'll be able to stream it.

    I've found that not always to be the case though. Wireless network connected at 54Mbps, but a file will only copy at 700KB/s vs 7650KB/s that should be achievable. Seems to depend on the other machine, router, all different kinds of factors. I'd like to see an article mainly about streaming over a network and things that factor in.

  6. Daniel_K
    July 6, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    How about required network speed and format for streaming over a local network?

    Yeah I would be interested to know about the min. required network speed for different formats as well. For instance, can I stream a 40 GB BluRay movie over a home wireless network

  7. pceasies
    July 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    How about required network speed and format for streaming over a local network? I've run into problems where 54Mbps somewhere is equal to 300KB/s and the video lags horribly and is unplayable.

    • Daniel_K
      July 6, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      How about required network speed and format for streaming over a local network?

      Yeah I would be interested to know about the min. required network speed for different formats as well. For instance, can I stream a 40 GB BluRay movie over a home wireless network

      • pceasies
        July 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm

        You can do some estimations using WolframAlpha, but that's assuming you're going to get maximum throughput.

        40GB at 54Mbps (Wireless G standard) is 1hr and 38min
        One can assume if the movie is longer than 1hr45m that you'll be able to stream it.

        I've found that not always to be the case though. Wireless network connected at 54Mbps, but a file will only copy at 700KB/s vs 7650KB/s that should be achievable. Seems to depend on the other machine, router, all different kinds of factors. I'd like to see an article mainly about streaming over a network and things that factor in.

        • M.S. Smith
          July 8, 2010 at 1:26 am

          That's a very tough question to answer, but a good idea for a future article.

        • Aibek
          July 8, 2010 at 9:21 am

          yeah, it would be nice to see an article on this. I wonder if there is an app out there that can measure the max. speed of the home network.

  8. Silverdog
    July 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    go to http://www.systemrequirementsl... & check ur pc compatibility with the game u r gonna install!

  9. Silverdog
    July 6, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    go to http://www.systemrequirementslab.com/cyri & check ur pc compatibility with the game u r gonna install!

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