High definition movies are becoming the norm, particularly for those watching content on a notebook PC. Blu-Ray drives are now available in a number of models, and those who don’t have a Blu-Ray drive can easily download high-definition content from a number of online stores and free streaming sites.
The only problem is that high-definition content like Blu-Ray movies can put a high load on a notebook computer. A notebook that is not running optimally may end up becoming over-burdened, which will result in stuttering and other video errors. If you are having these issues, or you want to preemptively avoid them, there are a few steps you can take.
Kill Any Processor Intensive Programs
Playing a Blu-Ray or other HD movie is extremely processor intensive. The video on such formats is heavily encoded, and it must be decoded to view. This requires a lot of heavy lifting on the part of a processor, which hogs all of a notebook’s performance for itself. It isn’t unusual to see a processor pegged at 100% when playing high-definition video, particularly if the processor is an older model. This is when the video begins to stutter.
Of course, any other demanding program that is running at the same time as a Blu-Ray or other HD movie is only going to reduce the amount of processing power your notebook can devote to entertainment. An anti-virus program that is actively scanning, for example, can be a problem. You may also experience reduced processing power when performing certain tasks, such as transferring large files between computers or devices.
If you’re not sure how to find the programs that are killing your processor, check out our article about Windows Resource Monitor. This tool can help you track down programs that are hogging system resources.
Download the Latest Graphics Drivers
Many modern notebooks ship with an integrated or discrete graphics chip that is able to assist the processor when it is playing high-definition content. This is known as GPU-acceleration of video. Graphics chips are specifically designed to display video and 3D graphics, so they’re able to take a significant amount of load away from the processor. GPU-acceleration can mean the difference between a video that is skipping frames and a video that plays smoothly with the processor at just 30% of its maximum load.
However, GPU-acceleration is still dependent on software. If the proper drivers are not installed, the notebook won’t know how to share the load of displaying video with its graphics chip. The three major manufacturers of graphics hardware are Intel, Nvidia and AMD/ATI. Downloading the latest drivers can enable GPU-acceleration on your notebook and improve the performance of the graphics chip.
There are some hardware restrictions to this, however. Old notebooks (3+ years) usually don’t support GPU-acceleration of video even with updated drives because the hardware wasn’t designed to support that feature.
Use “High Performance” Power Management
Laptops are very dependent on their power management settings. A desktop computer, being plugged into a wall, doesn’t need to worry about conserving power. Notebooks, however, do have to worry about power because they are often used away from a power socket. Unfortunately, notebooks are sometimes too worried about power. When plugged into a wall socket a notebook should ideally be running at maximum performance, but sometimes the power management settings limit this.
You can check your Power Management settings in Windows by going to the Control Panel and finding the Power Options menu. Alternatively, you can click on the battery icon on the taskbar and access Power Options from there. If your computer is not running at High Performance and you’re having trouble with Blu-Rays and HD video, change the power management to the High Performance setting.
This should change how your notebook uses energy, but some notebooks ship with proprietary power management software that augments or overrides the normal Windows settings. These settings help you go green with your computer, but they can also sap processing power. Obviously I’m not able to comment on where to find this on each unique notebook, but you can usually find the software in a folder labeled with the name of your notebook’s manufacturer.
Hopefully these optimizations will help you play Blu-Rays and other high definition video sources smoothly. The difficult truth, however, is that not all notebooks are going to be cut out for this task. A modern notebook shipping with a Blu-Ray drive should not have a problem, but older notebooks equipped with a Blu-Ray upgrade or an external Blu-Ray drive may have some problems. Optimization is simply a matter of making your current hardware do more, and sometimes the hardware simply isn’t up to the task no matter what you do.