There seems to be no end to the human hunger for media. It’s how we keep tabs on current events and entertain ourselves. And while we’ve seen a proliferation of next-generation media channels recently, all of them serving content in a variety of formats, some media puts a greater strain on our technology than others.
Anybody who streams music or video regularly knows this. All-you-can-eat music and video is a great thing… until your stream slows to a crawl or your video dissolves into a maddening mess of buffering pixels.
We’re here to help, with some simple tips to speed things up.
As a mild disclaimer, some readers may find some of the following tips somewhat obvious. That’s great, pat yourselves on the back. However, not everyone is as tech savvy, so hopefully this article will offer fixes you personally haven’t considered before.
1. Turn Off Competing Devices
We’ve seen some decent cases made for the Internet of Things and all of its shiny far-future potential. But that’s not to say we don’t have some challenges to overcome first. The most obvious problem is the sheer number of devices in our households that depend on internet connectivity.
Sometimes, a lack of internet coverage can render even their basic functionality useless. It used to be just personal computers afflicted with this problem. Now we’ve all got connected smartphones, tablets, bathroom scales, televisions, refrigerators, and even smart clothing.
What this means for the savvy streamer is that you need to pick your battles. How many “smart” objects do you really need in your life? If it means allocating more bandwidth for hungrier devices, could you do without the “intelligent” rectal thermometer and salt shaker?
One thinks it shouldn’t be an overly difficult sacrifice to make.
2. Delete Temporary Cache Files
You wouldn’t believe all of the digital clutter our connected devices accumulate during typical streaming and browsing sessions. Cached files and temporary licenses tend to clog up our local directories and make our devices work harder than they should to serve fresh content. Whenever a website is updated behind-the-scenes, many of these files become irrelevant clutter.
If you want to get to the bottom of your slow streaming woes, it’s time to learn how to banish your cache files.
Modern web browsers and operating systems are pretty good at clearing out some of this crap on a regular basis. But if you’re not in the habit of shutting down your devices properly, or doing so on a regular basis, you’re likely not realizing the benefits of these features.
You can navigate to the settings for either your desktop or mobile browser and delete these temporary cache files manually. It should help your next streaming session run a little more smoothly.
3. Use an Ethernet Cable Instead of Wi-Fi
Cords and cables are not sexy. They’re not sleek or convenient. And yet, for power users or anybody else who wants top performance from consumer-level hardware, cables are a must for certain things. PC gamers swear by wired peripherals like mice and keyboards for performance.
And streamers? Serious streamers choose wired internet over wireless internet every time.
While most of us get by with wireless connections, the difference in performance can be dramatic if you switch to wired internet connections using an Ethernet cable. The newest cables can support speeds of up to 1 Gbps. Compared this to the speed of your typical wireless home router, which bottlenecks at about 150 Mbps or so.
That’s a huge difference. Of course, the real limiting factor is the speed of your internet service itself. You may also not want to get into wrangling cabling behind walls or stuffing it above a drop-down ceiling. But if you do the work right, you should only have to do it once.
Best of all, even long runs of Ethernet cable are pretty affordable. And if you own a house, a clean installation could slightly raise its resale value.
4. Disable Hardware Acceleration in Settings
Buried deep inside your favorite browser is a setting called “Disable Hardware Acceleration.” Have you seen it before? Do you know what it does?
This option is an answer to a frequent issue experienced by streamers and graphics professionals. Hardware acceleration is meant to shift some of the burden off the software and onto your machine’s processors, thereby improving performance for certain tasks, including streaming and manipulating digital media.
Unfortunately, because there’s so much hardware out there, certain devices or combinations of internal components operate more predictably with this feature turned off. If you haven’t had any success improving your streaming speeds any other way, take a moment to locate this setting and disable it.
How do you do it? Admittedly, it’s not an option (or an issue) in every browser or piece of software. Adobe users have their own instructions. You can also browse conversations about how this issue applies to services and software like YouTube and Google Chrome.
5. Choose a Lower Video Resolution
Remember when we mentioned that some of these tips might seem like no-brainers? This might be one of them.
Still, it’s not impossible that you’ve been hobbling along all this time with your website settings turned to “maximum resolution.” Next time you fire up a video stream, pay close attention to how your browser or device handles it. Does it try to play the highest-resolution video first? Does it start at a low resolution and slow ramp up the quality as it establishes a connection?
If it looks like your videos default to maximum resolution each time and it’s causing slow speeds or endless buffering, switch to the next-best resolution. The small step down from 1080p to 720p could greatly improve your experience. And visually speaking, you’ll barely notice the difference on most mobile screens.
6. Make Use of Local Storage
Do companies like Apple and Google have any incentive to pursue cheaper flash storage when we can stream most of our media whenever we please, without storing it locally?
The answer is No. Digital services are the future — and a revenue gold mine, to boot. Still, if you use a device like a smartphone or tablet to consume most of your media, you should use its storage space whenever possible. You can improve your streaming experience by downloading files locally so they don’t have to stream and buffer. It also means you won’t have to rely on spotty internet connections while on-the-go.
Most of the major media services let you do this now, including Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Music and even Netflix. If you find your storage full or you want to experience something else, just trash the local files and download something else when you have a reliable connection.
Make Buffering a Thing of the Past
Even if you already knew you should lower your resolution, you’ve now got a few other troubleshooting tips to try out before giving up and doing something else instead
Look for that pesky Hardware Acceleration toggle in settings and clear your caches while you’re there. Try winnowing down your stable of connected devices or even investing in the benefits of a physical connection via Ethernet.
The point is, you don’t have to tear your hair out over slow streaming anymore. And best of all, most of these fixes are either free or inexpensive to try.
Do you know of any additional ways to speed up your favorite streaming service? If so, please tell us about it in the comments below!
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