Few things are more annoying than a hard break while Netflix buffers and loads during your latest binge.
If you’ve suffered through slow loading, playback pauses and low resolution while streaming Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu or whatever, it’s not necessarily their fault. It could be your internet connection.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to improve the connection on your TV, streaming device or game console. The faster the Internet, the better your streaming quality (for the most part).
1. Upgrade your internet speed
This is certainly the most obvious, but really, when was the last time you asked your provider about how fast their offerings are now? If it’s been a few years, they likely have new services (maybe even fiber) that could greatly increase your download speeds.
You need at least 15Mbps for 4K streaming, but really, you want a lot more than that. It’s also possible there are new providers or services from other companies. When I moved into my house, the phone company had the best option, a pretty fast DSL line that was way better than the local cable provider. Now, said cable company has 6x the speed at 60 percent of the price. I was able to save money and increase my internet speed quite dramatically.
This is definitely the first place to start.
2. Upgrade your router/hub
The Wi-Fi router that you get for free from your Internet provider is likely terrible. I upgraded my router the day before my new internet service was installed, and I got a 20 percent boost in speeds just from that. Some providers even charge for their crappy routers, so you could save some money long-term by buying a good one outright and reducing your bill a bit each month.
You’ll also likely get better range and better signal throughout your home with an upgraded router. So if you’ve always had a bad connection in the back of the house (or wherever), a better router might help that.
A new or different router might also give you the option to connect via the 5GHz range (“normal” Wi-Fi is 2.4). 5GHz is generally faster and has less chance of interference from other devices. However, it doesn’t go through walls as well.
Here are CNET picks for Best Wireless Routers.
3. Switch to Ethernet
Though convenient, Wi-Fi can be quite slow. Ethernet (i.e. wired) is a lot faster and doesn’t have issues with walls, interference or distance (well, not in a house anyway). Though running wires can be annoying, it provides the most reliable connection.
If you want to use a wire, check your device. Most inexpensive streamers like the Roku Streaming Stick and Google Chromecast lack the Ethernet port required for a wired connection, although Google sells a $15 adapter to add Ethernet to Chromecast. Our favorite streamers with Ethernet built in include Roku Premiere+, Apple TV, Nvidia Shield and Amazon Fire TV. Most Smart TVs (with the notable exception of non-4K Roku TVs) and game consoles have Ethernet, too.
4. Move stuff
I don’t mean your TV, but moving your Wi-Fi router could help a lot. If it’s on or near the ground, in a closet, or at the far end of your house, you could be limiting the signal and speed without even realizing it. Wi-Fi can go through walls, but being high up and with fewer walls between the router and streamer will help. If the router has antennas, positioning them correctly can also help.
The same is true on the other end. If you’ve got the streamer in a cabinet, that’s not helping either. In a perfect world, the streamer would have a direct line of sight with the router. This isn’t necessary, of course, but everything you place between the two of them decreases the signal and potentially lowers the speed.
An alternate version of this would be to get a Wi-Fi booster, or run Ethernet to a second Wi-Fi router. If your house is long or large, there are lots of options beyond the scope of this guide.
Think of your internet connection as a pipe full of water. There’s only so much water to go around. If you’re trying to stream in the living room, but the rest of the family is also trying to stream in other rooms, there might not be enough “water” to go around. Everyone will have issues.
Who gets priority in that case, I’ll leave up to you. No way I’m touching that one.
Test your results
An internet speed tester like Speedtest can give you an idea what you’re dealing with now. If you use the Android or iOS version, make sure you place the phone/tablet near the streaming device to get the most accurate result. With each change you make, test again and see how it affected the signal.
Many streaming problems can be solved with these steps I’ve described. The key is getting the device the fastest internet possible, by any means necessary.
Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, TV resolutions explained, LED LCD vs. OLED, and more. Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.