Q: Before going wireless, I was enjoying watching television shows on my computer. Now that I'm not plugged in and am wireless, video streaming is so choppy and slow, it's impossible to watch. Is it because I bought the cheapest router in the store? If so, what kind of router should I get? Is there a fix for this?
A: There are several possibilities for fixing your video-streaming problem and, yes, buying a new router is among them.
The issue is this: When you're watching streaming video online, your video player gets data from the Web site hosting the video. Once it receives enough data, it starts playing the video. If the data stream is slower than the player expects, the video will play until it runs out of data. Then you'll have to wait for the video buffer to build up again.
To address your problem, first try something completely free. Scott Burroughs of Wake Forest, N.C., offered this tip in response to an earlier column I wrote about buffering. After clicking on the link to stream or play, click the "pause" button and wait for the video to load. Most videos have a percentage bar that shows the downloading process. When the video has finished (or mostly finished) loading, you can click "play" to watch uninterrupted.
There also are a few tactics you can try to maximize your existing wireless signal, Tony Northrup writes in an article on Microsoft.com. Among his suggestions:
-- Position your wireless router in a central location.
-- If you think the problem is your computer's distance from the wireless router, add a wireless repeater (basically a relay point for the wireless signal) to extend your network and boost your signal strength without adding any wiring.
-- Reduce wireless interference by choosing cordless phones and other wireless electronics that operate on different frequencies than your router.
-- Pick equipment from a single vendor for better performance.
-- Upgrade your router, wireless card or both to a newer wireless standard.
This last tip gets to the heart of your second and third questions. If you went for the cheapest wireless router you could find, you may well have chosen an older technology that can't support your multimedia demands.
Your router and wireless card should be at least Wireless G, or the 802.11g standard. It is about four times as speedy as its predecessor, 802.11b, but it does have the problem of interference from other devices running at 2.4 GHz frequencies.
Even faster is the coming standard, Wireless N, or 802.11n. Routers with this technology send and receive more than one communication signal simultaneously, creating fast connections that can cover your entire home. The Wireless N standard hasn't been finalized, but electronics incorporating a draft version are on shelves already.
One possible drawback is incompatibility between current products and the final standard, expected to be approved in 2009.
Finally, you could consider power-line routing gear, a little-known solution that provides a digital network using the electrical wiring in your home. This solution provides a faster Internet connection than wireless, but it typically does incorporate some wires running from your router to your electrical wiring, and then from the electrical wiring to your computer in the room where you use it.