3 simple tricks for smoother video streaming

Video streaming services are growing more popular as people look for ways to cut the cable bill.

You’re settled comfortably on the couch for a family movie night or a marathon session of your favorite TV series. Without warning, your relaxing night turns into a nightmare as the streaming Internet video keeps pausing to buffer, or the image keeps alternating between clear and blurry. It’s almost enough to make you go running back to cable.

Of course, you don’t want to do that. With cable, you end up paying a fortune each month for a bunch of channels and shows you never watch. Plus, you can’t watch what you want on demand. Fortunately, I can help you fix your video streaming problems so cable can stay a distant memory.

The majority of streaming video gadgets, smart TVs, tablets and laptops connect to the Internet via your Wi-Fi network. That’s great for avoiding cables cluttering up your living room, but Wi-Fi isn’t always the most reliable connection.

Signal interference and too much traffic on the network can slow it down. That leaves your streaming gadget unable to give you full-video quality, which leads to buffering or a lousy picture. Find out how to boost your Wi-Fi for faster downloads and smoother video.

While you’re thinking about your router, you should also think about the last time you bought a new one. An old 802.11g router, and even an early single-band (2.4Ghz) 802.11n router, is going to struggle with video.

A friend of mine was using an old G router to stream Netflix to his Roku. Even though the router and the Roku were within 10 feet of each other, the video image quality was still terrible much of the time.

He upgraded to a dual-band 802.11n router, which has both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz networks. He set up the Roku on the faster 5Ghz network, and hasn’t had anything but crystal clear HD since.

You should also check to see if your router has a system to prioritize network traffic you can turn on. Some D-Link routers, for example, have a feature called Streamboost that can keep video streaming smooth at the expense of slower downloads and Web surfing.

If you have a limited Internet connection, and a number of people using it, this prioritization can mean the difference between solid video quality and flinging the remote in frustration.

Not every Wi-Fi problem can be solved with an upgrade. Maybe you can’t do away with interference between the router and your streaming gadget. Perhaps you have a lot of people in the house, and the Wi-Fi is always in heavy use. Maybe your streaming gadget is older and doesn’t support the latest Wi-Fi standards.

If you really want to clear things up, connect your streaming gadget directly to your router with an Ethernet cable. This removes any possible environmental interference, and gives you consistent speed.

The only downside is running the cable long distances around your house. Fortunately, even a 50-foot Cat 6 networking cable should set you back less than $20.

Of course, not every gadget is going to have an Ethernet port. For example, tablets don’t, the Chromecast doesn’t and neither do the cheaper Roku models. However, higher-end streaming units, video game consoles and most Smart TVs will.

What happens if you upgrade your Wi-Fi, or plug your streaming gadget into your router, and your video streaming quality hasn’t improved? It’s time to talk to your Internet service provider.

Even if you’re paying for fast Internet, you might not be getting it. Fire up a site like Speedtest.net and see what kind of speed you’re really getting.

You might discover there’s a problem with your connection. Maybe you need to get a new cable modem that takes advantage of your ISP’s latest network upgrades. Find out if your cable modem is the fastest money can buy.

Some ISPs also don’t stream video that well, or even throttle video to reduce the load on the network. Netflix, being one of the largest video streaming services in existence, keeps close tabs on how well ISPs stream its video.

Anything below 3Mbps isn’t going to give you full video quality. And even these are averages, so you could see less with any of these services.

Talk to your provider and see what’s up. You might find the problem “magically” solved once you bring it to its attention. Or maybe there really is a problem with your connection that can be fixed. It never hurts to ask.

Just be sure to read my five steps to get better customer service first so you have the best shot of coming out ahead.