That is an excellent question, I will be happy to assist you with buffering.
Here is the situation: you are watching a video online and everything is going fine then suddenly the video stops and in the corner you see the now all too familiar and dreaded word – buffering. Then you are stuck waiting until the buffering reaches 100% before you are able to watch the video again.
I am sure you understand the basic concept of buffering, that the video is being loaded into the web browser so you can watch it, but what is buffering and why does it seem like sometimes you watch more of the buffering status bar than you do of your video?
We will get more into the issue of too much buffering when we get into the troubleshooting section. For now let’s focus on the technology and what buffering is. Buffering in today’s world is seen more with video and audio streaming but it is actually part of all networking systems.
The first thing to understand is how data is sent over the Internet from one device to another. If we use the example of a sending or uploading a picture. That picture is transformed into a data packet so it can be sent over the Internet. When data is sent over the Internet it is not sent as one large packet. All computers and devices have a packet size limit. That means there is a maximum amount of data that can be sent in a single packet. Because of this, data is sent in multiple packets. Therefore, the receiving machine needs to take these packets and stitch them back together before you as the end user would be able to interact with the data.
So what the receiving computer does is it takes the packets as they come in and stores them in the data buffer. When enough packets come in the computer takes them and sends the packets to the processor to begins opening the packets and reforming the data into the picture again. While it is doing that any new packets that are received are held in the buffer until the computer is ready to add them to the picture.
Anyone who is old enough will remember when the Internet first started and you downloaded a picture it would form line by line on the screen until the full picture formed. That is the crude version of the processor stitching the picture together from the multiple packets.
In the beginning of computing the buffer was extremely important as it allowed the processor time to work while keeping up with the data stream so no information was lost. In today’s computing there are rare times that you would even notice the buffer. Processors now are so fast that data can move across the network and is reformed before you even realize what is happening.
However, the one place that we still see buffering and where we started this discussion is in streaming video and audio. This is the one area that buffering is still important and noticeable. When something is downloaded to the computer it stores the information on the local hard drive so even if there is a network connection issue you probably would not know it since the computer has the information stored locally and it can build the image. However, since streaming is an endless incoming data stream the computer needs the buffer to store the new incoming information while it forms and displays the video it has already received. That is why sometimes you will see the buffering status pop up and freeze the video. The computer has run out of stored data and needs the buffer to fill up so it can continue playing the video.
Troubleshooting buffering issues:
The first thing that causes buffering is Internet speed. If the speed of your service is low because of technical limitations or service issues that causes buffering. Again buffering is when the computer is waiting for more packets to be placed in the buffer so it can take them and send them to the processor to be reformatted. If the speed of the service drops suddenly or goes out all together when the processor runs out of packets in the buffer it needs to wait for new ones to show up.
Going along with that idea bandwidth might also be an issues. (See the article about bandwidth for a longer discussion on the technology). As a quick recap bandwidth is the size of the tunnel that the data uses to get to the computer. The two things that affect bandwidth is the speed of the Internet service and how much of the available tunnel is already being used by other devices or programs. If the speed of the service is correct then there might be several background programs or other devices on the network eating up the available bandwidth. You may need to end the background programs to free up some of the bandwidth and the processor to resolve the buffering issue.
You can also try to increase the buffering limit of the media player. Usually in the advanced options you will see the buffering limit if you increase the limit so that the program can store more buffer packets and should help the program run the video smoothly.
The last buffering reason will be out of your hands however. If the server that stores the video is running slow or being accessed by too many users at the same time the server could be overloaded and cause the video to buffer. For services like Netflix those kinds of issues should be rare. The only time that would be an issue is when something is released and is very popular, such as the first day a Game of Thrones episode drops, would be when the server end might be the problem.
Buffering can be annoying when you are trying to watch a video or listen to music but it is a necessary part of computing to allow those services to work. If you seem to be experiencing a larger amount or longer buffering issue than normal you can check the connection and a few other possibly causes to clear it up.
If you have a technology question you would like answered, please E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to look into it for you.