Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Online video is becoming more and more popular, but it often assumes you have a fast connection. If you don't, video playback can be affected.
I would like to view YouTube without the stops and starts. What causes that and can it be corrected?
In the past few years, video has exploded. Every so often you hear amazing statistics about the number of hours of video that's being uploaded to YouTube every minute.
With the proliferation of video-capable mobile devices, the explosion - both of video creation and video consumption - is continuing to grow.
As is some frustration.
It's frustrating to say the least to have an online video playback play a little, pause, play a little more, then pause, then play a little more, then pause, then play a little more...
You get the idea. Heck, it was even frustrating to type, much less watch.
There are several reasons that this type of playback behavior can happen. I'll cover a few of them, and a few of the ways that you might work around it.
By far, the single biggest reason for videos that pause periodically while playing back is the speed of your internet connection.
Or rather, the lack of speed.
Video can require a lot of data and that data has to be transferred fast enough across your internet connection for the video to playback smoothly.
If a video requires say three megabits per second (just an example) to play smoothly and your internet connection is only 1.5 megabits per second, you are going to experience these stops and starts. The video player just can't get the data fast enough for the video to play without interruption.
In that same vein, if some other program on your computer is simultaneously downloading something from the internet, then the available download speed that's left over for your video to playback will be reduced. You may have the required three megabits per second1 connection, but if another program is simultaneously downloading something, your effective speed might be cut in half and your video once again begins to pause.
In addition, if another computer that shares your internet connection does the same thing, then the bandwidth available to your machine watching video is similarly reduced and pausing can once again happen.
In addition to requiring that there be available download speed, depending on your computer's specific hardware configuration and the software you have running on it at the same time, it might just be too busy to keep up with the work of displaying video.
Other programs that are running at the same time that might be placing high demands on the computer's CPU, RAM, or disk can interfere with video playback and symptoms like periodic pausing can be one result.
Fortunately, using programs like Process Explorer, you can peek into the inner-workings of your computer, see exactly who's doing what while you playback video, and identify any resources-hogging culprits.
There's also a small chance that your video card might not be up to the task. This isn't nearly the issue it once was, but it's something to consider on older computers.
Most video player progress bars will typically show three stages of video playback:
Video seen: This shows how much of the video you've seen2 so far and ends at the playback position indicator.
Video downloaded but not yet seen: This shows you the amount of the video that's been downloaded into a buffer somewhere on your computer, but that you haven't seen yet.
Not yet downloaded: This is the amount of video that has yet to make it from the video server to our computer.
If you never see the "video downloaded but not yet seen" during normal streaming playback, then it's likely that the download can't keep up with playback or can only just barely keep up.
More often than not, this results in the pauses that we're talking about.
My most common recommendation when faced with this is to start it playing, then click on pause, and then wait a while.
Most video players will either have a separate Pause button or will change the Play button to a Pause button, as in the YouTube example above.
Pressing play initially begins the streaming of the video. By pausing the video, we're giving the download a head start, letting it fill the buffer with video ready to be played back.
Now, while this works with many players, YouTube has of late seemed to impose limits as to how far ahead it will buffer; it'll buffer a certain amount and then stop before it's done, apparently waiting for playback to catch up.
Unfortunately, when it chooses to stop buffering, it's typically not buffered enough to finish the video without more starts and stops.
Thus, another solution might be called for.
Many video players provide the video in multiple formats, usually including different sizes of video and different qualities.
The players may choose a default, or they may guess and guess wrong.
On YouTube, you can click on the gear icon to select a different resolution:
The maximum resolution available is typically selected by whomever uploaded the video and results in the largest and clearest picture.
And it also requires the fastest internet connection in order to play smoothly.
By selecting a lower resolution, the image will typically be smaller and perhaps a little less clear, but it will also place less of a demand on the speed of your internet connection, and thus may playback without pausing.
What if you have a slow internet connection, but still want high quality? That calls for a different approach.
Streaming and downloading a video is very similar. Oh, there are differences in protocols and software and whatnot, but the fundamental difference is simply this:
Streaming plays the video on your screen immediately
Downloading3 writes a copy of the video to your computer's hard disk
The technical differences, while complex behind the scenes, are conceptually fairly simple. Unfortunately, the legalities are anything but.
The problem is that when you download a video you are creating a copy of that video. That may be illegal or against the video-sharing site's terms of service. I'm not going to weigh in on that, other than to point out the possibility.
Some sites will simply offer a direct-download link. I do this with most of my more recent video offerings here on Ask Leo! or in any bonus videos I might offer with my books. It's by far the simplest approach. Click on the download link (or right-click and Save As...) and then after the download completes, you'll get a video file on your machine that you can play using your favorite media player.
Other sites, most notably YouTube, do not provide this ability.
However, if you search for "youtube downloader," you'll find many. The problem, of course, is that it's unclear which to trust. In my brief research for this article, I checked out a few and found many to be discontinued, not working, or loaded with toolbars and other unrelated software.
One I did find and install (I have to stress that all installs should be performed very carefully to avoid unneccesary toolbars, search engine changes and more) is the Free YouTube Downloader from Best Video Downloader. This is not a recommendation, just a report that I found one that seemed to work. Naturally, I have to caution that you use it at your own risk.
One final note about downloading a video. If the download takes longer than the video would play - for example, it takes 15 minutes to download a video that only plays for three minutes, then almost by definition, it's an internet connection speed issue. If you were able to download that same file in three minutes or less on a faster connection, then you'd also be able to stream it directly without the starts and stops.
(This is an update to an article originally published November 8, 2004.)
1: I'm NOT, NOT, NOT saying that all online video requires three megabits per second. This is simply an example of a video that requires a higher data rate than you might have available.
2: Assuming, of course, that you haven't skipped ahead; in which case, this simply indicates the amount of the video prior to the current position whether you've seen it or not.
3: I know it gets confusing on top of confusing because even in this article, I've used the term "downloading" while describing the ins and outs of streaming a video. Essentially, any transfer of data from the internet to your computer can be considered a download, and that's most often how the term is used. When we talk about media like video or audio, we make this specific distinction between streaming and downloading based on what happens to the data transferred: displayed or saved to disk, respectively.