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Short on speed? Exactly what effect that has will depend on the technology being used by the various streaming services you're talking about.

In trying to reduce the monthly amount I pay for broadcast TV, I'm looking at getting a Roku streaming device with a subscription to Netflix. I have DSL, but tested my speed and my download is 1.32 megabits per second and upload is .32 megabits per second. I'm in a small town and that isn't likely to get upgraded any time soon. I'm told that I need at least 3 megabits for live sports and 5 megabits for HD viewing. What is the consequence of being a little short? My only other option is U-verse and that puts me back in the money again.

In this excerpt from Answercast #52, I look at the possibilities of streaming high-definition TV through an internet connection without the recommended connection speed.

Download requirements

You're more than a little bit short. Clearly, you're less than half the minimum requirements for live sports. Unfortunately, exactly what it means will depend on the technology that's being used by the various streaming services that you're talking about.

Several different things could happen.

Poor quality

One is you could get a very poor quality picture, but it would be continuous.

In other words, the speed (the low speed) would get detected by the remote service and they would send what will end up being a rather fuzzy or blocky picture. But other than that, everything would probably still work.

They would probably also send you a lower quality audio, but it really is the video that takes up the most bandwidth.

Starts and stops

What's really more likely to happen is that you are going to experience a very choppy start-and-stop kind of video.

What that means is that the software on your machine (the streaming software) will download as much as it can; it will fill up the buffer, display the buffer, but it will actually empty the buffer faster than it can get more data to keep the streaming continuous.

So it will play what it can, then it will stop. It will get some more. It will play that, then it will stop. You've probably already seen this viewing videos on other sites.

Pause to buffer

This kind of choppy video sometimes can be worked around by simply pausing the player, so that it buffers up more than what it needs to play continuously.

In reality, what I've seen is - most of these streaming players don't really buffer very well. They don't handle the pause thing all that well. Even YouTube seems to be taking some action that actually makes pausing not that effective anymore for buffering up - buffering ahead what you might want to be able to see without interruption.

So, those are the two kinds of things that could happen.

The other thing that could happen of course is that the system might very well detect that you're connection is simply too slow and just flat out refuse to play.

Not enough speed

Unfortunately, I don't really have a good solution for you. That 1.32 megabits unfortunately these days for streaming media is pretty slow.

I have three megabits here and as long as my other computers aren't doing anything, I can watch a standard definition television show streamed (from Amazon, in my case) without any problem. But if I switch to high definition, I end up with the starts and stops - the buffering, the pauses, and so forth.

So, even I don't have a fast enough connection to do full HD, there really isn't a way around that.

The only thing that I can suggest is perhaps playing with some of the services to find out if they handle the pause buffering properly. If they do, and that's an acceptable solution to you, maybe that's a way to go.

Physical media

The other approach is decidedly low-tech, but what I have for Netflix is the old DVD subscription. They send me a DVD and I watch the DVD and I send it back. I have one of those out a time and I probably go through about eight of those a month.

That is completely independent of your internet connection. It doesn't use your internet connection at all. But it does allow you to watch some of the things that Netflix specifically has available, without being bound to the speed of your internet connection.

So, unfortunately, I don't really have any good answers for you. The bottom line is that it probably isn't going to work very well. Sorry about that.

Article C5800 - September 12, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

1 Comment
September 14, 2012 4:18 PM

Mr. Leo!
Thank You Very Much for that Post!
You just Confirmed what I thought for a long while.

I see that you are just like me in terms of having slow internet speed as I just knew you had one those Ultra-Fast speed connections in view of the expertise you have in all things computer and Internet.

I have a 1.5 megabits per second download internet speed and was wondering how I could increase my internet speed using one of those streaming boxes.
Other than using DVD's to look at movies the only other alternative I have is to Upgrade my ISP service which I cannot at the moment as I am on a fixed monthly income.

You are a wonderful guy for the time you put in to give us FREE and Valuable information on the things that mean a lot to us computer techies!
You break down everything that Newbies and others can understand in Plain English.


Brooklyn, New York USA

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