Buffering: How to Tell If It’s Netflix Or Your Internet Service

TV Answer Man, we have a so-so Internet service so our picture on Netflix isn’t always great. Is there a way to tell the speed of our Internet service when we watch Netflix? We wonder if the Internet plan needs to be upgraded. Or maybe it’s Netflix’s problem? Hulu usually looks okay. Please help!! —Stacy, Roanoke, Virginia.

Stacy, you have a common concern. Some streamers report that their picture looks just dandy most of the time, but then all of a sudden, the picture quality seems to diminish a bit. The 4K picture will fall to HD or the high-def picture will fall to standard-def quality. The decline in quality usually doesn’t last very long, but when it does, it can be quite annoying.

There’s an obvious reason for this problem. Your Internet service’s speed varies and sometimes it will dip below the minimum requirement for a high-def or 4K picture.

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(Netflix says you need a minimum speed of 5 Megabits (Mbps) to watch high-def and 15 Megabits to watch 4K programming.)

When this occurs, Netflix may post an on-screen message asking if you want to change the HD setting to SD, or the 4K setting to HD. I would not advise doing this very often. You are paying for HD and/or 4K and you want to watch your show or movie with the best picture quality possible.

If the picture quality falls off for a relatively long period of time, I would suggest re-starting the program to see if that will improve the speed.

And when I say, re-start, I mean just start the show from the point where you stopped watching. You can do this by hitting Stop and then returning to the Menu and hitting the Resume button. This will take you back to the scene you were watching so you don’t have to start from the beginning.

You might also want to delete the app and reinstall it. This will sometimes refresh the playback so it operates normally.

(You may also want to read my story on how to dramatically reduce Netflix buffering.)

Now to your specific question: There is a way to check the speed and resolution of your Netflix picture. Go to Fast.com and do a test of your ISP’s speed. Fast.com is Netflix’s own web-based speed test, but you can use it for any streaming service. If you see your Internet’s speed regularly falling below your plan’s promised speed minimum, you probably need an upgrade or a house call from your Internet provider.

Stacy, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at swann@tvanswerman.com Please include your first name and hometown in your message.

— Phillip Swann
@tvanswerman

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