How can I view online video without the starts and stops?

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.

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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.

The number-one cause: Your internet connection

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.

The number two cause: Your computer’s too busy

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.

Solution number 1: Pause

Most video player progress bars will typically show three stages of video playback:

Video Player Progress Bar

  • 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.

Video Player Pause Button

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.

Solution number 2: Reduce the demand

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:

Video Player Resolution Selection

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.

Solution number 3: Download

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 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 theoretically also be able to stream it directly without the starts and stops.

This is a minor update to an article originally posted : November 25, 2012
Footnotes and references

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.

There are 66 comments:

  1. TOM Reply

    I have the same problem my Internet speed is 1.1Mbps is this fast enough? The same happens when I stream from TV eg. QVC TV channel picture freezes and start to rebuff. It is very annoying.

  2. Josh Mc Reply

    I do wait and let it buffer all the way but when I play the video, the video stops in the middle of it and asks if I want to atch it again

  3. Bohumil [Bob] Krouzil. Reply

    Hi Leo.
    Leo thank’s a milion,you put my mind at eas.My sound has been exactly as you have said above.

  4. Steve Reply

    I have a playlist saved on you tube with 18 songs. It is the same 3 any and every time I play the list. I have plenty of hard disk space for the temp file. I think there’s more to it.

  5. Art Reply

    I’d like play just an excerpt of youtube video on my web site. I know how to play youtube video, but not the excerpt (e.g., a segment from 15 sec. to 25 sec.). Would you advice what code should I insert to achieve that? Thank you. Art

    PS
    I use the following code to place youtube video on my web site:

  6. jane Reply

    Hi Leo
    I have the stop and go of my youtube videos which is odd because it wasn’t happening 2 weeks ago. My laptop is brand new and the youtube was working perfectly then suddenly I started having the stop and go. I cleared my cookies & still no help. When I hit the pause, the red line stops completely so its not downloading while I wait. Even if I wait for the entire video to download and then hit replay, it starts the same stopping and going. Could I have done something to bring this on suddenly?
    thanks
    jane

  7. drun4ik Reply

    Here is my issue: latest version of Firefox, and after some day all flash videos (youtube, etc.) begin stopping after 1-2seconds. Also, no sound.

    Solution:
    - First, open Mozilla plug-ins folder (C:Program FilesMozilla Firefoxplugins)
    - Then, flash plug-in folder (C:WINDOWSsystem32MacromedFlash)
    - Check if NPSWF32.dll is present in Mozilla folder. If not, just copy it. Restart Firefox and it should be fixed.

    Some other workarounds I’ve found on the web: Uninstall RealPlayer (if you use it), or install previous build of Flash Player. Old builds can be found here: http://kb.adobe.com/selfservice/viewContent.do?externalId=tn_14266&sliceId=2

    Hope it helps!

  8. Chris Werkman Reply

    I had this problem crop up suddenly and found that it was due to a clutter of files and other junk I allowed to accumulate on my desktop. I ashcanned a bunch of videos and other files just sitting on my desktop and the problem with videos starting and stopping went away. You might try that.

  9. 'chele Reply

    Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!! I hit pause and let the video completely download, went back and when I hit play – it played just as it “should” – no stops and starts. I am very grateful. :-)

  10. Avi elch Reply

    Is the buffering a Vista problem? I have a notebook with vista (w/3 megs of ram) that has this problem and a desktop with XP that does not.
    both are connected to the internet thru a broadband connection. What should I do?

  11. Roy Reply

    If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have put You Tube up until that bug got work out. But then I would have made sure saccharine and cyclamates were harmless and not cancer-causing before putting them on the market.

    What bug? The fact that your internet connection is slower than the data rate needed to give you a seamless video is not a bug.

    - Leo
    06-Feb-2009
  12. Shannon Reply

    I cannot tell you how much this info helped!! Been having this problem for awhile. Not just on Youtube! Very cool and no need to get frustrated anymore. I will just pause….

  13. Marvin Reply

    When running internet videos the red load line does load far ahead of the playing point. And the video still stops, skips frames, and starts and stops. Even going back to the beginning point and rerunning the video with the red line full the video still does the stop and start thing. The sound is doing the same. I am running windows XP with Internet Explorer. Adobe Flash player 10 Active X is loaded and Java Script is enabled. Memory space is clear. System is an Intel 866 MHZ, 512 ram with service pack 3. Display adapter is a Nvidia GeForce 2 MX 100/200. And the wireless connection is at 54Mbps.What possibly could be wrong or set to cause this video problem? Videos do run normal in Microsoft Media player. But are jumpy in Flash. Thanks

    My initial reaction is that your machine is underpowered. 866Mhz with 512Meg RAM isn’t much these days. Flash may simply take more power than your machine has. (Also perhaps highly dependant on what else is running and eating up system resources while you try to play video.)

    - Leo
    02-May-2009
  14. Sara Reply

    THANK YOU SO MUCH for the info. I have had problems trying to watch the news videos on my homepage with all the stopping every few seconds. I just hit the pause and let the line move to the right and NOW I have no problems watching.

  15. inakshi Reply

    hi Leo
    thanks for the information but even when i pause the download progress wont happen or is very slow and it very annoying. so please please tell me what to do

  16. Marlene Reply

    I had the same start and stop problem with watching videos online. I tried numerous sites to make sure it wasn’t the site. The problem came on suddenly so I tried all the fixes on the first page, but no luck. I finally uninstalled ITunes which I had recently installed and now everything is working fine again. ITunes installed a mess of programs that I would never even use and it made itself the main music player. I also noticed that Itunes had a lot of task running all the time, at least 5 or more. So, that’s my fix. Hope it might help someone else.

  17. Stephen Totten Reply

    Ive been having a similar problem but Ive found that if I reboot my PC the videos play faster what could be causing this?

    Usually that means that some application is eating up system resources – CPU, disk, memory, or network bandwidth. Pay close attention to what applications are running before you reboot – one or more of them may be interfering.

    Leo
    26-Jul-2009

  18. Nidancer Reply

    well my problem is a bit different than this…
    when i try to watch a video online sometimes its plays fine but after serveral viedeo watching or sometimes just one…

    the sound stop & the video stops playing if i click the video it plays for 2 secs.. then stops again only thing i can do is restart my PC
    to fix the problem & repeat

    Please help…

  19. F Reply

    Thank you. I had been having this issue with Win 7 on a new computer and the pause key did the trick. Appreciate it.

  20. Beth Harrington Reply

    I recently bought a canon fs20 camcorder and tried to download several videos onto my computer. When I watch the videos, they stop and start again, like they are buffering. Is this my computer, download program or something else? I am using the Imagemixer 3 program that the camcorder came with.

  21. Keith Reply

    My problem is similar, but not the same. I get fairly rapid initial download speed of the video, and download halts and does not resume. This appears on many sites. Is it possible that after a certain number of dropped packets, the download is quitting?

    In other words, I get rapid download – then download ceases and there is no rebuffering or restart. Sometimes this happens every 30 seconds (and I have to reload the page) sometimes after 20 minutes or 30 minutes.

  22. Rene Reply

    Yo have reason 100%, I discover that myself alone.What I want is to replace my pc or to find a way to repair it.Another family member has a pc, I try you tube and i can see video instantly, for that reazon is not my conection is may pc, Can I repair it or I should change my pc? Please if you know someone able to reir it let me know i am willing to pay.thanks

  23. Rene Reply

    The only disagreement with you is the reazons.Again a member of my family come tu my same conection with her laptop and is able to see without problems, then is my pc,how I fix that , I do not want to wait how you suggest, I am doing that and is a waiting of time

  24. emack Reply

    does anyone know why vista download gets slower as the file progresses. it quickly gets down to as low as 1kB/s. i have an xp box on the same router and it works ok on the same site at the same time.

  25. Rene Reply

    I disagree with you answer, I have the problem with my pc, stop and star you tube videos,my daughter in the same network has no problems. If I do what you advice when the video is downloades I already lost interest to see, my daughter see videos immediately.

  26. arelak43 Reply

    well is it so common, but so difficult to fix, the start and stop ,for all video reviews.This is ask by millions daily so some tech resolve my issue.I see no reason to pay the server for faster internet services.when videos do now work anywhere the servers do not know that ?.

  27. Gabriele Reply

    Pausing stop and start videos only helps for 5minutes, is there enything else I can do?

  28. ddrt Reply

    I’m using Firefox 5.0 (however problem has been in every version)
    I allow video to load completely and audio continues while video stops and starts after a few seconds. Even as I type this it’s delaying some of my words. I wait and it auto fills if I keep typing.

    I’m using osx 10.6.7 All add-ons disabled.

  29. Mark J Reply

    @Ddrt
    Sounds like you might have more programs running than your computer can handle which might be slowing it down. More RAM might help, or you might try stopping some programs that start up with your computer that you don’t need.
    http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_determine_what_i_absolutely_need_to_load_at_startup.html
    Oops, I just noticed that you use OSX, I don’t know what the procedure is to stop programs from starting up on a Mac, someone who reads this might have an answer.

  30. Don deB. Reply

    My dsl downstream rate was 765 and up was 132.
    They were upgraded to 7036 and 508 respectively and I had no problem w/starts&stops of video.
    For some unknown reason the rates have reverted to the lower nbrs and I now have that prob. again.
    How can I change the rates back to the higher nbrs from the Broadband DSL Line Diagnostics page?

    Make sure you’re not running other programs that download at the same time, but ultimately this sounds like you’ll have to talk to your ISP.

    Leo
    05-Sep-2011

  31. Jan Reply

    I’ve been trying to watch videos from a site called Paper Crafters Library. I do what you say, but its still an extremely slow process. At times I can let it spool in for ages, but when I click play I still only get a very short time, sometimes only seconds, before it stops again. I tried Videobox but the makers of that said the site uses streaming videos and Videobox will not work. Is there anything else? I’ve spoken to our provider and they say its all ok there. I can watch Youtubes with no problems. Thank you.

  32. Richard Tapp Reply

    Minor typo: can should be can’t in this sentence: The video player just can get the data fast enough for the video to play without interruption.

  33. Kevin Reply

    If ya use Firefox which I would recommend, just use “you tube video quality manager”. This helps a lot. else just let it buffer and play later. Some VPN’s also increase download speed.

  34. Kevin Reply

    For other types of streaming..just move cursor to left side of screen..right click and just find Quality..select Low (from high/medium or low)..this also helps a lot as we in Europe know.

  35. BR Reply

    Use with care, I downloaded and before I could instal I received a virus warning (I use AVG). It hasn’t to the best of my knowledge caused me any problems, but that’s maybe only because I didn’t proceed.
    I appreciate the link was offered in good faith though, so not a criticism, just a word of warning.

  36. ANS Reply

    I used to think my Internet connection was slow, and that’s why video was taking so long and why web pages took so long to display. But then I hooked a Linux laptop to my home network, and wow … it was really fast. So, the problem was not the Internet connection, but rather my computer. My solution was to buy a new computer, the fastest and biggest I could get. I now have 16 GB of RAM, i7 processor, 10 MB cache, 1024 MB video card. Video never pauses. Web pages load like they were local. I am in heaven.

    My old XT computer? I will load Ubuntu Linux on it as a dual boot machine.

  37. Rene LeBlanc Reply

    In recent months my computer has begun encountering a different kind of video playing problem when playing videos from the Internet. I can see the downloaded, but not played, bar well ahead of the current display point, but the screen freezes anyway. Only if I move the mouse pointer up into the video does it free up and begin displaying properly again. In order to play a video smoothly, I have to keep the mouse up in the video and wiggle it around to keep the thing playing. This is MOST annoying, but I haven’t found a way to avoid it. I am mostly using Firefox, but I think it happens with other browsers too. Can you explain this? Better yet, tell me how to fix it?

    BTW, this happens when my fast (3gB/s), big (6 gB ram) computer is not overloaded or doing lots of other things. The video will continue playing smoothly as long as I keep wiggling the mouse around in the video.

  38. Sogent Reply

    I’d really like to see an answer to Rene LeBlanc’s problem with some video’s as I have the same problem. If you have an idea, please post it. Thanks very much.

  39. bob price Reply

    My IE9 hangs all the time with videos, and I have a fast connection. Then switched to FF and/or Chrome and have no problems. But I must close the IE hog first.

  40. Mark J Reply

    @Rene
    That sounds like a problem of not enough resources such as RAM or CPU. I’d run Process Explorer, as Leo suggested, and see how I could free up some resources on my system. I had a similar problem, where doing anything with my keyboard or mouse, even simple things like scrolling a window, would cause the video hesitate. Closing a few background processes solved the problem.

  41. Peggy Reply

    In my documents on face book, when I go into doc to copy an image or quote to post on Facebook, when I click to see a doc all the documents fly by so fast I can’t even see them, much less choose one. Have any idea why this is happening?
    Thanks

  42. James Reply

    Hi Peggy,

    This is not really the best place to post a question, especially since the question does not appear to be related to the topic.

    The best way would be to click the link below that says “Questions? Ask Leo” and ask your own question.

    Of course if you are a subscriber, you should go to your email and click the link in the email you received from Leo because Leo always puts subscribers questions to the top of the queue and you’ll likely get a response in a couple weeks as opposed to a month or two.

    If your not a subscriber, it would probably be faster to subscribe (there’s a subscription box above). It’s free to subscribe and Leo doesn’t sell his mailing list. Then when you get the first email, click the link in the email to ask your question as a subscriber and move ahead in the queue.

  43. David Hutchins Reply

    Sometimes a reboot will help, undoubtedly because that closes processes and programs that may have been taking up resources. Sometimes it’s easier than trying to figure out what’s slowing you down with process explorer. One day everything was dragging on my computer–not just video. I realized that my son was using his computer wirelessly from my router. Usually he and I are not on at the same time, but this time we were.

  44. BAW30s Reply

    I use a browser called Fastpeak Slimbrowser because I like the interface, with menus which allow me to do everything I want and with very easy access to translation. I just noticed that it now offers a button for direct downloading of videos on YouTube too in all the formats available.

  45. Pamela Reply

    My Mom developed this problem with watching youtube videos (would just buffer endlessly) and for months I blamed her old computer and even sadly her :( because I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Never thought it could be a bad router! Replaced it, and that fixed the problem. Happy Momma, happy me :-)

  46. John Reply

    Does “streaming” create a file on your local computer? What happens to the data when the streaming is finished?

    • Mark Jacobs Reply

      Some streaming downloads the whole file, and you can watch it as it downloads. When finished, it deletes the file. Others download the file and only keep a portion of the file in a buffer, which is also a temporary file on your computer.

    • Leo Reply

      Streaming may create temporary files of some sort depending on the technology being used, but that should all be cleaned up when you’re done.

  47. Frannie Reply

    I have wireless internet and can watch videos on my Kindle, but they will only play for a few seconds on my brand new lap top. I’m thinking that it must be the laptop, since they both use the same router, internet, etc. Does that make sense.

  48. Frank Walker Reply

    Maybe I missed it but one should always do a speed test (try speedtest.net) to determine the actual speed of the connection first. This will tell you if the problem is related the speed of the connection or if you need to look elsewhere.
    Peak viewing times can slow down one’s connection significantly.

  49. bob price Reply

    Why can I watch a Netflix movie in HD on my 24″ ext monitor for two hours without a single glitch or pause, but can’t view a simple three minute news cast, about 2″ x 4″ without constant freezes?

    • James Reply

      Maybe the problem isn’t at your end. Maybe it’s the news website not wanting to spend the money on sufficient servers/bandwidth/etc. to be able to serve up the video to as many people as are using their website. Whereas, I’m sure Netflix has already and probably continues to upgrade its hardware/bandwidth to keep its paying customers happy.

      • Mark Jacobs Reply

        Linux has a utility called WINE (which originally stood for WINdows Emulator but now people say it means Wine Is Not an Emulator) which can run many Windows programs, but if Linux itself doesn’t have the drivers using WINE wouldn’t help.

    • Leo Reply

      Different technologies often have different requirements. It IS frustrating, for sure, but not all video display technologies work the same way.

  50. Richard Pedersen Reply

    Hi Leo,
    I have a solution for the DASH problem. That’s where YouTube only provides a short buffer rather than downloading the whole video to its end.

    It involves a third-party add-on for FireFox users. I am not affiliated with this product in any way. It provides many uses other than simply controlling DASH and is completely free to use.

    Note: There are scripts and plug-ins available for other browsers as well.

    I wrote a guest article for Dave’s Computer Tips that covers this very subject and it can be found at this link: http://www.davescomputertips.com/dont-like-dash-then-youtube-center-is-for-you/

    Thank you for all the helpful information you provide us.

    I hope this helps,
    Richard

  51. Bonita Reply

    With an Android tablet, videos can be interesting. Some play fine. Some cause the tablet to completely freeze. And some start and stop every few seconds.

  52. Joe Reply

    What a useless article. Can you tell us why youtube no-longer buffers the full video when you pause? Seems completely senseless to me. I dont mind waiting for the the full HD video to buffer, why are they cutting this short?

    Please do some more research and come back to us.

  53. Dominic Melit Reply

    HI Leo,
    I Have a desktop computer which i bought about a year ago and it could load a 20 minute YouTube video on full hd in about a minute or two. My internet speed is the same 15mb/s as it was back then, and yes that is fast for Australia but if i change the quality to hd it stops and pausing doesn’t help because you tube videos don’t like to download when they are paused on my computer. So i tried my sisters new mac which was connected to WiFi not Ethernet as my desktop is and the exact same video on the exact same quality loaded almost instantly. So Please help!!!!!!!!

  54. Mary Vaughan Reply

    My thoughts are not just uTube videos, but short clips on FB. I only have an Ipad and pay quite a bit for my not the top but next best available speed I can afford which is NOT cheap! I mean every second or two? It is so frustrating i want to throw this damn thing through the wall. Its a fairly new one and have no other problems with it but this. I will try the pause thing but I’m calling Apple next!

  55. John Meny Reply

    Thanks so much for the clarity. Only one remaining question: Could you please comment on how the CPU speed might affect streaming? Would one notice any significant difference between using a computer with a 1.88GHz processor and one with a 3.2GHz processor. I’m in the market for a new computer and the slower one would meet all my other needs and be less expensive. If, however, the faster one would provide a perceptible improvement in streaming, I’d be inclined to spend the extra bucks. Thanks for your thoughts.
    John Meny

    • Leo Reply

      CPU speeds that you’re looking at shouldn’t have appreciable impact in general. Like I said, what matters most is the speed of your internet connection.

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