We interrupt your movie (with our sincerest apologies) for this special message from Fandor VP of Product Albert Reinhardt.
Twenty years ago, the average computer strained to play video from a CD-ROM using an inadequate 386 processor. Nowadays, we’re trying to deliver the same amount of data to your phone, over a wireless connection, while you’re riding the subway.
Despite the prevalence of high-speed connections, the morass of streaming infrastructure and plethora of delivery platforms makes watching movies on your computer much more complicated than it might seem. This brings us to the the internal question: why, in this day of age, do we still have to deal with that infernal buffering?
Rotating pinwheels have become a thing of nightmares for many internet users (don’t worry, we feel your pain). Regardless of the underlying cause, in the eyes of you the viewer the end result is the same: poor streaming leads to a bad movie watching experience.
At Fandor, our engineering and customer support teams go to great lengths to minimize the occurrence of streaming disruptions and, when they do happen, investigate the root cause in order to address them properly.
If you’ve ever tried to watch a video on the internet and have experienced buffering, there are a number of factors that could be the source of the problem:
- Connection speed
- Network traffic
Let’s look at them one by one.
Most people have a DSL or cable connection that should be sufficient for streaming movies. For example, your connection may support a download speed of 12MBps (megabytes per second) at its most efficient. In practice, you need roughly 1.5MB to ensure “good” streaming quality, but your actual, “practical,” streaming speed might be significantly less than what your network is capable of when it’s firing on all cylinders. Here are a few issues that could be slowing down your connection speed:
Local network – Do you have teenagers (or a husband) who play World of Warcraft? Are you streaming Pandora on a computer in another room? If you have a lot of activity on your home network it can cause congestion with your movie playback. If you’d like to stream a movie, it’s best to stop other activity occurring over your network.
Last mile – If you’re on a cable connection, the connection speed highs can be very high (12-25 MBps) when conditions are perfect. But when everyone is streaming the last season of Breaking Bad on Saturday night, the pipe to the neighborhood backs up and everybody loses. There isn’t a great solution to this recurring problem. However, DSL is always an alternative; although it usually doesn’t have as high a top end speed as cable, it does have fewer issues with congestion.
Fluctuating bandwidth – If you have good top end bandwidth but it fluctuates then your streaming quality can oscillate up and down while you’re watching a movie. In this case, we suggest you lower the bandwidth of your Flash player by clicking on the HD button in the player toolbar and selecting a slower stream (bit-rate) to avoid buffering (see below).
Senator Ted Stevens was right: the guts of the Internet is a series of tubes that gets clogged because we fill it up (with movies!)
There are a few ways to characterize the issues that occur because of network traffic. When your data travels through multiple internet providers to get to you, the further you are from a server the more there is that can go wrong. Data can get lost in transit or latency causes problems with playback. At Fandor, we try to get good coverage no matter where you live, but the biggest data centers are on the east or west coast so customers located there are served quickest.
Occasionally, an Internet service provider like Comcast is overburdened in a location and has to rent bandwidth from another provider. This can cause your movie to makes 20 ‘hops’ before it gets to you instead of 3. In my personal experience, I saw a file go back and forth between Seattle and San Francisco a couple time before coming back to my TV (this ruined date night).
It’s possible that your computer or streaming platform could have trouble keeping up with your internet connection. This could be because the server is sending too large a file or you have other programs running in the background that interfere with drawing the frames to the screen, which can lead to jerky playback. Additional complications may arise depending on what operating system and internet browser you use. Then, there are the different programs and devices you use to actually stream the film, each with their own idiosyncrasies. Let’s take a closer look at these.
Flash – Yes, it’s the de-facto industry standard, but it’s also unfortunately plagued by performance issues related to frame dropping. In addition to requiring a lot of processor power, there have been intermittent issues that have cropped up in the last year related to sound sync while watching movies with Flash on a variety of internet browsers.
Silverlight – Microsoft’s answer to Flash. It does an OK job with playback, with some caveats; it’s not installed by default (Flash usually is) and it isn’t as widely adopted as a result.
HTML5 – It works on phones, tablets and you can embed it. BUT, there is no baked in rights management system, which helps protect content from being illegally distributed. At Fandor, we need to protect our filmmaker’s content from piracy, so this isn’t an option for us at this time.
Other platforms – iOS, Andorid, Roku, Sony, Vizio, Panasonic and Chromecast. The list of TV’s, set top boxes and mobile devices is pretty long (and still growing). Most of these devices use HLS and MPEG-DASH to stream content, both of which are optimized for delivering the highest quality picture based on the available connection and adjusting playback as needed. So, you can get HD quality streaming on your tablet and phone and, if the stars are aligned, you can even cast/airplay it to your TV. There can be bandwidth issues when trying to play films on a 3G connection, but on wi-fi it it generally works well.
What are we left with?
While most people can watch movies over the internet without any problems, occasionally some people will have less than pleasant experiences. Assisting members who encounter streaming issues while watching movies on Fandor is something we are intent upon. If you ever encounter persistent buffering, or starting or stopping of your movie, we encourage you to contact our customer support team (email@example.com) who can help troubleshoot your streaming issues. Additionally, our engineering teams are committed to building tools to better monitor streaming performance and are hard at work setting up more servers located nearer to you.