I've been getting this question in various forms since I started my computer business nearly 5 years ago.
Since I started providing my VPN service that allows you to watch British TV on your computer {jcomments on}this question has become my most frequent!

Even now (over a year later) I still get questions about how Internet Speed affects Video Streaming (including video calls, wathcing TV, YouTube etc.).

Don't worry if you don't know what a Kb/s or a Mb/s is: I explain how to test your speed at the end of this. One thing you should know is that a Mb/s is 1000 times as fast as a Kb/s. So, 384 Kb/s is the same as 0.384 Mb/s.

Watching Video / TV / Movies Live on your Computer

Here are the Recommended Speeds for watching videos on the Internet:

Videos (YouTube etc.): 384 Kb/s
TV Programmes: 1.5 Mb/s
Movies: 2.5 Mb/s
Movies (HD): 5.0 Mb/s

You may be OK if you have less and only have a little buffering. With slower connections you would need to download and play back later. I cover the consequences of slow Internet at the end of this article.

If you are interested in watching TV whilst abroad (i.e. watching UK TV in Spain) then give my 14-day FREE trial a try. No obligation, but if you like it for just £10 a month you can watch whatever is available from wherever you are!

Making Skype® Phone and Video Calls

Skype Video is less demanding than video streaming. Recommended Speeds:

Voice only: 64 Kb/s
Video and Voice: 384 Kb/s
Screen Sharing: 512 Kb/s

I use the built in (and FREE) Skype screen sharing to offer help and advice to my clients remotely over the Internet.

Please bear in mind that for Skype it is recommended that you have these speeds for your upload as well (otherwise your caller will have problems hearing and/or seeing you!).

You can also refer to my article on setting up your audio equimpent to work with Skype if you are having problems.

For more information on Skype® see my article recommending Skype®

How to Test your Internet Speed

Now that you know what you need, you need to know what speed you have. To find out, you need to run a speed test. See my article on Testing Your Internet Speed.

What Happens If Your Internet is Too Slow?

Now you know what speed you need and what speed you have. What happens if your Internet service is too slow?

There are a number of things that can happen:

  • Reduced Quality Video. As bad as this may sound, this may turn out to be the best option! This relies on the sender (the site that you are on - YouTube, BBC, Sky etc) noticing that you have a slow connection and reducing the quality of the video. This will reduce the number of 'bits' needed so that your Internet Provider can cope. This will give you smooth video and good quality sound but the video will be less detailed.
  • Breaks / Stops in Video Playback. This is caused by 'buffering'. Your computer downloads as much as it can within the limits of your download speed and stores it in a 'buffer'. When you view the video you are viewing it from the data stored in the buffer. The problem is that the buffer can't add video at the same rate as you are watching because it is waiting for more 'bits' from your Internet. The video playback will stop while it waits for the next batch of video. This will continue with the result that your video will continually stop and then start again.
  • Delay Before Video Playback. This is a better way of handling the breaks: your video player software waits for a lot more of the video to be downloaded before it even starts. You can then watch all that has alreay been downloaded and the later stuff that downloads in the background while you are watching. For a long video (films etc.) you may find that the playback stops again until it has enough to carry on.
  • Not Play at All. This is the worst case and will happen if the sender (the site you visit) detects that your connection is too slow and simply doesn't send it to you.

What Can You Do If Your Internet Is Too Slow?

I'm sorry to say that there is not much you CAN do. Here are a couple of options:

  • Choose low resolution video formats where available.
  • Turn off all other devices that access the Internet (including your mobile phones).
  • Stop any program on your computer that is accessing the Internet (program updates, backup programs). I recommend creating a new user profile specifically for streaming that has the bare minimum software running - your Antivirus, your Browser (or Skype) and your playback Software.
  • Download the video to your computer first.

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