Hi Gizmodo! Long time reader, first time Asker. Hopefully the old adage of there being no stupid questions holds true here. So, I reside in the Guantanamo Bay of the Apple universe and, as such, watch most of my content via two Apple TVs (third and fourth gen). What has me puzzled is that they both stream Netflix in HD silky smooth, and movies via iTunes are completely downloaded minutes after starting them.
TV series via iTunes on the other hand are painfully slow, usually taking around 60-200 minutes for a half hour show to become watchable in SD. My question is, beyond my home network and my ISP is there some factor in the way this content is delivered that could account for the tremendous difference in performance?
Cheers, Ready to Play in 168 Minutes
Hi there! Sounds like you have a tricky problem on your hands — and it's definitely not a stupid question. It's not easy for us to diagnose the problem completely from our perch here on the internet, but we do have a few questions that you can ask yourself and test out on your home setup to see if they have any positive effect.
Firstly, does the problem happen on just one Apple TV box, or both? Are they connected over wired or wireless? Does it persist when the Apple TV is the only device on the network — no phones or tablets or PCs (Apple or otherwise) sitting around potentially hoovering up bandwidth in the background? And, as usual, make sure every piece of firmware and software everywhere from the router backwards to the Apple TV is up to date.
And finally, does it happen at all times of the day or is the problem worse during peak times? Who's your internet service provider — have you talked to them about the issue? If you have any DNS changes or alternate settings in place on your home router, this could be the cause of one or more problems along the line that could be mucking something up — resulting in those very specific slow speeds.
We've heard about this happening before, with a delineation sometimes between movie and TV downloads, sometimes between movies and TV and music and other Apple iTunes media. At the core of it seems to be the fact that Apple's data, served by the massive Akamai content distribution network, comes from different servers for Australia, and there's different levels of load placed on them — for TV and movies — for the Aussie market.
Here's an (older) Whirlpool post suggesting some Aussie ISPs get redirected to slower overseas Akamai servers — but changing DNS to Google's public 126.96.36.199 fixes it. That's something worth trying if your home router supports manual DNS settings — although caveat emptor, save your settings before you start, and so on.
The fact that you have smooth and high-def Netflix streams is a pretty good sign for the quality of your 'net connection overall. What speed test results do you get from SpeedTest.net and Fast.com? These are likely to be quite different, as one pings Netflix's servers and one will talk to an Ookla box at your local ISP — so one's a little more real-world than the other.
Netflix is kind of the gold standard in this area, because it has Open Connect Appliances in major ISPs and dynamically shares load around different OCAs around the country to make sure that everyone gets pretty fair and equitable access to the same video streaming quality.
But, with that said, Netflix also has much less impact on your 'net connection than you'd think. It delivers Full HD video at around 6Mbps, which is a far cry from the 25-75Mbps that you can reasonably expect an actual physical Blu-ray disc to deliver. Apple's iTunes streams use older codecs than Netflix is running with at the moment, but it's still on the lower side of the spectrum between tiny Netflix stream and physical copy.
When you're downloading a movie, there's a single file to download, and it can be downloaded sequentially to allow you to start watching — née streaming — while the rest is downloading in the background. If you're downloading an entire series, you've got more than one file to work with likely downloading in parallel, and potentially slowing the entire operation down significantly — especially if things aren't going to plan in the first place. Here's how long it should take.
If you're still having no luck, it makes sense to escalate the problem to your ISP and get in touch with Apple however possible to see whether they can offer you any potential remedy — or at least evidence that something fishy is going on. Sorry we couldn't be of more help!