The last thing you want when you settle down to binge-watch Orange is the New Black is buffering or lag on your Netflix video stream. With that in mind, these are the tricks you need to be aware of to minimise the chances of that happening. Most of these tips apply to any video streaming site, so you can reuse them for Hulu and YouTube too.
1) Find out the internet speeds you're getting
Before you start cursing in Netflix's general direction, make sure you're getting the kind of speeds your Internet Service Provider has promised.
A simple run through the speed test at Ookla Speedtest.net is probably the quickest and easiest way of checking your download (and upload) speeds. If you're not on a computer then there are mobile apps available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices.
If the end figure is alarmingly low, it's time to have a word with your ISP, or try and troubleshoot your Wi-Fi connection. If all looks fine, you need to work out why Netflix isn't getting enough of the bandwidth.
2) Check where your bandwidth is going
Monitoring internet usage across a network isn't the most straightforward task, and for a lot of us, the easiest option is probably just to close down apps and disconnect devices to see if the situation improves.
In other words, shut down Spotify, turn the Wi-Fi off on your phone, and check no one downstairs is running a madly popular Facebook Live broadcast.
If you do want to get more scientific about it, programs such as GlassWire and NetLimiter (Windows) and Little Snitch (macOS) can tell you which apps on your local computer are hogging all of the internet goodness. Depending on the model, your router might also be able to offer up some information on who is using what.
3) Streamline your browser
Browser extensions can often get in the way of some solid video streaming, either intentionally or otherwise. Either they steal valuable bandwidth or they take up so much of your browser's time and resources that Netflix can't get a look in.
First, close down any browser tabs you're not using, then open up the extensions page and see if there are any add-ons you can live without, or that you think might be overreaching. You can opt to disable rather than uninstall them, to see if it makes a difference.
Doing this extension by extension is going to be time-consuming, but then again it will give you a better idea of who the worst offenders are when it comes to interfering with the video streaming. Alternatively, just install an alternative browser solely for the purpose of running Netflix.
4) Run a thorough security scan
If you're having persistent buffering problems with Netflix then a rogue piece of malware or a virus could be to blame — perhaps you've been signed up to the world's biggest botnet without your knowledge.
A full system scan by your installed security application of choice is a good place to start, but it might not be the most effective if the offending piece of code has already sneaked past its defences.
5) Double-check your Netflix settings
Finally, check the settings inside the Netflix web app itself to make sure you're getting the maximum speeds. For a start you need to be on the standard plan to get HD streaming and the premium plan to get Ultra HD, 4K quality on certain shows.
Dive into your Netflix account on the web, choose Your Account from the menu under your avatar, and then click on Playback settings. Select either Auto to have Netflix adjust the stream quality based on available bandwidth or High to force it to use the best quality that you've signed up for.
Of course if our goal is to reduce buffering rather than get the best quality, you might have to knock the setting down a notch or two — even if it is just temporarily while your ISP sorts out problems on its end.