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Guide to Streaming: Stop Buffering Videos in Windows Media Player

written by: Tolga BALCI•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 3/22/2011

If you are getting tired of the “Buffering" message in Windows Media Player, you have come to the right place. Here we describe what buffering is and what you can do to stop buffering videos.

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    What Is This “Buffer" Thing and Why Do I Need It?

    Before rolling up our sleeves and tweaking with settings to stop buffering in Windows Media Player (WMP), we have to understand what buffering is, in terms of streaming media.

    Buffers are actually a form of temporary storage that computer programs use in memory areas. For example, your computer uses a buffer when sending documents to the printer. When you request streaming media from the Internet, or from any network, first the server that receives your request compresses the data, encodes it (nowadays these two steps are skipped, because the files that are on the server are already encoded), and sends it to your computer in small packets. Then your computer receives the packets, opens and decodes them, and sends them to WMP (or any other media player for that matter). Of course, the packets do not arrive sequentially to your computer such as packet_1, packet_2, packet_3, and so on. At this stage, the buffer accepts the packets, reorders packets if necessary, checks the algorithm, and sends them to the WMP.

    Assume that in a 5-second buffer, packets 1, 3, 8, 9, 2, 4, 6, 7, 5 arrive in a WMV streaming media. As you see, packets 6 and 7 are in order, but not at the place that they should be. Similarly, packet 1 is in place at the correct sequence, but not followed with the correct packets. In the buffer, the packets are put in order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Then, contents and algorithms are checked (WMV decompression and decoding) and sent to the media player. The packets that arrive next, say 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 17 and 18 are processed the same way and appended to packet number 9. But, again, as you see, the packets are sequential up to number 16 but not afterwards. The buffer reorders once more and sends them to the media player.

    If this buffer were not in place, then your media experience - listening and/or watching - would be interrupted, because for every packet that is received, your computer would have to recheck everything in real time and send you the results. Considering available bandwidths and computer processing speeds, this would result in a frequently-interrupted media experience.

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    Will I Experience Buffers If I Have a Faster Connection and Computer?

    Yes, because all these have little to do with your computer and connection speed. But there is also a "no" part.

    Let me give you an example: I am living in Istanbul and am connected to the Internet. I make a request to watch a video from Bright Hub, which is located in United States. I pass on my request by clicking on the link and in turn, the server begins to send packets. Some packets arrive to my computer from the New York - Paris - Istanbul route, and some packets arrive from New York - Oslo - Switzerland - Istanbul route. So, what if the first route is faster than the second one? Then my buffer would have to wait for some packets to arrive and manage them before sending to my media player. Unless I have the fastest and the sole connection to the server, this would be the case.

    We must also note the point that the server actually “serves" the media to various computers. This means it accepts a request from me and begins to send packets and receives another request and begins to send the same packets to the other user as well. If you further assume the number of connections and the order they are processed, it is unlikely that you will have the packets in sequential order.

    The "no" part: if you have a faster connection, then you will receive packets faster and your buffer time will be as low as possible, maybe to the limit that you experience no delays. If you think about buffering only for the delay that you experience, then, with a faster connection you will "experience" less buffers. But if you look at buffering technically, then, your computer will buffer in the background, but your connection will be so fast that the packets will be received and put to sequence before you see the "buffering" word on Windows Media Player.

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    Enough! How Do I Stop Buffering in Windows Media Player?

    Windows Media Player Stopping Buffering OK. Now we will go and stop buffering in Windows Media Player. Open up WMP, click on Tools, then Options. Switch to the performance tab and in the middle section, and under “Network Buffering" select the radio button named “Buffer … seconds of content" and set the number to 1, which is the minimum value. Click Apply and OK to exit.

    If in the future, you are not happy with the buffer size, go back to the Performance tab and select “Use default buffering (recommended)" option.

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    Conclusion

    Buffering is an essential element in streaming media as we have seen in our article. Disabling buffers or changing their value to a minimum will possibly have a negative effect in your streaming media experience.

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    References

    Article: Author's own experience

    Screenshot: Author's own