Guide to improving streaming quality

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If you’ve ever struggled with streaming quality while watching your favourite movies or box sets from the comfort of your La-Z-Boy sofa, look no further for expert advice.

Christian Cawley is an authority on all things tech, and shares his knowledge for the benefit of La-Z-Boy UK customers.

A familiar problem?

Does your broadband struggle to deliver high quality streamed video to your phone, tablet, PC or television?

Jerky and blocky images, stuttering sound, and screen tearing (where half the image lags) are all trademarks of a poor connection, as is the dreaded "buffering" icon.

The fact is, to stream video successfully, you need a fast, reliable internet connection, and a fast home network. As streamed video increases in quality (from 720p to 1080p to 2K and 4K and beyond) faster broadband is required.

How fast does broadband need to be for streaming?

The following speeds are recommended by major streaming services: 

  • Prime Video streams in SD and HD (1080p), requiring 5.0 Mbps
  • Netflix streams in SD, HD, and Ultra HD/4K; your connection should handle up to 25 Mbps
  • Disney+ states its 4K streams require just 5.0 Mbps
  • Britbox streams at 3 Mbps for its standard definition (SD) content; HD content requires 6.5 Mbps
  • Streaming from YouTube depends on 1.5 Mbps for SD, 3 Mbps for HD, and 13 Mbps for 4K content
  • BBC iPlayer streams at up to 5 Mbps

Each service has different requirements, though as a general rule we recommend a minimum speed of 5Mbps for any streaming video. This may not allow you to view the very highest quality content but will support at least 720p or standard definition, if not full HD in some cases.

Top tips to improve video streaming

Is your broadband fast enough to handle your favourite video streaming service?

Various factors impact video stream quality. If you're experiencing poor streaming, you have several options to improve it.

The most obvious choice is to simply upgrade your broadband, using a postcode checking tool to discover what speeds and packages are available to you. But how fast should your new broadband be? Use a rough guide of 10Mb per person using the connection, and a bit more than this for streaming video or online gaming. Most households will be comfortable with speeds of 50Mbps or above.

In some cases, upgrading isn't possible; it might be too expensive or there may not be any upgrades available in your area. In this case, you have some options to improve streaming speeds.

Stop other network activity

Phones uploading photos and videos to cloud storage, online gaming - they all use network bandwidth and demand fast broadband. Put a pause on other network use and save demanding activities until later. Give video streaming priority.

Optimise your Wi-Fi router

Situating your streaming devices close to your router is particularly important. Streaming to a device at the opposite end of your home to your router rarely delivers good results. Instead, connect streaming devices to the router using a network (Ethernet) cable. And instead of drilling through walls, a powerline adaptor kit can provide a wired network connection that anybody can set up in moments.

For Wi-Fi, get the best signal by finding the optimum position for your router. Keep it away from walls and interference from other devices like microwaves or cordless phones. Using an old router? Replace it with a modern device with improved coverage, or a mesh Wi-Fi kit. Signal repeaters can also be bought that boost Wi-Fi to weaker areas.

Configure your streaming app

Get familiar with the settings in your streaming app. Select a lower quality stream (say, downgrade 2K to 1080p) to improve the speed of the connection. If this doesn't work, look for opportunities to download the video before you watch it. This is a particularly good idea if your connection can't handle 4K - most people won't notice the difference.

About the author
Christian Cawley has a background in IT support and consumer technology and has written extensively on these topics for magazines and websites including Broadband Genie.