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Full Stream Ahead: Tips for Improving Internet Video

June 20, 2014 | Comments

Have you had a shaky or just plain bad experience streaming high-definition movies or TV shows to your TV? Drop-outs, incessant buffering, or maybe a picture that inexplicably breaks up?

Nothing is more frustrating than sitting down to watch a favorite show or just-released movie and seeing a picture plagued with what video geeks call "artifacts" or, worse, no picture at all.

We asked Todd Sandler, president of Naturally Wired, a custom installation firm that has been operating in Overland Park, Kansas for more than 18 years, what it takes to ensure a great experience from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.

Streaming Is Popular

For starters, streaming has become extremely popular in just the past year or two. "I can comfortably say that video streaming goes into 95-plus percent of our jobs these days," Sandler says, noting that you don't have to go out and buy a new Internet-connected "smart TV" to stream movies and TV shows. A number of devices - including Apple TV, some Blu-ray players and streaming players from Roku and others - are made to deliver streaming to TVs that lack built-in Internet connectivity.

Sandler has found that Blu-ray players from big name brands like Sony and Samsung tend to offer the most variety, providing access to movies from Netflix and others, TV shows from services such as Hulu and Hulu Plus and even music from sites such as Pandora.

"But if I have a client who isn't worried about variety and really only cares about Netflix, I'll recommend Apple TV, which provides a simple solution - especially if it's an iPhone household," he explains. "It's pretty basic and comes with a remote control but doesn't have all the bells and whistles you get with other streaming devices."

The Path to Steady Streaming

It's easy to take a wireless home network for granted. You grab your laptop, surf the 'Net and maybe print documents on your wireless printer. It just works. But when you add high-definition streaming and multiple devices into the equation, unforeseen things can start to happen.

"Wi-Fi is certainly the easiest and most common setup, but it's limited in terms of bandwidth, speed, and throughput," Sandler says. Streaming services will work, but as more streaming services and devices are added to the household network, some degradation in performance is possible.

"If network bandwidth is limited and you're watching an HD movie, resolution might get knocked down or the video might stop and buffer, which makes the picture jittery."

In these scenarios, Naturally Wired recommends either upgrading to a dual-band router - which supports traditional net surfing and phone/tablet use on the 2.4GHz band while video is being streamed on the 5Ghz band - or going the hard-wire route. Sandler is a big proponent of "wiring everything because a wireless network is always going to be inherently slower, less reliable, and less secure than a hard-wired setup."

The Wireless Network Upgrade

Still, not everyone wants to deal with wires. And although a wireless upgrade is usually part of a larger project, Sandler says the firm does do "one-shot installations where the client might want basic streaming into one area, perhaps a theater room."

How much does it cost to upgrade? "I usually tell people to expect right around a $1,000 for a basic Wi-Fi system, which includes installation and set up of a commercial-grade dual-band router, maybe one or two dual-band wireless access points (to ensure a strong signal around the house) and setting up a communication hub for wireless devices in the house, which includes iPads, laptops and maybe an Apple TV," Sandler explains.

The Hard-Wire Route

Depending on the size of the home and where the router is located, etc., the cost of retrofitting an existing home can be two or three times more than upgrading a wireless network, according to Sandler.

But if we're talking new construction, the wired option doesn't really cost much more. "In a new home, we typically recommend doing both," he says, which will include $1,000 for the wireless setup and $500 to $1,000 for the wired part."

To learn more about video streaming options and home network solutions, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.