Tuesday, 24 November 2015

NetFlix - How I Fixed The So-Called "Buffering" Issues

One of the biggest issues I see reported about Netflix is the so-called "buffering" and "Content Error" issues.

Well, after banging my head against the wall for a couple weeks trying to troubleshoot "why" all of a sudden, after about 4 years of watching Netflix (Canada) programs with very few issues, I was suddenly having nothing but trouble with almost every program I tried to watch - intermittently.... only on my Smart-TV and Blu-ray devices.

I tried everything conceivable and possible.  After trying all "logical" possibilities, I resorted to off-the-wall ideas that weren't logical.  But, when in a corner, logical no longer matters, just getting out of the corner, by any means, is what it's all about.

Eventually, I found the solution.... and it wasn't an obvious one... or an easy one...

To give the full story, I need to go back to the beginning.
(Please be patient - the solution I describe at the end of this article "does work".)

In my four years or so of watching Netflix Canada on my Sony Smart-TV, I had very few problems. Once in a while, I experienced the periodic pausing and buffering in the middle of a program.  But this past year, that was a very rare occurrence.... until this past month.

All of a sudden, we started losing audio sync near the end of programs.  The solution was to stop the program, reload it, and resume playing from where we left off, and that was all it usually took.

But then programs started to take a very long time to load when starting to play.... "buffering"?

Very quickly, almost every TV series we had been watching for a while all started having buffering issues while loading at start-up of the episodes.

The typical solution "seemed" to be just a matter of exiting Netflix, turn off Smart-TV, unplug power to the TV, then power-up again and restart Netflix.  Great, now the program works again.

But, more and more programs started doing the same thing.  Powering off the TV for every program was getting a bit annoying, not to mention, not good for the TV.

Next thing we know, almost all of our regular TV series episodes that we tried to watch were getting stuck "buffering" right off the bat.  Something is very wrong here....

Even new movies we had never seen were starting to have the same "buffering" problem.

By now, I was getting very irritated with Netflix Canada.

I started suspecting my 5 year-old Sony Smart-TV.  I tried unregistering the TV from the Sony account and re-registering it to Sony network.  At this time, I was thinking the issue was a Sony network issue...

I un-registered the Sony TV from my Netflix account, and later re-registered.  None of this fixed the issues.

I also have a Sony Blu-ray player that also is Netflix enabled.  I tried switching over to the Blu-ray for watching Netflix.  It "appeared" to work at first, but after a couple programs, it was doing the exact same buffering issue as the TV.

Often times, after timing out on "buffering", Netflix would display "Content Error".  This started happening more and more.

Of course, when I did on-line research to see what other people were doing about "buffering" and "Content Error" issues, I find the same repeated "supposed answers":

  • Your device is at fault
  • Power devices off and on
  • Check your Internet connections
  • Check your WiFi
  • If all else fails, complain to your ISP
  • They almost always blame it on your Internet connection, equipment, or ISP
Here are the solutions proposed by Netflix support:

None of these diversions are the answer!

I went so far as to buy a new Samsung Smart-TV as a last resort before pulling the plug on Netflix.

Guess what, even with a brand new Samsung Smart-TV... same persistent problem... buffering and content errors....   And, yes, I also re-registered my new Samsung Smart-TV with my Netflix account.

I tried every setting in my Netflix account "Playback Settings" from Auto, Low, Medium, and after even upgrading to the $9/month service... HD.  None of these speed/quality settings made any difference to the problems.

No, it is not my Internet connections or Speed!

I have a cable Internet service with 25 Mbps download and 2.5 Mbps upload speeds.

We have 3 desktop PC's and 2 laptop PC's in our home office.  No Internet issues when browsing with any of these PC's.

We even resorted to using one of the laptop's to watch Netflix to watch the programs that won't play on our Smart-TV's or the Blu-ray.  Why is this issue only with "non-PC devices" like smart-tv's and blu-rays but not the PC's.... good question?

My wife works full time from home teleworking with her employer all day long using a Go-to-My-PC remote desktop connection.  She does not have Internet connection issues while teleworking.

I work all day next to her on my desktop PC doing research, blogging, testing various VoIP phones, etc..... no Internet issues.

I should mention that my connections to my Smart-TV in the living room is via PowerLine AV  - i.e. Ethernet over house powerlines.  This is almost as good as a direct Ethernet connection, and certainly better than WiFi.  Besides the TV, I also have a Sonos streaming music player and a IP security camera connected via this same powerline AV Ethernet connection - no issues - just with Netflix on TV's and Blu-ray devices.

I went so far as to run a 50' direct Ethernet cable from my Cisco Gigabit Router direct to the Samsung Smart-TV..... still didn't fix the "buffering and Content Errors".

I can even watch Netflix on the laptop at our dining room table and it works just fine over WiFi.  For some reason, just non-PC devices have the issue, even with a direct Ethernet cable connected to router.

An Off-The-Wall Concept Hits Me

After weeks of banging my head against the wall.... I had an epiphany!

Finally, after chasing my tail in circles and trying to connect the dots as to when things worked, where they worked, what worked most, and what failed most, an idea sprung into mind.

It happened when I was reviewing Netflix program series selections on the Samsung Smart-TV.

I noticed that programs we had watched previously showed a "red line" indicating how far each program had been watched in terms of the program length.  Typically, the red line should go completely to the end of the program, indicating it was completely watched.

But sometimes, we watch a program and stop it part way through.  Netflix "remembers" all these programs we watch and will show "resume" if it is only part-way through the episode watched.

Sometimes, in the case of new programs, we start watching and decide we don't like that program and stop it part-way through and never come back... but, Netflix "remembers" that we watched it and how far...

This got me thinking that "suppose there are a lot of programs we watched that didn't make it to the end"?  Over time, that could end up being a lot of program progress to keep track of.

I then started reviewing "every program series" we have been recently watching, as well as past programs and movies.

I was very surprised to see how many programs and movies did not show the red line go all the way to the end.... indicating that "perhaps" Netflix is remembering ALL these programs I never watched to the end... And, what would be the consequence of not finishing all those programs...?  Maybe, there is a point where  - Netflix starts to lose track of all those loose ends.  Think of it as a kind of Netflix dementia.

Finally..... A Solution Is Found!

At first thought, I don't think anyone would consider what I found to be a logical hypothesis.  At first it "wasn't logical".  But, I had already tried all the "logical" solutions with no success.  This is where trying every conceivable option comes in - even if it doesn't make full rational sense at the time.

I commenced to hunt down every program we have ever watched, starting with the most recent movies and TV series.

What I found was very interesting.

I noted that, as well as only "partially watched" programs,  many programs that we thought we finished watching did not show the "red line" progressing all the way to the end of the program progress indicator.

As it turns out, this IS the "tip of the iceberg".

I have now concluded that the problems of so-called "buffering" and "Content Error" is not really a buffering problem, but what I am going to term:  a Queuing problem.

The difference between buffering and queuing may just be semantics, but it seems to be the better term for understanding many of the Netflix buffering issues that so many people are familiar with and not finding a solid viable solution.... that lasts.

In my mind, Queuing is starting a program and then putting it on hold, or pausing, to be ready to play again from that starting point at some future time.  This is common practice for radio station disc jockeys and TV stations.  They "queue-up" music, programs, and commercials so that when their precise moment to be aired arrives, they are already "queued-up" and ready to play, starting at the correct queued spot.

We can do the same with Netflix programs.  We can start and stop many different programs and then "resume" playing from where left off previously.

The caveat here is that many Netflix programs or movies are considered finished once they reach "near the end" - presumably the credits.  Once we get to the "credits" at the end of a program, we don't always want to sit there and read through to the Very End.  As it turns out - this IS the Problem.

How I Solved and Fixed My Netflix Queuing Problems

The initial solution I found is not a fun exercise - but, it must be done to fix buffering and content error problems.  It will take some patience on your part - but, it will be worth it in the end.

Let's assume you have already jumped through all the same hoops I had to jump through proving that your Netflix device (i.e. Smart-TV or Blu-ray in my case), Internet Speed, connections, and ISP are determined to not be the problem.

Here is what I did:

  1. Log into your Netflix account - from preferably a PC or laptop.
  2. Start with the last movies and TV series watched.
  3. For TV series, find the most recent watched.
  4. Click on the "Episodes" option to review each episode in each season of the series.
  5. Note the "Red Progress Line" for all programs previously watched in the series.
  6. If that red line shows "any grey shades" before the end of the line - that program should be considered as "queued"  and Not Finished.
  7. For each program progress line that shows "any grey" before the end, you Must "replay" the program.  No, you don't have to watch it again.... but, you need to start it, and then fast forward it to the end.  Once you restart the program and it is playing, drag the Red progress bar/button all the way to the End of the progress bar.  This will take you to about the last 15-30 seconds of the program.

    You must let this last few seconds of the program completely play through the credits until it stops itself.  There is no short-cut through this step.
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 for each and every program you have ever watched on Netflix.
  9. Test your Smart-TV or other Netflix device to see if it is now rid of buffering and content error issues. (Actually, mine started working correctly after fixing about a dozen programs that were still queued.  But I later came back to "finish the job" for all queued programs for insurance that the problem is now completely resolved.)
  10. Going forward, make sure you "completely finish" each and every show you watch in the future.  That means, when you get to the credits, just fast forward to the "very end" so that it can "play itself out", completely until it ends playing by itself.

If you follow the above procedure, I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.  I sure was!

I have not had a single problem in the past couple weeks since I "purged" all the "queued" programs from my Netflix programming.  I'm also now playing all programs in HD mode - no issues of course.

Good luck!


UPDATE - Feb 15, 2016
Here it is, almost 3 months later and I still have not had any further buffering issues with Netflix on our Smart-TV.

To keep things working smoothly, we continue to make sure "every program" we watch on Netflix is allowed to run completely to the end..... the very end to where it stops on its own.  If we decide we don't like a program part-way through, we Fast-Forwrd to just a few seconds from the end and let it play on its own from there to the very end on its own.  No more buffering problems...

UPDATE - May 2, 2016
Netflix continues to stream just fine with no buffering issues.

UPDATE - Oct 14, 2016
Netflix continues to stream just fine with no buffering issues.

UPDATE - Jan 3, 2017
My Netflix continues to stream just fine with no buffering issues.
I continue to follow my procedures as outlined in the above article (for each and every program I watch) to ensure continued problem-free loading/queuing of Netflix programming.

Happy Netflixing!