Broadband provider BE have today launched a campaign to 'banish buffering' in video streaming which it hopes will help sway people over to BE for the World Cup, which many people are expected to watch. BE suspect that many people are likely to face video buffering which could interrupt their viewing if their broadband speed isn't fast enough or their ISP cannot provide the bandwidth required. Buffering can also be introduced from traffic shaping, a technique used to manage the bandwidth of a broadband providers customers, a technique that BE don't themselves use.
Video buffering occurs when your bandwidth to the streaming site falls below that required to watch the stream. It's often seen when loading a video as the video player downloads more of the video before starting to play than it needs so if there are any blips, these don't show up. Many video players will buffer content immediately to ensure if there are any short slow downs on your broadband line, it shouldn't affect the video. You can see this easily on YouTube for example when the red strip runs ahead of the position of where you are in the video, demonstrating how much of the video has been buffered. Buffering at the start of a video can often only last a few seconds but can be longer on slower connections. Many people will not see the affects of buffering as their broadband is already fast enough to watch the content immediately.
"We want to end buffering, because it’s going to hinder you from making the most out of your online viewing experience. Well, not you – but those on slow connections, are being traffic shaped by their ISP, or have a low monthly usage limit.
For example, the average UK broadband speed is 3.6mbps, but streaming video needs an average of 9mbps of bandwidth to avoid buffering. When you factor in network management people are going to get a poor experience. Streaming will be is at its slowest during peak hours – especially between 5 and 6 pm on a Sunday evening, just when some of the major World Cup matches will be taking place and when some ISPs will be keeping a careful eye on who is doing what online.
We also know that the average encoding rate for video streams is about 2000Kbps. That means one person watching a 90 minute football match would transfer roughly 1.4GB of data. For high definition video streams, the average encoding bitrate is around 3200Kbps and one user would transfer about 2.25GB of data."BE Blog article
It's unclear where BE get their numbers from in relation to needing 9Mbps to maintain streaming video without buffering. The new beta iPlayer for example requires only 1.5Mbps on their higher quality video stream. If you have an Internet connection faster than this you should be able to watch video streams without suffering from buffering. The new iPlayer also introduces a clever adaptive bitrate system which will automatically adjust video quality up and down every few seconds to match the speed of your broadband connection, a system which should effectively avoid any buffering.