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How to Play Video Smoothly on Your PC: Here’s What You Need

Watching choppy video playback is like sailing choppy waters: rough, frightening, and may lead to nausea. While modern hardware can handle most tasks you can throw at it, every so often, you’ll encounter an issue. Choppy video playback, whether through a DVD or online, happens.

Here’s how to fix it!

What Factors Affect Video Playback Quality?

Smooth video playback boils down to a few hardware and software choices. These choices affect offline and online video playback differently. Here’s what can negatively affect video playback:

  1. An outdated media player
  2. A low-performance PC which would stifle high-quality Blu-ray playback
  3. A souped-up PC, but a bad internet connection

Whatever the case, smooth video playback is within your sights.

Two other factors impact playback quality: offline or online video.

Offline Video Playback Quality

Choppy offline video playback concerns playing video from video files or DVDs. This is different from online video playback, due to network connection or other service issues (more on these in a moment).

There are certain steps you can take to ensure smooth video playback with an offline source.

  1. Update your media player
  2. Install and update video and audio codecs
  3. Check your hardware capabilities
  4. Update your GPU drivers

Let’s take a look at those steps in a little more detail.

1. Update Your Media Player

The first thing to do is to update your media player. There are many excellent free video players for Windows. If you use a third-party media player, head to the company’s website and download the latest software version.

2. Install and Update Video and Audio Codecs

Second, ensure that all video and audio codecs are installed properly. Codecs, to put it simply, process audio and video data. Sometimes certain video formats are not playable on your PC. This is because you do not have the appropriate video codec installed.

Codecs sometimes become damaged or corrupted, which may lead to jarring playback. To fix them, download, and install codec packs.

Microsoft has an official codec pack for these exact purposes. Download the file, then double-click to install, following the on-screen instructions.

Video codecs are a little confusing. If you want to learn more, here’s all you need to know about video codecs, containers, and compression.

3. Check Your Hardware Is Capable

Ensure that your PC is within the hardware range necessary to playback these videos. Video formats come with different qualities that determine their ease of playback.

For example, a 1080p video playing at 30 FPS (frames per second) will require slightly less performance than the same video at 60 FPS. The difference grows when comparing 1080p video with 4K or UHD video.

The same goes for video rendering. While video playback consumes less performance than video rendering, both involve PC performance. Generally, the more powerful hardware you have, the better the video playback will be. If you have very old hardware, video playback can struggle for a few reasons.

For instance, an old 5400RPM hard drive (or even a 4800RPM) might struggle to process a massive 4K video file quickly enough for stable video playback. You might run into similar issues using a drastically underpowered CPU, or if the system has a seriously small amount of RAM.

There are solutions for these issues. For example, the VLC media player is well known to assist with smooth video playback on older hardware. Or, you might have an older system with a discreet graphics processing unit (GPU). Some media players can use the GPU hardware acceleration to shift some of the video processing load from the CPU, helping video playback.

There is no exact rule of thumb for minimum hardware required for smooth video playback. If you have a PC built in the last few years, you should not struggle with offline video playback of 4K and other high-resolution video formats.

Hardware and Video Encoding

There are other issues with hardware, such as GPU and video encoding compatibility issues. Even some modern GPUs that can play the latest games on high settings won’t work with certain video encoding types.

If you have a modern GPU and powerful system yet still encounter video playback issues, double-check if your GPU supports the video encoding type you’re trying to use.

vlc media player show codec information

4. Update Your GPU Drivers

Fourth, and finally, ensure you install up-to-date GPU drivers.

The GPU drivers will allow for the maximum output of your hardware. As the CPU and GPU are often the main indicators of PC performance, updating their drivers will ensure video playback. At the very least, it can eliminate some video playback stuttering issues.

Find out how to replace outdated Windows drivers with our handy guide.

Online Video Playback Quality

Smooth online video playback often comes with the same requirements as offline video playback. Yet, there are a few additional parameters to look out for.

  1. Is your internet fast enough?
  2. Are other programs using your internet?
  3. Disable hardware acceleration in the browser
  4. Update your web browser

1. Is Your Internet Fast Enough?

The first question you must ask for online video playback relates to your internet speed. Streaming Full HD, UHD, and 4K video online is a data-intensive task. The data requirements vary slightly, but in general, you need:

  • 2-4Mbps for standard-definition video playback
  • 5-10Mbps for high definition video playback
  • 25Mbps minimum for 4K video playback

There are variations between online video streaming services, too. Netflix requires at least 3Mbps for standard-definition video playback, whereas Amazon Prime Video requires just 0.9Mbps.

With online video playback, a faster internet connection will always yield better results.

2. Are Other Programs Using Your internet?

Second, ensure you are not clogging your network with data-hungry programs.

You can do this by right-clicking on your Taskbar and selecting Task Manager. You will see the Processes tab of your Task Manager.

Click on Network tab (and percentage number indicating network usage) to see which programs other than your browser are hogging up data.

windows task manager show network use

That also goes for RAM usage. Remember, smooth online playback requires optimal hardware.

Click on the Memory tab to order your selection from most usage to least. Right-click any program not necessary for video playback (that is also not essential to your PC use) and select End task. This will free up some performance power.

The Windows Task Manager is a versatile tool. Here are some Windows Task Manager tricks you can use to manage your system better.

3. Disable Hardware Acceleration in Browser

Third, disable hardware acceleration.

Hardware acceleration allows browsers to hand off certain tasks to certain hardware parts. While your CPU can render, say, 3D models, it’s better to use a specialized hardware component, such as the GPU, to render that model.

That’s because it can do so more quickly and usually has more processing power available to complete the activity. Sometimes this process can lead to playback issues.

Check the Video Player Type

Google Chrome is permanently disabling Flash Player at the end of 2020. The majority of browsers are switching to HTML5, a more secure and stable video playback option. If the video player is attempting to use a Flash Player, your browser may no longer support that option.

As Adobe will stop officially supporting Flash at the end of 2020, the Flash Player will become (even more!) insecure.

4. Update Your Web Browser

Update your web browser. Current browser versions can handle high-quality video playback, as more video repository sites like YouTube allow for higher quality footage uploads. Old browser versions, or bugged browser versions, may limit video playback.

How to Smooth Out Choppy Video

To summarize, here’s how you stop your video playback problems:

  1. Are you using the most recent version of your media player?
  2. Do you have the codecs required to watch that video format?
  3. Is your hardware powerful enough?
  4. Do you have the latest drivers installed?
  5. Is something clogging up your network or consume your RAM or CPU capacity?
  6. Have you disabled your browser’s hardware acceleration?
  7. Is your web browser up-to-date?

Fortunately, ensuring smooth video playback is a simple and non-invasive procedure.

VLC Media Player is one of the world’s most popular video players. Here are the best VLC features you’re not using—but absolutely should be!

Image Credit: Dmitriy Kozhanov/Shutterstock

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