Network Issues and Netflix Streaming

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I have Netflix and it’s pretty awesome, but sometimes there are just problems getting the streaming to work well.

Before I get your hopes up, I don’t have an answer for this. It’s more a description of the problem and some of the things I’ve tried.

I have, attached to our main TV:

  • A Playstation 3.
  • An Xbox 360.
  • A Windows 7 Media Center PC.

All of these have been rigged up to Netflix streaming. Upstairs I have an Xbox 360, a Windows 7 Media Center PC, and a Wii. (I’ll be blogging the different streaming solutions compared/contrasted when I get my Wii disc.)

All of these things are attached via wireless network to Verizon FiOS (15 MBps).

**The problem is that I can’t consistently get a good stream - HD or not

  • and I can’t figure out why.**

About 75% of the time, I select a movie or show to watch and it works great. 25% of the time, possibly more, I get a connection speed of only one or two bars. Sometimes the stream starts out smooth and in HD, then a few minutes in “my network connection degraded” and I get stuck with unwatchable quality. I’m sure I’m getting affected by the weird random congestion thing that seems to be pretty well known, but it’s very frustrating.

Usually I can fix it by quitting the bad stream and restarting. It’s like I can get a “different connection” to the stream that’s more stable.

I have verified that it’s not local network congestion because the problems happen when nothing else on the network is doing anything - no one is logged into any of the other devices, no network updates are running… the only thing going on is us trying to watch a show.

I do admit to having some occasional trouble with the Verizon FiOS router that Verizon provided - they sometimes do updates at night without my permission and the only way to get things working nicely again is to reset the entire router to defaults. I do that about once a month when I start seeing things degrade unilaterally or if Netflix refuses to give me a good stream.

Last night I had the issue and did the full router reset and it didn’t help a thing. It still took about 10 tries, remote-control-throwing irritation, and a frustrated wife to get a watchable stream for a 45-minute-long show. By the time I got it working (about half an hour of messing around) I didn’t even really enjoy the show.

It has to be the random congestion thing because other sites work just fine. I can stream an HD YouTube video without that issue, then switch over to Netflix and BAM! there’s suddenly connection issues. If it was my network, or if it was an ISP problem, you’d think it wouldn’t be just singling out Netflix, right?

NetflixHelps (on Twitter) is usually nice and responsive, but always seems to say “Sorry, no issue on our end.” Be that as it may, it appears I’m not the only person with these issues or they wouldn’t have made a note of it on the official blog. Here’s hoping this stuff gets ironed out soon. Of course, that blog entry’s from almost a year ago now, so hopes aren’t high.

I think the real problem is that there are too many things that could be going wrong and there’s no way to diagnose the bottleneck.

  • Is the local network too congested?
  • Is the connection to the local network too slow? (Maybe due to wireless interference?)
  • Is there an issue with the ISP?
  • Is there congestion on the Netflix servers?
  • Is it a device-specific issue (Xbox, PS3, etc.)?
  • Do they just hate me?

A real win, truly, would be if Netflix could put out a diagnostic tool that would let an advanced user run it and see what’s going on. I think that’s really the only way we’ll be able to tell if the problem is on “my end” or “their end.”

UPDATE 1: I’ve read a few articles that recommend switching to OpenDNS. I might try that on my Xbox 360 and see if it helps.

UPDATE 2: It looks like on PS3 you can hit the “Select” button on the remote and see bandwidth info on your stream. Maybe good for a diagnostic tool.

UPDATE 3: I tried using OpenDNS on my Xbox 360 and it didn’t improve any of my streaming issues; however, I have a new hypothesis about what’s up with my Xbox streaming.