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Issue #278: November 18, 2012

Q: This is kind of a weird one. At least no one online seems to have an answer. About 6 months or so ago, I noticed that all streaming content – music on Pandora, songs on YouTube, lectures on websites – stream the video just fine on my computer, but the sound “clips” almost constantly, something like a CD skipping. It’s not a buffering issue, as far as I can tell. I will let a song buffer all the way through before I click play. Same effect. I’ve had the same HP computer running XP for years, and this has never been an issue before. I have fine Bose speakers for computers, so there’s no electronic interference. I’ve tried moving the modem further away; no change. The router is not close. This is the same setup I’ve used for years. The only difference I can think of is that I’m now with Brighthouse, having moved back to Defuniak Springs a year ago. But there was no problem the first six months. Listening to any audio is completely unbearable. I’ve noticed that when I scroll around on a website while listening to music or any other audio, the clipping sound most definitely occurs when the cursor crosses over any “live” place on the website, as in the list of videos to choose from next to the right of the screen at YouTube. I have a cordless mouse, so I tried a corded mouse to see if that was the issue. No change. I’m not sure what the sound card does or if they go bad. Any guesses?  The clipping of streaming sound does not occur on my wife’s laptop–connected by router–so the problem must be with mine.

Elliott S.
Defuniak Springs, Florida

A: Your problem is not as weird as you think, Elliott, although some of the things you’ve done to try and solve it are certainly interesting, to say the least.  I actually covered a similar question way back in 2009 (I.G.T.M. Issue #118, available on my website).  Before I get into making recommendations, let’s clarify just exactly what we mean by “streamed content” for those that don’t recognize the terminology.  Streamed content is any media – such as movies or music – that reside on a computer other than the one you are using to experience the media.  On the computer where the media lives, it is cut up into sections called packets, which are sent in a stream to your computer, smart phone, pad device, BD-Live player, Xbox, or whatever other device you’re using for playback.  Because of the nature of networking and the Internet in general, these packets don’t necessarily arrive in the same order they are sent.  To overcome this, the receiving device builds a buffer of several seconds of content before beginning to actually play it.  Once this buffering is done, the assumption is that additional packets will continue to arrive and be buffered while the playback proceeds, resulting in continuous playback.  When something happens to disrupt this process, the playback must stop when content in the buffer runs out.  There is a pause while the buffering process starts over again.  This condition is known as a “buffer underrun”.  When this happens repeatedly, the result is the annoying cutting out that you described.

I don’t see how switching mice could have any possible affect on your media streaming.  I also don’t believe this is a problem with your speakers or your sound card, because if it was, it would also affect media that is not streamed, which doesn’t seem to be the case.  If the problem is not occurring in other computers on your home network, that would seem to indicate the problem is not with your Internet provider or with your modem (though that’s not a certainty).  Same with the location of your modem and router, which, if that was the problem, would certainly affect other Internet-related activities on your computer, as well as any other computers.  That leaves the prime suspect as your computer itself.  Inbound network traffic goes through your computer’s virus scanner.  If your scanner is too pokey, that might be enough of an overall slow-down to cause a buffer underrun.  I also highly encourage you to make sure all your system’s software is up to date, particularly products like Adobe Flash Player, since many sites use Flash to stream media.  One other thing I can think of that could cause such a problem is a malware infection, some of which can use enormous amounts of CPU time and network capacity, leaving little room for the streaming content you actually want to arrive quickly and be processed.

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