So why does Plex keep buffering?
In the world of media streaming, Plex has emerged as a pretty popular platform, giving its users a simple way to organize, access and enjoy their media libraries.
However, every now and then you will watch a movie on it and there it is, its happening again, and you are asking yourself “So why does Plex keep buffering now?” In this article we aim to shed some light to this mystery and some potential reasons behind it.
First lets learn some Plex terminology that might be useful for us
- Transcoding: The process of converting encoded digital files, such as MPEG4, into other formats. This allows for greater accessibility across different devices and internet resources.
By creating these “new versions,” transcoding ensures that content can be accessed and enjoyed by a broader audience. It also reduces barriers by optimizing file sizes and formats for efficient delivery.
- The Power of Direct Play: A streaming technique that sends media files directly to a client’s device. It does not make any modifications. The power of Direct Play is undeniable.
A source media file can be seamlessly played on a device when it aligns perfectly with the client’s capabilities. These capabilities include the container, bitrate, encoder, and resolution. Direct Play bypasses the need for transcoding, allowing for an uninterrupted streaming experience.
- The Role of Direct Stream: Direct Stream involves extracting video and audio tracks from a media file. These tracks are then repackaged into a compatible container format, such as MP4. This process is important for media playback.
This process is utilized when the resolution and media type (e.g., H.264 or H.265) are compatible with the device, but the file container is not (e.g., MP4, MKV, AVI, FLV). Direct Stream optimizes playback compatibility while minimizing CPU load and preserving content quality.
Some reasons behind buffering
Transcoding has its advantages. However, your machine or server may not have enough power to run a Plex server.
Transcoding puts a lot of pressure on a VPS machine. If the machine has no GPU capabilities, it can be difficult to transcode a 4K or 1080P movie. This often leads to buffering problems.
So if possible, try to stream without transcoding and see what happens. There are good chances that, if not eliminate the problem, it will at least cut it in half.
We also invite you to check our Power Lynx VPS plan that we are convinced could satisfy your streaming needs. Feel free to use the coupon “PLEX-STREAMING-25” to get a 25% off for that plan(active until 15th July, 2023).
2. Insufficient Network Bandwidth
One of the primary culprits behind buffering issues on Plex is a bad network bandwidth. When streaming a movie lets say, Plex requires a stable internet connection.
If your network bandwidth is limited or being heavily utilized by other devices, it can result in buffering. Consider performing a speed test to determine if your network meets the recommended requirements for smooth streaming.
Another thing that also falls under this category is a server distance. Are you in Australia and your Plex server in USA? Take a look into that, check the speeds and make sure to perform MTR test. Unfortunately, in most scenarios, the only solution in this case is getting a server somewhere closer to you.
3. Network Congestion
Network congestion occurs when there is too much traffic on a network. It can be caused by factors like peak usage hours or multiple users accessing the same connection.
Network congestion can cause data delivery to your Plex client to be slow. This can lead to buffering. To avoid this issue, try streaming during off peak hours or consider upgrading your internet plan to a higher bandwidth.
It is worth mentioning that this problem could be something on your server provider end as well. If you host your Plex on a VPS, buffering is likely to happen if other users that use the same port are also active.
Best solution in this case would be to go dedicated, if you are sure that that’s the problem.
4. Insufficient Server Resources
Buffering can also occur if the Plex media server lacks resources to transcode or stream the media files effectively. The server’s hardware may be too outdated or weak. This can cause it to struggle to keep up with transcoding demands. As a consequence, buffering may occur.
Upgrading the server’s hardware, optimizing transcoding settings or trying to stream without transcoding can help with this problem.
5. Wi-Fi Signal Interference
When using wireless connections, Wi-Fi signal interference can significantly impact the streaming experience. Various devices in your home can interfere with your Wi-Fi signal. Examples include microwaves, cordless phones, or neighboring networks. This interference can lead to packet loss and buffering.
Place your router in a central location to reduce interference. Move it away from any signal disruptors. For better performance, use the 5 GHz frequency band.
In case you are streaming 4K, its generally recommended to do it so by using more stable ways of connection. Wi-Fi sometimes just wont do it.
6. Insufficient Client Device Resources
Yes, even the client device can be a problem, both with Plex and everything else. Older devices with limited processing power or insufficient memory may struggle to decode and play high-quality media files smoothly.
Upgrading to a more capable device or adjusting Plex settings can help reduce buffering issues. This isn’t always an easy solution, but it can be beneficial.
And if upgrading the device isn’t the option, consider installing Linux on that old laptop if you didn’t already. It really can make a significant difference.
Additional tips and tricks
- Optimize your network for streaming: To improve performance, use a wired Ethernet connection instead of Wi-Fi when possible. Wired connections generally offer more stable and reliable speeds, reducing the likelihood of buffering.
If you must use Wi-Fi, position your router closer to your streaming devices and reduce interference from other electronic devices.
- Adjust Plex streaming settings: Within your Plex app or server settings, explore the options to customize your streaming experience.
For example, you can adjust the streaming quality to a lower setting if you frequently encounter buffering issues. While this may sacrifice some video quality, it can help ensure smooth playback on devices with limited resources or slower connections.
- Enable Direct Play and Direct Stream: Whenever possible, enable Direct Play and Direct Stream options in your Plex settings.
These options enable direct playing of compatible media files on your Plex client. This eliminates the need for transcoding, reducing the load on the server. It also minimizes buffering issues.
- Consider a dedicated Plex media server: If buffering often occurs due to server resource limitations, it may be worth setting up a dedicated Plex media server. Doing so will help reduce buffering and improve your streaming experience.
- Regularly update Plex software: Keeping your Plex server and client applications up to date is essential. Developers often release updates that address performance issues, bug fixes, and introduce new features that can enhance your streaming experience.
Regularly check for updates and install them to take advantage of the latest improvements.
- Optimize media file formats: Minimize transcoding requirements by converting files to formats supported by streaming devices. This will ensure optimal streaming performance. This can help reduce the load on the server and improve playback performance.
- Clear temporary files and cache: Over time, temporary files and cache accumulated by Plex can impact its performance. Periodically clear these files through the Plex settings menu or by manually deleting them from your device or server storage.
This practice can help optimize Plex’s resource usage and potentially resolve buffering issues.
Buffering is annoying, to put it simple. It’s frustrating and it will disrupt your viewing experience. By understanding the underlying causes, such as insufficient network bandwidth, network congestion, server resource limitations, Wi-Fi signal interference, and client device constraints, you can take proactive measures to address these issues.
We hope that this article was helpful to you. This topic is broad and we tried to cover as much as possible. If we did not help you resolve it, we hope we at least gave you direction.