Every video provider requests that your internet connection be able to transfer a certain number of bits per second, referred to as the bitrate or bandwidth, to have great movie quality. For standard (near DVD) quality, Amazon recommends 3.5 megabits per second (Mbps), Netflix recommends 2.5 Mbps, and Hulu recommends 1.5 Mbps as examples.
Our internet services providers are not always helpful in figuring out if you’ve got what it takes. In my area in Central Texas, Time Warner Cable, Clear, and AT&T promise up to a certain bandwidth, but always have a little asterisk in the corner saying that actual network conditions may vary. Factors like distance from the main office, neighborhood network use, and phase of the moon may limit performance.
Speedtest.net provides an easy way for people to check their internet speed and confirm what their connection is capable of
Speedtest.net is a free service that tests the health and speed of your internet connection. The service’s website uses Adobe Flash to run a program on your computer to test the internet connection. They check three internet connection properties:
- Ping time: Ping time is the amount of time necessary for a message to go from your computer to a server on the internet and back. Times under 100 milliseconds (ms) are considered reasonable.
- Download bandwidth: Download bandwidth is the amount of information (in Mbps) that your computer can download, or receive, from the internet. This is the most critical parameter for streaming video quality.
- Upload bandwidth: Upload bandwidth is the amount of information (in Mbps) that your computer and upload, or send, to the internet. This is useful for uploading pictures or videos to Facebook or You Tube.
Running A Speed Check
To begin, point your web browser at the Speedtest.net website. The Speedtest webpage does have several buttons on it that are used to sell services for various PC tweak-ups, so go looking for the green “BEGIN TEST” button over the map to begin the speed test.
After clicking begin, Speedtest will identify the best nearby server to use for checking the internet connection. After this, Speedtest will run the ping test and begin uploading and downloading data. They’ll show a speedometer while checking the upload and download speeds.
Using These Results
The Speedtest numbers will help you diagnose streaming video problems.
I did also wonder why I rarely got the 4-dot quality for Netflix. By running Speedtest, I found out that my internet connection is right at the threshold where Netflix likes to step down the quality one notch to ensure smooth video streaming. I’ve also used it to identify internet problems. Netflix was bouncing back and forth between quality settings on my Roku box. So, I ran Speedtest multiple times. What I found were intermittent ping and download speed numbers. My ping times would be 80ms, 250ms, and 125ms. My download speed would be just as erratic. I ended up getting an AT&T technician to come out and he found a problem with my DSL connection, and it’s been smooth Netflix since.