Is your Roku buffering all the time when you try to watch streaming media? While it can be frustrating, usually these buffering problems are solvable. Here are six things to try to fix Roku buffering before you switch to another streaming device like an Apple TV or Fire TV stick in frustration.
Some streaming apps are more demanding than others, so if you experience buffering in some apps but not others, that’s not unusual. Watching TV on Netflix always works great for me, for example. And while some people find Hulu occasionally problematic, I don’t think I’ve ever had more than a minor hiccup in Hulu. But I have friends who have issues with HBO Go and I have issues with MLB.tv.
Roku issues, including buffering, sometimes go away after you reboot. So even though it sounds like a cop-out, try turning your Roku off and back on. This is the easiest, cheapest fix and it works often enough to be worth trying.
Make sure your Internet connection is fast enough
If you want to stream at 720p minimum, make sure your Internet connection is at least 3.5 megabits downstream. For 1080p, you need at least 5 megabits, and for 4K, you need 25 megabits. Given that the average Internet speed is nearly 19 megabits in 2018, this is less and less of a problem today, but if you have four people streaming at 1080p, that’s enough to saturate the average Internet connection.
Use Speedtest.net to test your speed. If your speed is slower than you’re used to, contact your ISP to have them figure out why. I have some more thorough recommendations on how to size your Internet connection if you need them.
A comment from a reader made me investigate the possibility of heat being an issue, because I had buffering problems in spite of having gigabit Internet. But I was only constantly buffering after I’d been watching for a couple of hours. If you have a fast Internet connection and your Roku buffering starts after a couple of hours like me, it may very well be a heat issue. Here’s how I fixed my heat issue cheaply.
After slapping a couple of heatsinks on my Roku, it buffered much less frequently and recovered faster when it did.
Switch to a wired connection
If your Roku has a wired connection, using an Ethernet cable gives better, more reliable connections than wireless. Not all Rokus have one, but if yours does, consider using it. Frequently, buffering issues are due to local network issues, not upstream issues. Powerline networking is a convenient alternative to running wires to hard-to-reach parts of the house.
A wired connection also helps with a heat issue. Wired network connections are more efficient than wireless, so they generate less heat inside the unit. If your Roku doesn’t have a wired connection and you want one, here are some Roku models, new and used, that have them.
Switch to 5 GHz wireless
If you can’t switch to a wired connection, moving to the less crowded 5 GHz space can help, by giving better bandwidth and less interference. Wired connections are better, but if your Roku doesn’t have one, moving to 5 GHz is the next best thing. I notice a big difference with video streaming at 5 GHz.
5 GHz connections are faster too, but it’s generally being on the less crowded band with less interference that makes the difference.
Switch to a lower resolution
In a pinch, switching to a lower resolution can help, especially if you just barely meet the bandwidth requirements for streaming. If you only have issues in the evening when the whole family is home and probably using the Internet, switching to 720p will probably help. Consider running smaller screens (32 inches or less) at 720p to alleviate your Roku buffering all the time.
Upgrade your router
If you have a really old router, it may be slowing you down and you may need a new router. Switching to a new, AC-capable router can really speed up your Internet connection and improve your wireless range and reliability. Older routers have a 100-megabit upstream connection but they really didn’t have enough CPU speed to support them.
If your Internet connection has an upstream speed faster than 50 megabits, it’s entirely possible your old router is contributing to your Roku buffering all the time. I recommend the Asus RT-AC66U, for what it’s worth.
Upgrade your Roku
Last and least, apps like MLB.tv and HBO go can be more demanding on your device than other streaming services, and streaming services in general have gotten more demanding over the years so a Roku that worked fine in 2014 may not work as well today. If you have an older Roku unit, upgrading to a newer dual-core or quad-core standalone unit or dual-core or quad-core streaming stick can help with dealing with those demands. You should be able to find a refurbished unit for around $40-$45.
I prefer the standalone units over streaming sticks because you can do more to cool off a standalone unit than a streaming stick. Here’s some more advice on what Roku to buy, depending on your needs.