January 17, 2021
How to improve TV streaming quality on Netflix, Hulu and more

How to improve TV streaming quality on Netflix, Hulu and more


Is your Internet straining with everyone locked down at home? Maybe it’s time for a new router.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Most of us are finding ourselves at home a lot more right now. One small consolation of coronavirus stay-at-home orders is being able to catch up on all the great TV and movies we’ve been meaning to watch. Unfortunately, if everyone in the house is trying to watch their own stream of Netflix it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that you’ll suffer buffering, pauses and reduced video quality. 

Before slow loading and low resolution make you go all Jack Torrance, there are some steps you can take to improve the quality of your stream, be it on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or anywhere else. These tips work whether you’re streaming on an Xbox, PlayStation, iPadRoku, Fire TV, Apple TV or the apps in your smart TV.

For the most part, the faster the Internet, the better your streaming quality. But there’s lots of ways to make sure your devices have the fastest possible Internet.


Netflix’s Fast.com site lets you quickly test your connection speed.

Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

1. Upgrade your internet speed

This is certainly the most obvious, but when was the last time you asked your provider how fast its offerings are now? If it’s been a few years, it likely has new services (maybe even fiber) that could greatly increase your download speeds. 

You need at least 15Mbps download speeds for 4K streaming, but really, you want a lot more than that. It’s also possible there are new providers or services from other companies. When I moved into my house, the phone company had the best option, a pretty fast DSL that was way better than the local cable provider. Now, said cable company has six times the speed at 60% of the price. I was able to save money and increase my internet speed quite dramatically.

This is definitely the first place to start. If you stay with the same provider, usually they’ll be able to flip the proverbial switch without sending a tech to visit your home. Afterward you’ll have faster Internet. If you switch providers, from cable to fiber, for example, they’ll probably have to send someone to your house to install it, and most companies likely won’t be able to do that right now.

Read more: Stuck at home watching TV? Here are the best streaming devices to help

2. Upgrade your router/hub

The Wi-Fi router that you get for free from your Internet provider is likely terrible. I upgraded my router the day before my new internet service was installed, and I got a 20% boost in speeds just from that. Some providers even charge for their crappy routers, so you could save some money long-term by buying a good one outright and reducing your bill a bit each month.


Nest Wi-Fi is our favorite mesh router system.

Josh Miller/CNET

You’ll also likely get better range and better signal throughout your home with an upgraded router. So if you’ve always had a bad connection in the back of the house (or wherever), a better router might help that.

A new or different router might also give you the option to connect via the 5GHz range (“normal” Wi-Fi is 2.4GHz). 5GHz is generally faster and has less chance of interference from other devices. However, it doesn’t go through walls as well.

Here are CNET picks for the best Wi-Fi routers. Our favorite all-around budget option is the D-Link AC1750 ($100). 

If your house is particularly large, or the walls seem to be lined with lead, it’s worth considering a mesh Wi-Fi system. These use multiple devices spread around your home instead of one single device. CNET’s favorite mesh system is Nest Wi-Fi ($270). 

3. Switch to Ethernet

Though convenient, Wi-Fi can be quite slow on some networks, especially if multiple people are streaming at once. Ethernet (wired internet) is a lot faster and doesn’t have issues with walls, interference or distance (well, not in a house anyway). Though running wires can be annoying, it provides the most reliable connection. And now that you’re stuck at home it makes a good weekend project.


The Roku Ultra is one of our favorite streamers with Ethernet built in.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you want to use a wire, check your device. Most streamers are lack the Ethernet port required for a wired connection, but cheap $15 adapters are available for Google Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Unfortunately Roku doesn’t sell an official adapter itself.

Streamers with Ethernet built in, no adapter required, are generally more expensive but could be worthwhile if you want a simpler hook-up or prefer Roku’s system. Our favorite streamers with built-in Ethernet are the Roku Ultra ($100) and Apple TV 4K ($180).

Other options include Roku Ultra LT, the standard Apple TV and the Nvidia Shield. Most smart TVs and game consoles have Ethernet, too.

4. Move stuff

I don’t mean your TV, but moving your Wi-Fi router could help a lot. If it’s on or near the ground, in a closet, or at the far end of your house, you could be limiting the signal and speed without even realizing it. Wi-Fi can go through walls, but being high up and with fewer walls between the router and streamer will make a difference. If the router has antennas, positioning them correctly can also help.

The same is true on the other end. If you’ve got the streamer in a cabinet, that’s not helping either. In a perfect world, the streamer would have a direct line of sight with the router. This isn’t necessary, of course, but everything you place between the two of them decreases the signal and potentially lowers the speed.

An alternate version of this would be to get a Wi-Fi booster, or run Ethernet to a second Wi-Fi router (or the mesh option listed above). If your house is long or large, there are lots of options beyond the scope of this guide.

5. Kick the kids (off the Wi-Fi)

Think of your internet connection as a pipe full of water. There’s only so much water to go around. If you’re trying to stream in the living room, but the rest of the family is also trying to stream in other rooms, there might not be enough “water” to go around. Everyone will have issues.

Who gets priority in that case, I’ll leave up to you. No way I’m touching that one.

That said, moving some devices to wired instead of wireless might help that aspect of your overall home network performance. You might also try downloading your favorite shows and movies to devices such as phones and tablets to watch around the house when a balky internet connection precludes streaming.

Test your results

An internet speed tester like Speedtest or Netflix’s Fast.com can give you an idea what you’re dealing with now. If you use the Android or iOS version, make sure you place the phone or tablet near the streaming device to get the most accurate result. With each change you make, test again and see how it affected the signal.

Many streaming problems can be solved with these steps I’ve described. The key is getting the device the fastest Internet possible, by any means necessary.

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics such as why you shouldn’t buy expensive HDMI cablesTV resolutions explainedhow HDR works and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel.

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