Q. I keep getting buffering while I try to watch AT&T TV Now (formerly DIRECTV Now. Why is that? I thought streaming was the future? I don’t have any problems with Netflix and Hulu. — Claire, Milwaukee.
Claire, streaming from services such as Netflix and Hulu may be the future of television. But live streaming from ventures such as AT&T TV Now may not be.
Let me explain the difference.
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Netflix and Hulu, which have scores of millions of subscribers, are on-demand services. (Note: We are talking about Hulu’s subscription on-demand service, not its live service.) That means their programming is loaded onto servers and distributed over the Internet to our homes.
We choose the shows we want to watch, and they are usually delivered without any technical snafus because they have previously been stored on those servers. This gives the on-demand services time to ensure the distribution will be done with relatively few flaws.
However, live streaming from services such as AT&T TV Now and Sling TV can be not pre-loaded because the signals from the live channels are distributed in near real-time. Consequently, the live stream sometimes encounters technical issues during the transmission.
The live streamers try to minimize this issue by distributing the signals after a short delay, usually from 30 to 60 seconds. (That’s why your live sporting events via streaming are behind the delivery of cable or satellite.) This gives them some time to reduce possible errors, but often not enough, particularly during a highly-viewed event such as a World Series game. The greater the viewership, the more likely the live stream will buffer or crash because it put greater stress on the servers.
The live streaming services are hopeful that new technologies such as 5G will ultimately eliminate this issue. But as of now, live streaming is still prone to technical hiccups.
Have a question about new TV technologies? Send it to The TV Answer Man at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and hometown in your message.
— Phillip Swann