Hiccups in the Stream, That Is What They Are

We love the idea of streaming video over the Internet directly on our television sets. The issue is, when you stream video to your house, you open yourself up to problems you don’t get when you pop a DVD into your player.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the system can break down, but it’s a good reminder that streaming services are far from foolproof yet.

Consumerist has a story today about a Qwest (s Q) customer who believed her YouTube (s GOOG) watching was being hampered by the ISP. Though a Qwest rep denied throttling users (after initially saying it did), as our sister site GigaOM has reminded us, instituting bandwidth caps and metered access helps cable and telephone companies manage their networks while protecting their traditional video businesses.

Problems with video watching can arise for completely non-nefarious reasons as well. I later learned that my recent tribulations with Amazon’s (s AMZN) HD VOD service were caused by latency issues and excessive hops the data had to go through in order to reach me. (I only found that out after I got all reporterly and went through several rounds of back and forth with Comcast (s CMSCA), Amazon and Roku PR departments.)

Throw in CDNs, traffic congestion and the way information is routed from party to party and you almost start thinking it’s a miracle video gets to you at all.

Netflix (s NFLX) ran into some problems in March when customers started complaining about the poor quality of its Watch Instantly service. Most consumer ire was aimed at Microsoft (s MSFT) Silverlight, but Netflix defended the media player, and said it hadn’t pinpointed the cause of the problem.

Netflix addressed its streaming issues on its corporate blog where it spelled out its own three pain points of streaming; among them was the traffic in your home. Watching a movie while another family member or roommate in the house is uploading their vlog or running a video Skype call can trip up your video viewing.

All of these issues aside, we’re still fans of streaming movies to our TV, but as more people use services like Netflix and Amazon, more problems are bound to arise. If you encounter an issue, what should you do?

1. Make sure no one on your network is using excessive bandwidth.
2. Try unplugging your modem and plugging it back in (the fix for everything!); you could have a bum connection.

3. Contact the appropriate customer service. Companies need to know when problems arise or they can’t be fixed. Even when Amazon didn’t know I was a reporter, they were quite helpful and even gave me a refund.