Truth: You really don’t need that much computing power to play a DVD.
Truth: You really don’t need that much computing power to play a 1080p video file, be it MP4, AVI (in any number of variants), MOV or what-have-you.
Truth: You do need good amount of computing power just to play Flash and Silverlight content because yes, both are just programmed that badly.
What most people want out of a media PC is something that can at bare minimum play video that looks at least as good as a standard DVD with smooth playback. Not too much to ask, right? Well, if you want it delivered via Flash or Silverlight, you’re asking for a lot because DVD-quality spec through either platform usually ends up dropping frames, “stuttering” and/or “chopping” the video content during playback.
Most people think it’s the network connection that is at fault when this happens. Unlikely. The content is supposed to buffer well enough in advance to prevent this from happening.
Some think it’s a video card issue. Unlikely. An old, clunky Pentium III PC with only a 64MB video card can play back DVD video easily.
In the end, it’s Flash and Silverlight that are the cause of the stutters, chops and so on. Both of those platforms are bloated beyond belief, and that’s why video playback is so crappy using either.
Is there any cure for this? The answer is the really sad part. No, there isn’t.
There is however a bright side to all this. Many of you have an older PC or laptop lying around somewhere you thought wasn’t good enough to be a media PC, but I’ll bet you it is if you consciously don’t use Flash or Silverlight on it. If it can play a DVD and do it smoothly, it can do the same even if the video is ripped to a local file, stored on an external HDD and transferred for playback over USB 2.0. Yes, really. You would think with all that hardware choke there would be no way DVD data could be played back. Yes, it can. Heck, you could even play back the file over Wireless B easily, never mind G or N.
Now if you want to go into 1080p territory, then yes you need some actual hardware grunt to do that. But for 720p and lower, the hardware and network capability needed to do that is minimal – as long as you stay away from Flash and Silverlight.
Final tip before I end this one: Yes, I know you need Silverlight for Netflix content, however there’s a little trick you can do that helps out on slower computers. By default, the Netflix player in the browser will always try to achieve the highest “HD” video quality. When the video starts, move your mouse, and look for the check box “Allow HD”, and uncheck it. The video quality will be lower, but playback will be a whole lot smoother. Depending on your older hardware, it might not be perfect, but it usually gets the job done (and also usually eliminates movies stopping in the middle of playback for network buffering).
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