Join 3,551 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Why won't my computer (Asrock ION 330) play HD netflix smoothly?
February 5, 2012 11:33 AM   Subscribe

Why won't my computer (Asrock ION 330) play HD netflix smoothly?

I have an ASROCK ion 330 which I use as an HTPC.

In Netflix, when I try to watch HD video, the result is basically unwatchable: My subjective sense is that it's showing anywhere from maybe one to five frames per second. Audio sometimes goes several seconds out of sync and also cuts in and out. When I bring up the diagnostic information in silverlight, it tells me:

- Version: 2.1238.991.1
- CPU Usage: 40%/60% (varies a lot…)
- Video frames rendered/dropped: 10/5
- GPU acceleration (attempted/enabled): true/true
- GPU vendor: 10de
- Gpu device: 087d
- Gpu driver version: 8.17.12.7533
-
- When I run windows task manager –
- cpu usage goes from arund 40% to around 60%

Even when watching non-HD video in netflix - while Silverlight tells me there are no dropped frames, my subjective impression is that the motion feels a little jerky. (This is not true when watching other stuff: Streaming youtube videos, for instance, seem fine, even in HD, as do most local video files). I am pretty sure the problem is not one of insufficient bandwidth, as other, more powerful, computers on the same network are able to stream HD smoothly.

Here are some facts about the setup:
- The computer is an Asrock ION 330 (Intel Dual Core Atom 330, NVIDIA ION graphics processor, 2GB ram)
- Running Windows 7
- Silverlight version 5.0.61118.0
- It’s a pretty clean setup, not much else running. I do have AVG antivirus…

Some questions:

1) Is there an easy way to fix this, or is the problem just that this system is underpowered for this purpose?

2) If it is underpowered - would a cheaper dedicated video box be able to do this same job better? (Roku, boxee, appletv?). Would a different comparably-priced PC?

Also - if there are good forums or other resources people recommend for troubleshooting these sorts of issues (for netflix, but also general HTPC stuff), I'd love to hear about them. I have a feeling a have a bit more tweaking ahead of me...

Thanks! Any help much appreciated!
posted by ManInSuit to Technology (25 answers total)
 
Im guessing you are bandwidth constrained, not hardware. Try going to speedtest.net or something and see what kind of throughput you are getting. I think Netflix HD requires around 8Mb/sec (thats Mega-bits per second).
posted by H. Roark at 11:50 AM on February 5, 2012


What about the graphics card overheating?
posted by k8t at 11:57 AM on February 5, 2012


HR - I'm not sure, but it sure seems to me the problem is not a bandwidth issue. Speedtest.net reports around 28Mbps on the computer I'm trying to play the videos on. And the A/V stats in silvelight (if I understand them right) report I have over 200 seconds of video buffered...
posted by ManInSuit at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2012


k8t - how would I tell if the graphics card was overheating?
posted by ManInSuit at 11:58 AM on February 5, 2012


Are you watching Netflix in Windows Media Center, or through a browser? In my experience, watching Netflix on WMC is very demanding of your hardware. Try it using Firefox and see how it works.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:53 PM on February 5, 2012


Are you watching Netflix in Windows Media Center, or through a browser? In my experience, watching Netflix on WMC is very demanding of your hardware. Try it using Firefox and see how it works.

That's funny--I had exactly the opposite experience. A lot of problems watching on a browser, fewer problems watching in WMC. In the end, though, I gave up and got a Roku box (problems much rarer all round).

Not that the problems you're having sound all that similar to mine, but one thing I did find was that watching in a browser (Firefox) some of the Firefox add-ons would interfere with playback. I improved playback enormously when Netflix first adopted the Silverlight platform (and my playback went from beautifully problem-free to crappy overnight) at one point by killing a bunch of add-ons, although I now can't remember exactly which ones. I think I also made sure Netflix was exempt from adblock.

In the end, though, the real fix was getting the Roku player--which is only $100 or so.
posted by yoink at 1:01 PM on February 5, 2012


That Atom is relatively underpowered, and Silverlight is a pig, and Netflix is streaming it wrongly with too high a bandwidth. The other sites you list having no problems use Flash and optimized streaming speed, or MP4/HTML5.

In any case like this I recommend trying Process Lasso as first step; the free version is all you need at its defaults, just install and reboot. It will hold back and release any other running processes to give Silverlight all the processor it can get. But in this case I don't think it will fix this. It might help a little. But, it will make the other sites you have no real problem with seem even smoother.
posted by caclwmr4 at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2012


BobbyVan : I am playing in browser.

Yoink: I'll try in WMC. I was wondering about the Roku. It seems odd to me that a $100 Roku player would play video better than my $350-or-so marketed-as-an-htpc computer. Does it really stream netflix HD smoothly?
posted by ManInSuit at 1:07 PM on February 5, 2012


Netflix on the PC just plain sucks. They don't have GPU video decoding on the PC, even though it's possible with the newer version of Silverlight. So all that HD decoding falls on your processor, which unless it's a 2+ Ghz dual core is going to vomit frames all over the place.

It's entirely possible to do hardware decoding of Netflix stream, as evidenced by the hardware decoding that works on Wii/XBox/PS3, they're just fucking around and not making it happen on the PC. My advice is to disable HD until Netflix gets their shit together, or get a PS3.
posted by mullingitover at 1:28 PM on February 5, 2012


mullingitover, I'm not sure it's a fair statement to claim that "Netflix on the PC just plain sucks".

I have cable internet and a year old Win7 laptop and Netflix virtually always runs flawlessly.

As a matter of fact, I'm amazed at the fact that I only wait a very short time at the beginning of a movie for the intitial stream to begin playing, and never have to wait once it's started.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:09 PM on February 5, 2012


Flash when it is streaming optimized has a handshaking that lowers the bandwidth/bitrate for a slower connection and/or slower processor, and can raise it back up if network troubles retreat. Obviously this isn't happening with Netflix and Silverlight on your Atom. It's Netflix's fault. Your other machine is fast enough to accept and render the stream.
posted by caclwmr4 at 3:16 PM on February 5, 2012


Does it really stream netflix HD smoothly?

Yes, it really does. That's not to say that you can't have equal success on the PC (many do) and you might be able to troubleshoot your way to a good experience on your Atom. But have a look at the customer reviews for the Roku some time: there are very few reported problems and a very high satisfaction rate. I have run into a few situations on the Roku where HD fails and it restarts at a lower resolution, but those all seem to be traceable to problems with my router or my ISP. Mostly it just works and works seamlessly.
posted by yoink at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2012


Obviously this isn't happening with Netflix and Silverlight on your Atom. It's Netflix's fault. Your other machine is fast enough to accept and render the stream.

I'm not sure why you're blaming this on Netflix. Netflix is delivering variable bitrate streams. Your computer will adjust for the bandwidth on the fly to provide smooth download and viewing experience. That's pretty much the most Netflix can do. The OP also states they have a high bandwidth connection with large, full video buffer.

After the stream is downloaded, there's not much that Netflix can do - its up to the CPU/GPU and Silverlight to render the stream correctly. You can complain about their use of Silverlight but Netflix has DRM requirements handed down via the studios and Silverlight fulfills these needs. This issue looks like a CPU issue.
posted by bitdamaged at 5:05 PM on February 5, 2012


Silverlight on Atom/Win 7 has issues, as my own homebrew HTPC setup can attest. Even with 4 gig of RAM, extremely high-speed broadband and optimized browser setups, it still can't stream HD Netflix. My understanding from the Silverlight and Netflix forums is that this is not a priority issue for the Silverlight development team, and that those of us on Atom just need to upgrade our hardware.

I'm now considering the Roku box as my next HTPC.
posted by salsamander at 5:06 PM on February 5, 2012


Okay, let me see if I understand, from the various answers I have here. Is this about right:

The CPU I have is not powerful enough to play HD video. Well-designed software offloads the bulk of the HD work to the GPU, which is why. say, streaming HD youtube videos are fine. Although Silverlight tells me that GPU acceleration is enabled, the truth is that my CPU is doing most/all of the work when watching Netflix. This is mainly because the silvelight software does not do a good job of offloading the work from the CPU to the GPU on the particular hardware combination that I have.

It is not clear to me from the responses here whether this problem is a general problem related to the current version of silverlight, or something specific to Netflix's use of Silverlight (though I guess this may be immaterial to me).

My sense is that this is a known problem with the hardware I have, and there's no obvious/easy way to fix this on my hardware.

If I want to watch netflix in HD, my choices are:

- Wait for Microsoft to add better hardware acceleration for my particular hardware, and/or netflix to fix the relevant problem, which may or may not happen.

- Get a dedicated box like a Roku. Even though it may be less powerful than my computer - the silverlight/netflix software/content is well-tuned to make use of its GPU hardware, so it can stream netflix HD smoothly.

- Get a more powerful HTPC, so that even if I do have to rely on the CPU rather than GPU to play the video, the CPU will be powerful enough.

Is that all about right?
posted by ManInSuit at 7:18 PM on February 5, 2012


I'm not sure why you're blaming this on Netflix. Netflix is delivering variable bitrate streams.

If it's variable, it's not variable enough. The problem is the classic symptom of a bitrate that is too high. With Netflix non-HD working well, and Youtube-HD working well, and stipulating a more-than-enough bandwidth network that works well on a faster machine, that leaves Netflix streaming a too high bitrate as the problem. It's a CPU issue only in that the Atom can't handle the lowest bitrate Netflix delivers for HD. I don't care if the GPU is handling it or not, Netflix isn't handshaking and reducing the bitrate to what the machine can handle, but Youtube-HD does.

I doubt that it's DRM. I doubt that a lower degraded bitrate is a concern to the studios, but maybe it is to maintain a minimum visual quality. If so, Netflix should say so. Silverlight does not look as good as Flash or MP4 at identical lower bitrates, so they don't want anyone to see that, and they try to blame the Atom. If the Silverlight stream is bitrate variable, it is not rocket science to set the streaming at the server to allow a lower bitrate that works for Atoms just like Youtube-HD does - but then Netflix-HD might look horrible.

In other words, depending how you look at it, the problem is not primarily the Atom. It is Netflix+Silverlight. It's easy to say use a faster machine, but I'd like to hear in that same sentence why Youtube-HD does work. In even fewer words: Youtube-HD works, Netflix-HD doesn't work, problem=Netflix.
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:11 PM on February 5, 2012


So the next thing to try is forcing a lower bitrate. This page has an explanation and a link to detailed instructions to force Netflix to use a lower bitrate. But it notes that it will force it off HD, and the lower bitrate would apply to all connections through the same account. But would you try this and see (literally) what happens?

Netflix On Atom Workaround
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:14 PM on February 5, 2012


As I understand it, this is an issue with Silverlight not taking advantage of your capable GPU.. AMD's Fusion platform is similarly affected. Unless this is strictly limited to Win7 and you want to fool around with other OS's, Roku is your cheapest option.
posted by unmake at 12:24 AM on February 6, 2012


Oh, and avsforum is where to read up on this stuff.
posted by unmake at 12:27 AM on February 6, 2012


The problem is the classic symptom of a bitrate that is too high.

This is only a problem if a) You can't download the video fast enough (not the problem here - and the "classic" problem) or B) your processor can't handle the stream (almost never a problem). The way internet streaming works is that the assumed bottleneck is the users download speed. Netflix does (what everyone does) and spends considerable time, money and effort trying to provide the highest bitrate stream for your connection with the underlying assumption that your processor can handle it (and it should). This is how variable bitrate streaming works. I'm not aware of a single playback mechanism which does variable bitrate stream switching based on your processing power. The fact that you have to "force" a lower bandwidth to get this to work again lays the blame at the processor.

In even fewer words: Youtube-HD works, Netflix-HD doesn't work, problem=Netflix.

This is a naive comparison. You're comparing two completely different video stacks YouTube is H.264 or WebM Delivered via generic MP4 to a Flash player with little or no DRM. Netflix is VC-1AP with PlayReadyDRM delivered to a Silverlight player. As a video provider Netflix's responsibility only goes so far which generally is entirely on the delivery side. Once the file (or a sufficient part thereof) gets to the machine their responsibility, for the most part, ends.

At this point you hit the Silverlight part of the stack and thats what seems to be having issues. You can blame Netflix for choosing silverlight but you can't blame Netflix for providing "too high a bitrate" thats just ridiculous and counter to the way internet streaming works.


To the original question

Get a dedicated box like a Roku. Even though it may be less powerful than my computer - the silverlight/netflix software/content is well-tuned to make use of its GPU hardware, so it can stream netflix HD smoothly.

Roku boxes have dedicated hardware video decoders (not exactly a GPU but a chip dedicated to decoding video) and are built from the ground up for streaming (in fact for streaming Netflix - originally it was just a "Netflix streaming device"). The two companies are tied at the hip and you can pretty much guarantee a smooth experience on that device. Plus they're cheap and you can stream a ton of other content as well (I love them, and my company has a few Roku channels we built)
posted by bitdamaged at 10:35 AM on February 6, 2012


(I did not mention: I am in Canada. From my surfing around, it seems that Roku in Canada is still a little tricky. Too bad...)
posted by ManInSuit at 12:37 PM on February 6, 2012


There are plenty of other devices that will stream Netflix, such as those from WD and Sony, for about the same price ($50-$100). And of course many "connected" blu-ray players are in the same price range.
posted by unmake at 6:23 PM on February 6, 2012


There are plenty of other devices that will stream Netflix, such as those from WD and Sony

Unfortunately the international streaming restrictions are actually Netflix's not the Roku.
posted by bitdamaged at 9:47 PM on February 6, 2012


I poked around some more and found threads regarding Sony and WD's devices being used with Netflix.ca - both have issues, but the most recent wdtv posts were of success. The Sony threads mentioned a patch "in march" but they weren't dated with a year. It would probably be wise to contact the companies involved before purchasing.

Or rebuild the HTPC with an Ivy Bridge-based processor, along the lines of the guides at AVSForums.

I did notice that some canadians were using US-based VPN services to access Netflix.com (not .ca) so I guess that's a third option.
posted by unmake at 11:45 PM on February 6, 2012


imjustsaying: "mullingitover, I'm not sure it's a fair statement to claim that "Netflix on the PC just plain sucks".

I have cable internet and a year old Win7 laptop and Netflix virtually always runs flawlessly.

As a matter of fact, I'm amazed at the fact that I only wait a very short time at the beginning of a movie for the intitial stream to begin playing, and never have to wait once it's started.
"

Yes, a year old laptop will have something like an i5 or i7 CPU, or a C2D running faster than 2Ghz so you'd be fine. It's when you're running a computer with a slow cpu but adequate hardware decoding where netflix sucks, even though the hardware decoding should process the HD stream without missing a beat. Also, when you run netflix HD you're seeing 40%+ cpu usage, right? It's working alright, but it kills your battery life and wastes processing power. If netflix fixed their HD streaming so PCs could handle it in the GPU, you'd be seeing ~5% CPU usage and get an extra hour out of your battery.
posted by mullingitover at 5:48 PM on February 10, 2012


« Older We're planning a road trip to ...   |  Please recommend songs like Wa... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.