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Get better reception

If the video you’re watching on your Mac isn’t clear, here are some ideas on how to improve your experience.

Go Small If the picture is jumpy or pixelated, try switching to a smaller size—the smaller file may be easier for your computer to process.

Buffer It Many on-demand streams will continue to download the video file after you click on the pause button. If you’re waiting too long for more video to download, click on pause and walk away for a few minutes. When you come back, you should have a decent amount of buffered video to watch as the rest comes down the pipe.

Plug In Many of these sites require that you download additional programs or browser plug-ins to receive the picture. Make sure that you have up-to-date versions of Real’s free RealPlayer and Microsoft’s free Windows Media Player, or Flip4Mac’s free Windows Media Components for QuickTime. Older versions of these applications might not handle the stream properly or efficiently.

Download It If streaming isn’t working for you, just download the file to view later. Google Video and other sites allow downloads of some files, and the Web is full of tips on how to capture Flash video files.

Getting the picture

If you haven’t tried streaming video since the early part of the century, you may expect a blocky, pixelated picture and jumpy, out-of-sync audio. But today’s streaming video can be as good as television if you have the right stuff. Your Internet connection has something to do with it, but so does the horsepower inside your machine.

If you have a broadband connection, you should have enough bandwidth to get a good-quality stream. The higher-quality, higher-resolution streams can require up to 2,000 Kbps—beyond the scope of basic DSL—but most use between 250 and 750 Kbps. In practice, I found processor speed and video RAM more important for good video quality. I tried three different Macs over a 1.5-Mbps DSL connection: a 600MHz G3 iBook with 648MB of RAM and 8MB of video RAM; a 1.2GHz G4 iBook with 768MB of RAM and 16MB of VRAM; and a 2.4GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM and 256MB of VRAM. Here’s how they performed. Heroes

  • iBook G3: Some audio, but poor video.
  • iBook G4: Audio flowed, but video bumbled.
  • MacBook Pro: Like watching a television—smooth video and synced audio.
  • Lost

  • iBook G3: Coughed and crashed—no video or audio.
  • iBook G4: Grab the magnifying glass—video and audio were smooth when set to the smallest picture size but jumpy at normal size.
  • MacBook Pro: Who needs cable? I could watch this all night.
  • [ Michael Gowan is a freelance technology writer. ]

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