TheEC: Streaming Dropouts

Sep 25, 2012

A common tech support request I get is for help with our stream/webcast from our listeners. The "digital illuminati" often like to claim that the web will mean the death of radio any day now, but streaming is still decidedly more complex and more tricky than radio's "push button, turn knob, get programming" simplicity.

One big thing about streaming is dropouts. Lots of things can cause dropouts, but they have to do with "buffering." A dropout means the stream doesn't have enough data "stored up" in a "buffer" to keep the audio flowing during the inevitable dropouts, inherent to the internet and especially so when using a smartphone.

Fortunately, there are options! Here's a couple things you can try to help with the buffering:

  1. Buffering Bar: In the RIPR iPhone app, at the very bottom there's a grey bar. That's a visual indication of the stream buffer. The more data is buffered, the more the bar "fills up" from left to right. The current playback point within the buffer is the little red line. If the red line hits the right edge of the "remaining buffer," the data has run out and you'll have an audio dropout until enough data buffers again. When you first start playback, you can press pause and wait a bit (15 to 30 seconds usually is enough) for the buffer to fill up before playing. This should go a long way towards prevent dropouts once the audio starts playing.
  2. Backup Webcast: You can also try our backup webcast which uses a different streaming host (B2 Networks instead of StreamGuys) and maybe you'll have a better connection. To do so, open in your phone's web browser (Safari, Firefox, Chrome, etc), and scroll down. Under "Alternate Streaming Methods" click Depending on your phone, a streaming player (such as Quicktime on iPhones) should automatically open and start playing audio. Since it's a different webcast host, you might get better performance.
  3. TuneIn App: You can download the free TuneIn app (available in the iPhone App Store and the Google Play Store) Once loaded, tap BROWSE and search for RHODE ISLAND PUBLIC RADIO, we should be the first thing in the list. In TuneIn, tap SETTINGS, then ADVANCED, then BUFFER BEFORE PLAYING and increase the time from 10 seconds to 20 or 30 seconds. Functionally this is no different from what I described in #1 above, but it's a little more automatic.
  4. Enable/disable wifi: Finally, you can try enabling or disabling wifi on the phone, as opposed to listening to the app just using your phone's 3G/4G connection. If that's noticeably better, then something's up with the path from your wifi (be it at home or at work) and our servers. Actually fixing that could mean a lot of time with your wifi's tech support (presumably Cox , Comcast or Verizon FiOS) so maybe just sticking with 3G/4G would be easier. However, remember that streaming over 3G/4G may count towards any "data ceiling" you have on your phone's data plan.

Good luck and happy streaming!