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Watch streaming video better with these tips for power users

Turn your PC into a live video streaming powerhouse with these tips and utilities.

If you're reading this, you don't need to be told that streaming live video on your PC and mobile gadgets is blowing up in a big way; with streaming sites like Justin.tv, UStream, and game-specific streaming services Twitch.tv and Own3d.tv, you have more options for live news and entertainment than ever before. But with so many streams on so many sites (and not so many full-featured standalone player apps), staying on top of the brave new world of streaming TV can be a pain. With that in mind, here are some quick tips and tricks for making your live video streaming experience less painful.

Switch streams easily using third-party clients

This tip is mostly useful for folks who like to stay on top of video game-related streams; third-party stream viewers Teevox  and WellPlayed offer a much more user-friendly, all-in-one interface for watching streams from Twitch.tv and Own3d.tv. Teevox in particular makes it very easy to quickly switch between two streams, or watch multiple streams at once, both of which are handy if you're trying to follow a major game event with multiple concurrent streams. What's more, Teevox even features two mobile apps (Android only), one which lets you use Teevox's multiple-stream features on the go, and one which lets you use your smartphone or tablet as a remote control for your PC--excellent if you're watching a stream on an HDTV through your PC and don't want to get up to change the channel.

 

Use an IRC client for chat

Part of the fun of watching live streaming events is the chance to interact with other viewers (and sometimes even the host) through the built-in chat client. If you already use an IRC chat client (mIRC, for instance) and you'd rather use that, you can log into Justin.tv and Twitch.tv chat rooms by setting your login name to your Justin.tv/Twitch.tv account name, your IRC server to [channelname].jtvirc.com (replace [channelname]  with the name of the channel you want to join; if you're on the Justin.tv site, just take the name that shows up after www.justin.tv/ in the URL), the port to 6667, and the server password to your Justin.tv or Twitch.tv account password. Once you've connected to the IRC server, you can join the stream chat room by using as the name of the channel you want to join. This tip will help alleviate stress on your browser (leading to less lag on your video stream) and make it easier for you to chat with your fellow viewers quickly and efficiently.

Disable hardware acceleration

If your streams are consistently looking heavily pixelated (possibly with lots of green artifacts) and you're using a Flash-based web player, right-click on the stream window, choose Settings, and uncheck Enable hardware acceleration. This isn't guaranteed to fix your issues (you might simply be watching a stream with an unstable Internet connection, after all), but most live video streaming sites have documented that hardware acceleration can cause your stream to look pixelated.

Flush your DNS settings

Every now and then you'll start watching a stream via Justin.tv or Twitch.tv that occasionally fails due to the mysterious Error #2032. That means you've lost your connection to the server streaming the video for more than ten seconds, so the provider has shut off your stream. In my experience this problem can almost always be solved by flushing your DNS cahce, so try opening up your command prompt in Windows (just hit the Start button and type command prompt, then press Enter) and type ipconfig /flushdns to reset your DNS resolver cache and (hopefully) fix your streaming problem.

Change your streaming resolution

If your streams are stuttering or hiccuping a lot, try changing to a different resolution video stream and see if that helps. Interestingly enough, you might not always benefit from changing to a lower resolution; I've watched plenty of feeds that are stuttering at 360p but perfectly smooth at 720p, so just try different settings and see if one works better than the others.

Watch your streams on your TV

Watching streams at your desk is all well and good, but nothing beats your living room couch for comfort. The best way to pull this trick off, however, depends on your setup and available gear. If you have an HDMI-equipped laptop or desktop, you're fine (some TVs also support VGA, which could work for older PCs); just go ahead and output the display of your PC to your HDTV as though it were a second monitor.

If you have mostly Apple equipment, you could use a Mac or iOS device and an Apple TV to wirelessly mirror your PC display onto your TV, or buy an HDMI adapter to directly connect your device to your TV (see our guide on How to Mirror Your iPad Display to Your HDTV for more detailed information).

Likewise, if you have an Android phone that supports HDMI out, you could just mirror your preferred streaming service's mobile app onto the TV that way. Otherwise, you'll either need a wireless HDMI adapter that reaches from your desktop to the TV, or a Roku media player. If you have a Roku, you can add third-party channels that add Justin.tv/Twitch.tv and UStream support. Xbox 360 owners will also be getting a Twitch.tv app in Fall 2012, though odds are good it'll probably require a Gold subscription. Unfortunately, PS3 owners are out of luck; up until recently, you could have used your PS3's built-in browser to watch feeds of most streaming services, but that no longer works due to browser limitations.

Have your own tips for staying on top of streams? Share them in the comments!

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