How to Finally Fix Plex Buffering Issues [2024 Guide]

January 20, 2024

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Experiencing constant buffering when streaming content on Plex? This comprehensive guide will teach you to troubleshoot and fix Plex buffering once and for all.

Introduction: Plex Buffering Problems Explained

As a top media server platform with over 25 million users worldwide, Plex allows you to easily access and stream your personal media library from anywhere.

However, despite its popularity, Plex still suffers from a major pain point – constant buffering and lag during video playback which interrupts and ruins the streaming experience.

This comprehensive guide will equip you to troubleshoot, diagnose and permanently fix Plex buffering issues through 12 proven methods, whether you’re streaming locally or remotely.

Why Does Plex Keep Buffering?

Before jumping into the solutions, it’s important to understand what causes Plex to keep endlessly buffering and lagging behind instead of smoothly streaming media.

Here are the 14 most common culprits behind Plex stuttering and constant pinwheeling:

  • Lack of hardware acceleration support
  • Underpowered/outdated Plex Media Server
  • Slow internet speeds and bandwidth limitations
  • Too many simultaneous streams overloading resources
  • Using unsuitable streaming devices like smart TVs
  • Complex subtitle and audio formats forcing transcoding
  • Network connectivity issues and interference
  • Buggy, outdated Plex app versions
  • Heavy CPU usage spikes during transcoding
  • Device memory limitations
  • Security software conflicts
  • Plex media format incompatibility
  • Poor signal strength with WiFi streaming
  • ISP throttling and traffic shaping

Now let’s explore the top fixes and solutions to resolve Plex buffering.

12 Solutions to Fix Plex Buffering & Lagging

#1 Enable Hardware Acceleration

One major cause of Plex stuttering is lack of hardware acceleration, especially when streaming high bitrate 4K or HEVC content.

Enabling hardware transcoding in Plex shifts the video processing load from your CPU to the GPU, massively improving performance and reducing buffering issues.

To enable hardware acceleration:

  • Upgrade to Plex Pass
  • Use Plex Media Server v1.24.1+
  • Have a supported GPU
  • Restart Plex server after activating hardware acceleration
Plex Enable Hardware Acceleration

With hardware acceleration properly configured, you can smoothly direct play 4K, HEVC and high bitrate videos without Plex endless buffering.

#2 Upgrade Your Plex Server Hardware

Another source of Plex lagging is an underpowered, outdated Plex server unable to cope with demands like:

  • Heavy transcoding of hi-res, CPU-intensive formats
  • Streaming to multiple devices simultaneously
  • Failure to meet increased storage needs

Some memory/hardware upgrades to stop Plex buffering issues:

  • Switch to a modern multi-core CPU for faster transcoding. Intel i9 recommended.
  • Get a dedicated GPU for hardware acceleration as outlined above
  • Increase RAM to at least 16GB for optimal Plex performance
  • Upgrade to an SSD cache drive to improve load times
  • Use a scale-up NAS or media server (Synology, QNAP, etc.)

#3 Check Internet Speeds & Bandwidth

Slow internet speeds are a definite cause of Plex constantly buffering, especially when streaming high bitrate 4K or 1080p content remotely outside your home.

Recommended internet speeds for stable Plex streaming:

  • HD/1080p video: Minimum 5 Mbps
  • 4K video: Minimum 25 Mbps
Recommended Internet Speeds

However, speed alone isn’t enough. You also need sufficient bandwidth available exclusively for Plex streaming without other activity congesting your network connection.

To troubleshoot:

  • Perform a speed test to check your real-world internet speeds
  • Temporarily disable other bandwidth-intensive activities like torrenting and gaming
  • Upgrade to a faster internet plan or better Wi-Fi router if speeds too low
  • Use a wired Ethernet connection for consistent speeds vs WiFi

Also enable “Auto Adjust Quality” in Plex settings so video quality downgrades automatically to prevent buffering when available bandwidth drops.

#4 Limit Simultaneous Video Streams

Large Plex libraries mean more friends and family streaming videos simultaneously. Too many concurrent streams overload server resources and cause constant buffering.

As a rule of thumb for stable performance:

  • Allow just 1-2 remote streams outside your home network
  • Limit to 3-5 local streams on your LAN

To prevent Plex buffering from too many users, restrict streams with Plex’s built-in controls:

  1. Click settings icon ⚙️ > Server > Remote Access
  2. Set Global Remote Stream Bitrate Limit to 8-10 Mbps max
  3. Enable Limit cellular to 2 Mbps under Custom server access URLs
  4. Set max Internet Upload Speed under Bandwidth to 60% your upload speed
  5. Under Devices, set max streams allowed per user
Plex Limit Simultaneous Video Streams

With simultaneous streams restricted, Plex will have enough bandwidth, CPU and memory to stream smoothly without disruption.

#5 Use Better Streaming Devices

Plex supports almost every device imaginable – smart TVs, mobiles, PCs, tablets, streaming boxes, gaming consoles and more.

However, not all clients are created equal. Underpowered devices like smart TVs are a common source of Plex stuttering and buffering simply due to hardware limitations.

For the smoothest Plex streaming:

  • Avoid using game consoles and smart TVs as Plex client devices where possible
  • Recommended: Use a dedicated media player like the Nvidia ShieldApple TV 4K or Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

These powerful streaming boxes can direct play almost any video format without needing Plex transcoding, eliminating a major cause of buffering.

#6 Change Subtitle & Audio Settings

Plex users frequently report constant buffering and lagging when subtitles are enabled, especially with foreign language subs and PGS format subtitles.

That’s because complex textures like subtitles require video transcoding that most Plex servers struggle with.

To smooth out playback:

  • Disable subtitles in content where possible
  • Under Plex settings, disable auto “Always Burn Subtitles”
  • Manually burn only image-based PGS subtitles before adding media
  • Use simple SRT subtitle files instead of complex formats
  • Avoid 7.1 multi-channel audio tracks which also require transcoding. Downmix audio to stereo or 5.1 surround sound instead.
Plex Disable Auto always Burn Subtitles

With simpler subtitle and audio streams, videos can direct play without needing resource-intensive transcoding.

#7 Troubleshoot Network Issues

Network problems like poor Wi-Fi signal, bandwidth throttling by ISPs and TCP/IP conflicts can all interrupt streams and cause Plex buffering.

To rule out networking issues:

  • Troubleshoot Wi-Fi and switch to ethernet if signal weak
  • Test with VPN disabled – VPNs often throttle speeds
  • Factory reset networking hardware if issues persist
  • Port forward Plex server using TCP port 32400 for remote access
  • Enable UPnP in router settings to avoid port conflicts

With a stable, uncongested network free of interference you can stream smoothly without annoying Plex buffering – crucial whether streaming Plex on Chromebooks or using Plex on the Steam Deck.

#8 Update Plex Media Server & Clients

Like any software, bugs and compatibility issues in outdated Plex apps can disrupt video playback and cause buffering or crashes.

  • On your Plex server, click ⚙️ > General > Check for Updates to upgrade – ignoring this causes issues like audio sync problems and playback failures.
  • Also check for updates manually on streaming device clients (Roku, mobile, etc.) in their app stores
  • If using Plex Web App, clear browser cache after an update
  • After major updates, restart server and clients for changes to take effect
Plex Update Plex Media Server

Staying updated with the latest Plex releases minimizes playback issues like errors saving changes and boosts streaming compatibility across devices like Nintendo Switch.

#9 Change Stream Quality Settings

When bandwidth is limited either locally or over the internet, streaming high resolution media will result in constant buffering as speeds fluctuate.

Luckily Plex apps have a useful Auto Adjust Quality feature that dynamically downscales quality to prevent interruptions.

To enable:

  1. In Plex app during playback, open settings
  2. Under Quality, choose Auto instead of Original/Maximum
  3. Set Global Remote Stream Bitrate under server settings to 8-10 Mbps
  4. Set Maximum H.264 Level (in Mbps) to match your network
Plex Quality

Now Plex will automatically adjust stream quality based on available bandwidth for smooth playback without endless buffering at higher resolutions.

#10 Clear Plex App Data & Cache

Corrupted app data and bloated caching can sometimes disrupt video playback and cause Plex buffering or crashing.

Clearing the app data forces Plex to rebuild its data indexes and buffers from scratch:

  • Close any running Plex apps fully
  • In device settings, select Apps > Plex Media Server (and client)
  • Tap Clear Cache followed by Clear Data & Clear Defaults
  • Reopen Plex app – data will rebuild as you use it
Plex Clear Cache

With fresh app data, cache and settings, playback inconsistencies causing buffering are often eliminated.

#11 Disable VPN When Streaming Plex

Best Vpn

To protect privacy, many people route Plex traffic through a VPN tunnel. However, this comes at a cost – VPNs inherently throttle speeds to varying degrees.

If Plex buffering only occurs when your VPN is active, disabling it while streaming Plex should restore full speeds:

  • Under your device network settings, toggle your VPN off
  • Refresh Plex app/web browser to reconnect without VPN
  • When done streaming, remember to re-enable the VPN

Without the VPN bottleneck, Plex will utilize your full internet speeds for smooth streaming once again.

#12 Contact Plex Customer Support

If you’ve tried every troubleshooting step but still can’t eliminate Plex stuttering and buffering issues, it may require further technical investigation by Plex’s customer support reps.

  • Submit a support ticket through detailing your issues
  • Thoroughly document all troubleshooting steps attempted
  • Provide Plex server logs showing errors to aid diagnosis
  • Consider starting a Plex forums thread detailing issues to engage community help

With an active Plex Pass subscription, you’re eligible for priority email support and access to remote desktop assistance to finally squash those pesky playback problems once and for all!

If you’ve tried all the above solutions, and the plex buffering issue is still unsolved, you can also try other home media server software like Emby and Jellyfin as Plex alternatives.

Fixing Plex Buffering: Key Takeaways

To recap, here are the 12 top methods to troubleshoot and permanently resolve Plex buffering:

  • Activate hardware acceleration if available
  • Upgrade Plex server CPU, RAM and switch to SSD storage
  • Ensure sufficient internet speeds above 25 Mbps
  • Enforce limits on simultaneous video streams
  • Use powerful streaming devices like Nvidia Shield TV
  • Disable/simplify subtitles and multi-channel audio
  • Rule out network issues with wired connections
  • Stay updated with latest Plex Media Server versions
  • Lower streaming quality settings temporarily
  • Clear corrupted Plex app cache/data
  • Exclude Plex traffic from VPN tunnels
  • Engage Plex customer support & community forums

Targeted application of these fixes will isolate the true cause and remedy disruptive Plex playback issues for good.

Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions about permanently fixing Plex buffering? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

Q: Why does Plex buffer more when streaming 4K or 1080p videos?

A: High resolution video requires proportionally faster internet speeds and local network bandwidth to stream smoothly without disruption. Enabling Auto Adjust Quality is highly recommended.

Q: Can upgrading Plex hardware fix buffering and lagging?

A: Yes, upgrading to a modern multi-core CPU, adding more RAM, installing an SSD cache drive and adding a GPU for hardware encoding acceleration can all dramatically improve Plex streaming performance.

Q: Does Plex Pass help reduce buffering?

A: Yes. Plex Pass enables key features like hardware acceleration, mobile sync, trailers auto-deletion and TIDAL integration that alleviate strain on your server leading to buffering.

Q: Why does Plex buffer when other streaming apps don’t?

A: Plex streaming quality depends heavily on your local server hardware and output settings. Other apps utilize external cloud infrastructure optimized specifically for smooth video delivery. Locally optimizing hardware and quality settings is key for stable Plex streaming.

Q: Can you download videos from Plex to watch offline without buffering?

A: Yes! A great pro tip is to use the Plex mobile app’s Sync feature. This lets you download videos locally over WiFi onto your device so you can watch offline without any buffering issues. Just remember to save space by deleting the downloads afterwards.

Still have questions? Feel free to Contact Me directly!

Final Tips for Smooth Plex Streaming

Fixing Plex buffering ultimately requires optimizing your local network, internet speeds, Plex Media Server hardware and client settings to create an ideal streaming environment tailored for your needs.

While frustrating, buffering issues also present an opportunity to re-evaluate and upgrade your streaming infrastructure to maximize performance.

By methodically troubleshooting and applying fixes like those outlined step-by-step in this guide, you can nail down the true bottlenecks in your setup. Rectifying these allows you to finally enjoy stable, smooth streaming in Plex as intended.

Thanks for reading and happy streaming!