As Hollywood and its associates continue their transition from DVD and Blu-ray discs to streamed entertainment, the word transition is worth remembering. This is still early stage technology and there are bugs. Rest assured there will be more bugs to come.
The problem is moving all the heavy digital data that movies require around the Internet cleanly, and it manifests itself by all sorts of unwanted imperfections in the video you're watching. With a problematic stream, you might see blurred motion, or a sudden drop in picture sharpness. The dialogue might go out of sync with the picture. In some cases, the action pauses or drops altogether. This is not the experience you were expecting.
Where does the problem lie? Hard to say, and that's the real problem. In many cases, it's simply network traffic jam somewhere on the Internet -- again, movies take up a lot of digital bits. That jam could be happening a mile away from your home or a continent away. Or it could be extremely local traffic -- if you're on a cable modem, for example, your Internet and streaming performance is affected by who else is using bandwidth on your own street. It might even by your own Internet Service Provider (ISP). Not all ISPs provide the same performance for streamed movies, as this chart from Netflix demonstrates.
Comparison of ISP Speeds for Netflix Streaming (graphic: Netflix)
Then again, the problem might just as easily be occurring inside your home. You could have a glitch or a traffic jam in your own wi-fi network. Some wireless wi-fi routers are faster and more capable than others. And wi-fi is subject to interference from many household appliances, such as microwave ovens and cordless phones -- not to mention your next door neighbors' wi-fi networks!
Delivering a consistent streaming experience is still a very inexact science for providers like Netflix and Amazon. On Thanksgiving evening, when much of America was home watching TV, I experienced interrupted and eventually unwatchable streams from both these services -- we ended up abandoning two different streamed movies and finally settled on a (reliable) disc.
The folks who are streaming boosters believe the problem will get better as the infrastructure of our data networks get better. High speed services like Verizon's FIOS and ATT's U-Verse are certainly capable of the performance needed for effective streaming movies.
On the other hand, as time goes by, more people will be streaming movies, creating greater data demands everywhere and the likelihood of even more traffic jams. You can experience this problem today when you try to use wi-fi on an airplane or train. Sure, the signal is there and it's strong. Unfortunately, a lot of other folks are streaming at the same time you are, and the results can be very unsatisfying.
None of this changes the fact that streaming media is the future. But at present, that road is still a bit bumpy.