Back in the good old days, when you started watching a YouTube video, the entire thing would download (or "buffer") in the background, thus ensuring a relatively smooth playback experience.
If you had a slow connection, you could simply pause the video until you saw the "buffer bar" complete its journey from left to right. But thanks to YouTube's switch to a new protocol (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP, or DASH, if you're interested), that trick no longer works.
Now, when you play a video, YouTube buffers only a small amount. And that can lead to stuttering, frequently interrupted playback.
Thanks to a browser add-on called YouTube Center, it's now possible to disable DASH, thus forcing YouTube to buffer your entire video.
That's the good news. The bad news is that it can be a little tricky to install depending on which browser you use. The Firefox crowd has it easy: Just grab the extension via Mozilla's Add-Ons library (assuming you're okay with installing a "non-reviewed" extension).
As a Chrome user, I had to jump through a few hoops. Here's the process:
1. Download YouTube Center in the form of a .CRX file, which was designed for the Opera browser but will also work in Chrome. Ignore any error message you see regarding compatibility.
2. In Chrome, click the Settings button, then click Tools, Extensions to open the Extensions tab.
3. Drag the downloaded .CRX file to that Extensions tab, then agree to the installation request.
4. Now open YouTube in a new tab. You should immediately see the YouTube Center settings window. (If not, click the little gear icon in the upper-right corner of the YouTube screen.)
5. Click Player, then clear the checkbox next to DASH. Close the YouTube Center window and you're done!
Now, when you start a video, you'll see the buffer bar run all the way to the right, indicating that the full video is queued for playback, not just a few seconds' worth.
By the way, the developer offers a tutorial for installing YouTube Center in Internet Explorer, which definitely isn't easy. Sorry, novices, you may want to sit this one out.
As you've no doubt noticed, YouTube Center offers a wealth of other options besides DASH disabling. Feel free to poke around and share any cool tricks you find!
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter (which is included in the Power Tips newsletter) e-mailed to you each week.