How to Prevent and Fix Dropped Frames (and Audio Sync Errors)

This article lists 21 fixes for, and gives the reasons for, dropped frames and audio sync issues that can occur when recording or capturing digital video. In fact, these rules apply to any general audio/video computer use. These simple tricks work wonders for improving encoding, capturing, and even general system performance.

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Understanding the Causes for Frame Loss and Sync Problems

What are dropped frames? Well, that’s when your capture card does not take in all the information it is given. Information is lost, and the video quality is degraded because of it. Information is now missing when a frame has been lost or “dropped”.

How does this relate to audio sync? The most obvious side affect of dropped frames is jerky movement during playback, or a loss of audio sync. The audio sync is usually caused because video frames are dropped and audio frames are not.

Many times novices will blames the card – but it’s really not the card’s fault. If a card always dropped frames, it would have never passed quality control (QC), and the manufacturer would have never shipped it. It’s on your end. Figure it out. That’s what this guide is for!

Fixes for Dropped Frames / Common Problems

1. Multi-tasking. Video is demanding. Multi-tasking can cause dropped frames. Either learn to do one thing at a time or buy an extra system for capturing video. In recent years, since about 2009, even seemingly “basic” web browsing can tax a system, as modern web browsers like to use a lot of RAM and measurable CPU cycles.

2. Program Settings. Is your program setup properly for capturing? Rarely is the out-of-the-box setting worth anything. Tweak.

3. Anti-Virus and other Background Software. Close all TSR programs. (“TSR” is shorthand for “terminate and stay resident,” which describes a program that is running the background, often with icons visible in the system tray. The “system tray” is the bottom right corner of your Windows screen, by the clock.) TSR software is notorious for silently gobbling up massive amounts of your CPU and RAM, as well as causing hard drive activity. And this is unwanted behavior for an audio/video capture box. If the TSR does not have an obvious close or exit function, then (in Windows) you can also press CTRL-ALT-ESC on the keyboard to launch the Windows Task Manager. Shut down tasks that are not needed, like printer software and icon managers. Be sure to research what an item is if you are unsure. Look it up using You don’t want to close software related to your capture, or your audio/video drivers.

4. Heat / Overheating. An overheated system can drop frames. Intel processors will often slow themselves down, while AMD processors can melt down and/or deteriorate (many of them have no internal heat safety protocols like the Intel chips). Hard drives will act erratic when overheating. Be sure your system is cooled with good fans and heatsinks, in a room that is well-cooled. Know that 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the room is not optimum working temperature, try 70-75 if you can run the air conditioner or a good fan.

5. Reboot! Shutdown! Computers are like humans. They need rest too. Reset your system before giving it a hearty video workout. I’m still amazed at the number of people that run the computer for weeks on end without rebooting and wonder why it’s acting up. Because of the way Windows works (Mac, too!), you lose resources after time, especially from opening/closing programs. They never truly close, or fully offload from RAM/CPU. Maybe even consider letting it stay powered down for an hour or so before using for captures or encodes (as it helps to minimize heat too).

6. LAN and Internet. Software often simultaneously accesses many of your system’s 65,535 ports and you rarely know it. Unplug yourself from the network and Internet so your usage is solely used on the video task at hand. Remove the wire is the easiest solution, but you can also disable it within the operating system if you know how. (Since we don’t suggest the latter method, instructions are intentionally omitted.)

7. Use the Best Drivers. Sometimes the “best” drive is the newest one, and sometimes it is not. A software driver instructs the operating system and other software how to interact with the piece of hardware; i.e., your capture card. If you’re not using the best known driver, you may run into problems. This one may take some research, and you’re always welcome to ask for assistance in our Video Capturing/Recording forum. If there really was a problem, there’d generally be an update available. Have you checked the card manufacturer’s website for updates? (And yes, I know this doesn’t always apply, but it does most of the time.)

8. Software vs. Hardware Encoding. If your device is a software capturing device, and not a hardware capturing device, CPU issues become even more important. Software capturing is more demanding on the CPU than hardware capturing.

9. Slow or Old Computers. Computer speed is important. For standard definition video (VCDs, DVDs, etc), you really need an Intel Pentium 4 2.0 Ghz (or comparable AMD+ system) or better. Slower first-generation Pentium 4′s below 2.0 Ghz, and older Pentium III’s (and below), is asking for trouble – especially for users operating off the stripped-down Duron and Celeron processors. In the era of dual-core and quad-core computers, this is less of an issue for SD video. Be mindful of suggested CPU specs, when capturing HD video.

10. CPU Usage. While this may seem related to the previous entry on old/slow computers, it’s not the same – a good CPU can still have 100% use issues. If you are using an NT based OS, like Windows NT/2K/XP/Vista/Win7, or an Apple with OS X, check to make sure the CPU usage is not max’ing out. If so, that may mean your system is too slow, improperly configured, or that your codec is too demanding on your system. It cannot keep up, and hence drops frames. Non-NT systems, like Windows 95/98/ME, can use Norton System Doctor to monitor usage.

11. VHS and other Analog Videotape Source. Garbage in, garbage out. It’s that easy. Often, VHS and VHS-C tapes can cause your system to drop frames. This is usually confined to old tapes that have seen better days, but it can also apply to newer tapes. The information being fed into your video card is corrupt, and it will throw off your system. Unfortunately, there is no fix for this. A TBC (time-base corrector) may correct the issues, but even then, that is not fool-proof. The number of frames dropped for this reason should be a rather small number (maybe 10 per hour) and will probably happen close together because of a bad spot on the tape. It may also help to rewind and fast forward the tape a few times, then try again.

12. Hard Drive Fragmentation. Defragment your hard drive on a regular basis. As time goes buy, and files are written/deleted, the available space becomes more and more random – almost like Swiss cheese! Ideally, a hard drive should be able to write one continuous file, or several large chunks, and not thousands of tiny writes spread all over the platter. While the tool built into the operating system may suffice, you’d be better off with software from PerfectDisk or DisKeeper.

13. Separate Hard Drives Suggested! Use a dedicated hard drive for capturing (meaning a physically separate drive, not just a partition). Capturing to the same drive where your OS is housed can cause conflicts as that drive is always being used by the Windows or Apple swap files. You want to use a drive that is not doing anything else at all. RAID drives may or may not help, and there are reports that both support and reject the use of RAID for video. (RAID 0 is actually quite harmful to drives, and not suggested at all.)

14. Check Your Hard Drive Settings. Your system should be set on ULTRA DMA or DMA.

  • For WinNT/2K/XP/Vista/Win7: right-click on My Computer > Properties > Hardware > DeviceManager > IDE > Primary IDE channel > Advanced Settings > Current Transfer Mode
  • For Win95/98/ME: right-click on MyComputer-> Properties-> DeviceManager-> DiskDrives-> IDE-> Properties).
  • Some Ultra ATA cards (example: Promise TX2 ATA cards) will not show DMA as an option, but the feature is turned on.

15. Capture Software and Codecs. In many cases, the software that comes with your card will work fine. It is the software supported by the card, and what was tested to give the optimal results. However, other alternatives include VirtualDub, VirtualVCR, WinDV, DScaler and iuVCR… just to name a few. Try a freebie or a trial edition of any of these packages to see if you can get better results. If capturing AVI, consider the HuffyUV codec or the Lagarith codec. Capturing MPEG-1 or MPEG-2 works great on some cards that are designed for it, but not all. Not all cards will cooperate with all software and all codecs, at least from a dropped frames point of view.

16. Preview Window. Do not make the video preview window full screen. Leave it at a relatively average size (no more than half the monitor size). In general, it’s suggested that you leave the preview at it’s usually-small default preview size, and only change it if it’s too large. A large preview window will force the computer to allocate more resources to video preview rather than the more-important recording/capturing task.

Fixes for Dropped Frames / Less-Common Problems

17. Sound Cards. Some sound cards are known to cause drop frames. This is typically confined to ancient ISA slot soundcards, cheap no-name PCI slot soundcards, and onboard sound (meaning your sound card is part of your motherboard). This is not a common problem, but has been known to happen. This has become less of an issue as time has gone by; what was once a common problem in the 2000s is less common in the 2010s.

18. Desktop Graphics Settings. Is your computer system set to use a 1600×1200 resolution at 32-bit color? If so, that may too much for your system to handle, in conjunction with capturing. Try 16-bit or 24-bit color with 1024×768 desktop. This error is normally found with on-board video cards used jointly with a cheap capture card. Change your overlay settings, and try it both with and without overlay activated. Resolution settings depend heavily on the age of your software, which the newest graphics cards from the 2010s being less problematic.

19. Memory / RAM. Although uncommon, bad RAM can adversely affect a computer’s performance, and that extends to how well it functions when doing video work. For video capture, a minimum of 512MB is suggested, and a 1GB-2GB system is optimum. Anything over 2GB is pretty much unused by the system. Even a software-based capturing workflow won’t really use more than 512MB of system RAM.

20. Hard Drive Cache. Another site visitor suggested re-enabling the HDD cache fixed his dropped frames problem. In Windows XP, go to the Control Panel, and into the Device Manager. Expand the (+) for Disk Drive, right click and go to Properties, then go to the Policies tab. Check the “Enable Write Cache” box (if it is not already checked). This is generally a default setting, with caching already enabled.

21. BIOS Settings. Some systems have BIOS settings that can adversely affect capturing. (For example, one user stated that turning off FSB Spread Spectrum on an Asus A7N8X-E motherboard corrected his capture issues.) Be sure to read the manual that came with your motherboard or find information online, and try to understand what each BIOS setting does, and learn how it may or may not affect your capturing hardware.

And If None of That Works…

Realize that sometimes cards are just bad. There’s quite a few rotten video capture cards on the market. Whilst many of those fall into the under $100 price range, and are cards heavily marketed to consumers in big-box stores (i.e., Best Buy, OfficeMax, Walmart, etc), even high-dollar cards are not immune to issues.

On the other hand, video novices/newbies will often blame a device for being a “horrible quality” capture card, because they did not pursue due diligence in troubleshooting their problem. A common offense is skimming this page, instead of reading it and trying every suggestion (which may include secondary research specific to your hardware). These same notices are often see praising a competing product as a “wonderful” card because something simple changed – like rebooting the computer or unplugging a printer (which they may or may not realize at the time). This is one common reason why online reviews cannot always be trusted or taken at face value, as there is an inherent knowledge bias.

Above all, be sure it’s not user error! (Remember this analogy: When a driver is speeding down the road, nearly running you over, you don’t blame the car – it’s the user’s fault!)

If you have tried everything on this list, and still need some good suggestions, make a new post in the capturing/recording forum, and list out your current computers specs, capture hardware and software, and full details. Somebody may have a few ideas for you.

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