Optimising Real-Time Communications with Jitter Buffer

6 min read
December 15, 2023

Real-time communication needs a steady data flow to work properly. But networks aren't always perfect; data sometimes arrives at uneven speeds, causing jitter. Jitter buffers temporarily store packets, smoothing the flow. Though essential, poorly sized buffers can cause problems like lagging or glitching. The right buffer size provides the best call quality. 

This article explains what jitter buffers are and how they affect video quality. It shares insights on how to improve video calls and real-time communication by optimising jitter buffers.

Table of Contents

  1. What is a jitter buffer?
  2. How does jitter buffer work?
  3. Types of jitter buffer
  4. Role of the jitter buffer in real-time communications
  5. When to use a jitter buffer?
  6. How Digital Samba's SDK/API utilises jitter buffer to improve video conferencing quality?
  7. Conclusion

What is a jitter buffer?

Imagine you're enjoying a movie or video call, but the sound or picture keeps cutting in and out. This frustrating experience is often caused by jitter, a variation in network delays that can disrupt the smooth flow of data. That's where the jitter buffer steps in, acting as a behind-the-scenes hero to ensure seamless playback.

A jitter buffer is essentially a small storage area used by streaming media players. It manages varying network delays in communications like voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls or video conferencing. The jitter buffer collects a steady stream of audio or video packets before playing them out. This compensates for jitter and prevents sound or image gaps.

By gathering packets and timing their steady release, jitter buffers smooth playback despite inconsistent internet packet arrival. They help the media flow smoothly despite delayed changes.

How does jitter buffer work?

The main job of a jitter buffer is to enable smooth playback of streaming media. It manages changes in the arrival times of data packets from the internet. The jitter buffer does this by briefly catching incoming packets in a buffer and holding them before playing.

Media packets often arrive unevenly because data travels through different routes on the internet. Some packets may be lost while others race ahead. The jitter buffer grabs the faster packets as they come in and stores them. This short wait allows slower packets to catch up, so all packets are lined up and ready for playback.

To control timing, the network delay is constantly checked to resize the buffer dynamically. More jitter causes a longer queue to form, storing over 60 milliseconds of media. If packets age too much from long delays, the buffer drops them to maintain fluid streaming. Through this flexible release process that adapts to conditions, gaps and skips in playback are prevented.

A jitter buffer is like a shock absorber for internet variability. It uses brief packet storage and time-shifting to protect streaming media from delay fluctuations. This fills gaps and smooths out playback for glitch-free audio or video.

Types of jitter buffer

Jitter buffers are essential components in real-time communications, such as voice-over IP (VoIP), and they come in different forms. The type of jitter buffer to use depends on the type of application it's for. There are two main types of jitter buffers: static jitter buffers and adaptive (dynamic) jitter buffers.

The best type of jitter buffer to use depends on the specific application and network. For applications with predictable network conditions, a static jitter buffer may be sufficient. For applications with dynamic network conditions, an adaptive jitter buffer is often the better choice.

Role of the jitter buffer in real-time communications

The jitter buffer plays an important role in making real-time communications smooth and seamless. Key benefits of the jitter buffer include the following:

The jitter buffer has a vital role in dealing with network issues during real-time media streaming. Its buffering and processing help provide a smooth communications experience without jitter, out-of-order packets, or glitches from packet loss.

When to use a jitter buffer?

Using a jitter buffer can improve performance for many real-time communication software and online services. A jitter buffer is useful for things like:

Using a jitter buffer improves consistency and smoothness for various online services that rely on good timing. It helps prevent issues that disrupt streaming media, calls, video, and online gaming.

How Digital Samba's SDK/API utilises jitter buffer to improve video conferencing quality?

Digital Samba's video conferencing SDK/API uses an adaptive jitter buffer to smooth out timing issues. This helps when video packets arrive at different times due to network delays.

The jitter buffer catches the packets and briefly holds them. This evens out the timing before playing the video. When delays increase, the buffer expands to store more packets. This accounts for the extra lag time. With shorter delays, the buffer shrinks to reduce wait times.

By always adjusting the buffer capacity to match current network conditions, Digital Samba's software minimises jitter and packet loss. This allows for fluid, high-quality video with minimal choppiness or frozen frames, even on unstable connections. The adaptive jitter buffer is key to delivering smooth video communication experiences across different networks.


Jitter buffers collect and hold video packets to smooth timing issues from network delays. Solutions like Digital Samba's SDK/API use clever buffers that adjust size based on current networks. Therefore, they allow smooth video calls without choppiness or freezing, even on shaky internet. By optimising capacity in real-time to match the environment, these buffers pave the way for interruption-free communication. Overall, jitter buffers play a key role in enabling better-quality video chats by minimising disturbances. Their adaptation helps make fluid, lag-free video calls a reality.

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