What is an English phrase to describe a video that is not running smoothly, but rather has interruptions in it, becoming sort of like a GIF? This typically happens due to technical problems such as low memory or CPU power, which is why I'm afraid I can't think of a way to demonstrate exactly what I mean (e.g., I cannot paste a link to a video like that). I am not necessarily looking for an adjective; any phrase will do.

I would also like to include another related question: what's a word/phrase for almost the same situation but with sound rather than video? I.e., when the sound comes and goes (e.g., over the phone).

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    The video is playing at a low frame rate. Informally I might describe it as choppy. – Rahul Jul 9 '14 at 20:31
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    For your second question: "cutting in and out" describes audio that comes and goes. – Jason M Jul 10 '14 at 0:05
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    A "slideshow effect" can sometimes be used in context of gaming. – apnorton Jul 10 '14 at 2:50
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    A related effect would be screen tearing. This is when there are two different frames being displayed at the same time. For instance, when the top half of the screen is on the next frame and the bottom half of the screen is on the previous frame. – tehDorf Jul 10 '14 at 23:35

15 Answers 15


The term I would use, is choppy.

Google definition:

choppy - having a disjointed or jerky quality. "the choppy, electronic beat of hip hop"

  • "Choppy" could also refer to lack of continuity in the way the video has been edited, though. – 200_success Jul 11 '14 at 19:31

I use the word "jerky."

Oxford Dictionaries
Jerky- Characterized by abrupt stops and starts.

You can use jerky for a video or sound clip.

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    To me, "jerky" is worse than "choppy." It's not just not being smooth, but actually noticing the frame stopping for a bit. In other words, more frames in a row are dropped. – trlkly Jul 10 '14 at 20:07
  • IMO, "jerky" would refer to the way the video was shot rather than how it is being played. Example: We apologize in advance for how jerky the following footage is, but bear with us: this was captured on the scene mere minutes after the bomb went off. "Choppy" fits what the OP is asking for better than "jerky" does. – jubobs Jul 12 '14 at 1:30
  • "Jerky" has the advantage of covering a multitude of sins -- the description fits any video or sound which seem discontinuous, due to starting/stopping, breaks in the signal, etc. – Hot Licks Apr 4 '16 at 17:07

Besides already-mentioned jerky and juddering, also consider jitter, of which Wiktionary says:

(telecommunications) An abrupt and unwanted variation of one or more signal characteristics.

Regarding “the word/phrase for almost the same situation with sound rather than video”, you may find the following ELU questions helpful:

Which word to use when speaker sound is not working properly
Term for buzzing or hissing sound often created by vibration
Which word should I use to describe the noise made by an electronic device?

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    Jitter is the proper technical term. – Radu Potop Jul 10 '14 at 11:02
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    Ironically, I prefer "jitter" because it is the least jarring to read. – mskfisher Jul 10 '14 at 14:44
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    Jitter would seem to be used predominantly in stochastic variation about an ideal mean value. Here we're talking about degradation in one direction, since the 'normal' value is some ceiling level of smoothness (depending on compression scheme used, etc.) – Merk Jul 10 '14 at 19:54
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    It is a more technical term, but it also has the problem of being less specific for the reason @Merk states. For example, "a jittery video" could also refer to one where video jumps around by a few pixels every frame: a stochastic variation around the ideal of a steady video. Choppy, while more colloquial, is more specific to dropped frames producing less-smooth video. – trlkly Jul 10 '14 at 20:26

All of the terms suggested in other answers are appropriate, but the right one is definitely choppy, especially if you're looking to use the most popular or easily understood term. It conveys the message most clearly, as can be seen easily by the popularity of its use.

Here are some results from Google:

  • "Choppy video": 112,000 results
  • "Jerky video": 49,300 results
  • "Laggy video": 21,300 results
  • "Blocky video": 12,400 results
  • "Jittering video": 2,090 results
  • "Juddering video": 1,840 results
  • Try throwing flaky into your equation and see what comes out! ;) – Styler Jul 10 '14 at 15:59
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    Don't Google "Jerking video"! – IQAndreas Jul 10 '14 at 23:45
  • "Blocky" seems like it would refer to the pixelation caused by a large-sized but low-definition video. – Two-Bit Alchemist Jul 11 '14 at 20:42
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    I will add here that blocky, specifically, may also be used to describe severe pixellation effects or visible macroblock artifacts (introduced usually during encoding at very low bitrates, but also when decoding a corrupted stream). – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Jul 12 '14 at 3:10

Lag (laggy,lagging) is often used for video interruptions and especially for streaming videos. You can see this usage a lot on online platforms when people talk about their technical issues.

Lag is also used for audio and sound.

Wikipedia defines as below:

Lag is a failure of an application to respond in a timely fashion to inputs.

The term lag is often also used as a synonym for communication latency. This can be misleading because there can be other causes for the symptom.

A paragraph about lag from "How to stop streaming video lag" article on ehow.com:

Streaming video lag can make watching a television show or movie a hassle, because the content doesn't look smooth. Lags make video look choppy and can cause audio to pause or skip ahead. Faster Internet is the best way to stream video more effectively, but managing your other Internet devices, hardware and software can also help.

  • Lag causes the choppy video. Also, laggy is often used instead of choppy in online slang. I already mentioned these first but the answers that mentioned after me are upvoted more. Interesting. – ermanen Jul 10 '14 at 12:41
  • Laggy is used as a slang term for any choppy video, but it really describes something else. It refers to bandwidth (or network) lag, where some of the data is not downloaded fast enough. While dropping frames can deal with some network lag, (causing choppiness), too much can lead the audio to stop, too. When you get that little loading symbol, that's still technically lag. Also, while uncommon in online video (because we specifically try to prevent it), bandwidth lag can also lead to audio/video desyncs. If the video is the one that is behind, this can also be called "video lag." – trlkly Jul 10 '14 at 19:11
  • @trlkly: Lag is not only bandwidth lag. I explained in my answer. It can be used for non-online videos that are played in media players. It can be used in a lot of situations which covers what OP is asking for and more. But thanks for the details. – ermanen Jul 10 '14 at 19:29
  • Did you edit your answer after my post, or did I somehow have an old edit cached? What you have up there now is much more nuanced than what I saw. I agree that "laggy" is not always bandwidth lag (it can also be rendering lag). But because it can be, that's why you're probably not getting as many votes. Furthermore, rendering lag can also cause the desyncs I mentioned. As you say, lag is what "causes choppy video", but lag can also cause other symptoms, so you may need a more specific term for choppy video, like, well, "choppy." (I'd actually say "jerky" is slightly different.) – trlkly Jul 10 '14 at 19:41
  • I didn't edit my answer. Last edit was 22 hours ago which I edited not long after the original post. Lag covers much more than choppy. Any unsmoothness can be explained with lag. Though, I mentioned choppy and emphasized it before the most upvoted answer also. – ermanen Jul 10 '14 at 19:47

I like "juddering":

judder (n.)

  1. A spasmodic shaking.
  2. (television) Jerky playback caused by converting between frame rates
  • Telecine is a very specific technology with a very specific form of visual disturbance. Has anyone used it in the last 20-odd years? – Chenmunka Jul 9 '14 at 21:07
  • Yes. Telecines were very common sources of pirated film copies up until around 2009, at which point R5s took their place (as they are already digitized and therefore do not require the pirate to own a telecine machine). R5s are now everywhere, so the term telecine is not used as much unless someone bothers to look up on Wikipedia exactly what an R5 is. – dg99 Jul 10 '14 at 15:16
  • Until recently, the standard way of making animated TV (cartoons) was to paint cels and photograph frames at 24 fps, and then telecine it (4 frames at 1/30 second and then 1 frame twice, which could give odd effects). I think it was only about 10 years ago that The Simpsons finally converted over from painted cels and telecine. – Phil Perry Jul 10 '14 at 23:56
  • @PhilPerry -- at some point, all these ridiculous standards-mismatches will be resolved: we'll all use the same voltages, the same USB plugs, the same frame-rates, the same side of the street. Of course, by then, my Velstar™-format teleporter won't work with your Modscan™ teleporter, and I'll need to upgrade my cerebro-interface so I can connect to the cortex matrix at work... – Malvolio Jul 11 '14 at 1:26
  • @Malvolio, every technology eventually converges on a single standard: that of obsolescence. In 50 years, we'll all be using the same USB plugs in the same sense as we currently all format our floppy disks the same way. :) – Marthaª Jul 11 '14 at 23:53

There are a couple words that are used commonly, but the one I think most appropriate would be "stuttering". Although words like "choppy" or "laggy" would fit as well.

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    +1 for "stuttering"; particularly when describing skipped or repeated frames. Works for audio as well. – bcrist Jul 12 '14 at 21:23

Distortions caused by connectivity/hardware issues, which you seem to be describing, are called lag or said to be caused by lag. They typically manifest with a "choppy" appearance, where it seems that frames of the video are being skipped (because that is usually what is happening). Equally with legitimate artifacts, lag is often described by it's appearance in common use.

The video industry has a jargon word for this: artifact.

Technically speaking, "distortions that get added to a video signal during digital encoding are known as artifacts." (source 1)

This means that, in your context, where a video file itself may not be distorted, but while streaming it, you experience distortion for different reasons, technically doesn't apply. However, in common use, among videographers, artifact can be understood to mean any distortion.

The industry takes this further, classifying types of artifacts caused by different problems, which you can read about in the linked source.

In common use, words that describe the distortion dominate technical ones.

  • Pixelated, blocky, or blurred might describe aliasing.
  • Blotchy (color) might describe quantisation noise.
  • Washed out or "missing parts" might describe overload.
  • Colored blocks might describe digital signal degradation.
  • Messy or "rogue pixels" might describe the Gibbs effect.
  • Blockiness is actually a defined artifact and a description of its appearance.
  • There are other kinds of artifacts that are described according to appearance as well.

For audio, the same jargon is used: artifacts. In common use, however, they also describe the offending sounds (or lack thereof). For your example, simply cuts or cuts in and out are the most common descriptors.

  1. Digital Video, MPEG and Associated Artifacts
  2. Wikipedia Entry on Compression Artifacts

The term breaking up is often used to describe a reception of a signal that is intermittently interrupted, as discussed in this BBC site.

For a digital image, when the image degrades into blocks or lines of color, it is called pixelation, as discussed on the BBC site and according to Dictionary.com

(of a computer graphic or other digital image) to break up into visible pixels: We tried to watch the old, scratched DVD, but the image pixelated before our eyes.

The term break up also applies to radio and telephone signals as described by ODO

(Of a radio or telephone signal) be interrupted by interference.


Most relevant to the phone audio quality, I would frequently describe this as patchy if it were unreliable.


I have used the term flaky to describe this before.

According to Google:

  1. breaking or separating easily into small thin pieces.

  2. (of a device or software) prone to break down; unreliable.


Corrupt or blocky might work.


  • to change (something) so that it is less pure or valuable

  • to change (a book, computer file, etc.) from the correct or original form

From Merriam-Webster

Inspiration for this answer came from here (especially with the rollover text!).

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    Corrupt video is something different entirely. Using corrupt in this case could produce confusion, and misrepresents the issue. – Newb Jul 10 '14 at 8:45
  • "blocky" might apply if it's a digital source where the player is having synchronization problems (I think that's what causes it). – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 10 '14 at 14:23

Context is everything. There are multiple domains you're generalizing that contribute to the 'problem' of poor playback experience.

For Video, specifically MPEG variants there are a series of frames that comprise the video and look of the form:

K1,P1,P2,P3,K2,P1,P2,P3 - K are I frames, P are P frames

If you have K1,P1,,P3 then your picture will 'glitch' out on part of the frame missing as it can't reconstruct it from missing data. the glitch can be blank space ('blackout'), frozen space from the last known frame ('freeze') (P1 repeats in this case until the next I frame to catch up). if you have partial/malformed data it can also screw up the subsequent DCT decoding and be 'corrupt' imagery. sometimes fast moving data will appear like this as the nature of MPEG can't deal with compression of rapid transients well (water, fire).

If you have K1,P1,P2, it can look 'choppy' as it misses the last frame before a full screen refresh much like the choppy water effect.

If you only see K,P1,, habitually like it is rendering some frames then cuts out that usually means the source data isn't arriving (network latency/bandwidth delay product) or being processed too slow (cpu or gpu depending on if hardware offloading support is present). The former is 'buffering' and the latter is 'video lag'

If the rendering is cpu/gpu based depending on the framerate and framesize your computer may not be fast enough to accomplish the workload required in the time you ask of it. If you find your playback shows fine for a few seconds then goes herky jerky and stalls a few seconds that usually means you're underpowered in terms of memory or cpu power. Reducing the number of running apps to relieve resource contention typically recovers those. Also restarting a player with a memory leak that has been running too long (Hi Flash and Silverlight!) is common.

In the domain of sound the phenomena depends on what is your reference. Is the volume modulating up and down or just sound like they're getting nearer/farther? That can happen as the codec selected (video can do this for adaptive playback) gets shifted based on the predictive available network bandwidth. mobile/voip in particular have these issues. that's why people ask you to call them on a land/hardline to ensure the entire call is full 64k (56k with robbed bit for the pedants is possible too).

For phones specifically it is probably codec shifting or codec mismatch. part of the call is in 64K mode, and another leg is in 8K mode, followed by another 64K leg and the constant lossy compression being applied and removed ends up in a mutant signal. On older telephone networks it could be a tandem stacking issue that introduced small latency that would manifest in sort of negative feedback loops. both manifest as the 'tunnel' effect.

All of these cases are generally summarized as missing data, slow data, or corrupt data. All of which are common to any communication conversation. The domain it applies to will stipulate how it manifests invariably as some form of 'glitch' depending on where the issue is and how the vendor implements playback in the presence of these errors. Some players endure hardship better than others.

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    This is all very fine but it doesn't answer the question, which is not why it happens but what to call it. – Chenmunka Jul 11 '14 at 0:08
  • "All of these cases are generally summarized as missing data, slow data, or corrupt data" seems to do that a bit. – Michael Durrant Jun 23 '15 at 12:14

The cause of a low-quality streamed video could be described in technical terms as being due to a low bit rate. The customer experiences a correspondingly pixellated image.

Most video streaming sites now offer variable bit rates, depending on your broadband connection. The player will continuously evaluate your line speed and adjust the bit rate it downloads accordingly. However, some connections can't maintain a constant line speed. This means that you may sometimes find your stream switching every couple of minutes between high bit rate (HD) and low bit rate as the player tries to download the highest-quality image it can.

When this happens the video will usually buffer, meaning that the video player has played everything it has downloaded and needs to pull down more content to replenish its now-empty cache.

This experience is caused by either a poor connection, inferior streaming algorithms, corrupted files, or some combination of these factors.

Disclaimer: I used to be on the playback team for a large American-based global retailer of streaming video (plus other products).



was the term that immediately came to my mind

protected by Kit Z. Fox Jul 12 '14 at 1:01

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