Streaming software is the workhorse of a booming industry. Internet video streaming accounts for more than half of global internet traffic, and it’s only taking up a larger share. With streaming services popping up all over the place — every social network has one — sifting through the options and picking out the best streaming software becomes paramount. And it just so happens that you’ve found the place to inform your opinion.
Understanding the essential Streaming Setup
Before you’re able to decide on the best streaming software, it would be good to go over the makings of an average live streaming setup. Some variations are permitted, but the fundamental structure is rigid, and it contains:
- An audio/video source — to provide material for the stream.
- A capture card — to connect a non-USB camera with your computer.
- An encoder — to package the input and send it to a platform, website, or network.
- A stable internet connection — to transfer data to the destination.
- A streaming service — to act as the destination and provide output.
That’s your five-piece streaming setup, the basics of an online broadcasting system you can develop in your home or place of work. Streaming software is in there, too — it’s an option for encoding data. Let’s take a closer look at encoding and why it’s so important.
What is live streaming encoding software?
When you turn your camera on, everything captured needs to be “packaged” in a more practical format. Generally, you want enough compression applied to the data to make it transferable via connections with reasonable upload speeds. Also, the streaming platform (Facebook, Instagram, or another one) should support the encoding method.
This process transpires in the encoder — a part of the setup acting as a liaison between the input and the output. Encoders come in two forms:
- Hardware encoders — robust devices that encode video, and they encode it predictably and reliably well. These workhorses come at a hefty price, however, and they’re a one-trick pony — encoding is all they do.
- Software encoders — programs that depend on the computer’s hardware to do the encoding. You can use some for free, do switching and scene-creation with them, and use some for multi-camera setups.
Unless you’re a professional content producer, a publisher, or a person with money to burn, chances are you’ll rely on a software encoder. Your broadcasting software of choice should take care of your encoding needs. But that’s not the only thing you should search for when scouting for the best streaming software.
What are the main characteristics of live streaming software to consider?
Most of the currently popular streaming software has some things in common. You would have to look very hard to find a solution with no support for H.264 encoding — arguably the most widespread video encoding standard in use today.
But there’s an awful lot that sets different solutions apart. If you’re adamant about finding the best streaming software, a surface-level look might prove useful — much more than learning how encoding actually works. So, you should be on the lookout for a couple of main characteristics, such as:
- Possible compatibility issues. Most stream ingestion happens over RTMP, or the Real Time Multimedia Protocol. You’ll be able to use most live streaming software with social networks and streaming websites. But if you’re using alternative content delivery networks, check for server ingest compatibility issues.
- Advanced or additional features. Live-streaming software comes in different tiers, with different levels of complexity and different features. You might fall in love with a solution only to learn it supports a camera too few for your needs. It’s best to learn this early on.
- Pricing. Some streaming software is freeware. In fact, arguably the most popular solution is available for no charge at all. Keep in mind, however, that some for-pay improvements in quality can go a long way in making your live stream more appealing.
Looking at these three characteristics should help you eliminate the streaming software solutions you absolutely cannot use. If they’re not in your price range, don’t support the platforms you use, or lack crucial features you require, there’s no need to use them.
How to choose the best Streaming Software
After learning which characteristics matter the most, it’s time to start making a choice. Obviously, it comes down to your demands and the streaming software that rises up to them.
However, if you’re unsure of your needs or afraid you’ll overlook something, here’s a handy list of questions you should ask yourself to figure everything out:
- Which operating system do you use? Some live streaming solutions aren’t available on all operating systems.
- What kinds of videos do you plan to create? You’ll need a beefier solution to stream an event than to live stream a video gaming session.
- How many cameras will you use, and what type of cameras? It’s likely that you’ll have to shell out more for solutions that support more than two cameras.
- How much support do you think you’ll need? You pretty much get what you pay for regarding support.
- How much editing and effects do you need? The more editing and effects you need, the more features the software needs to have besides encoding.
- How many websites do you want to stream to simultaneously? You can stream to several websites at the same time, but you’ll need a special service to make it happen.
- Where are you streaming to? YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook Live won’t give you much trouble. But specialized content delivery networks might have additional requirements.
- What’s your budget? Finally, you need to figure out how much you’re willing to spend on your streaming software, on the spectrum from “nothing” to “over $1000.”
Answering these questions should give you an idea about the kind of live streaming software you need. It’s okay if some of these questions are binary options to you. It’s also okay to identify deal-breakers, as you’ll have a sizeable pool of options to pick from.
The Best Streaming Software in 2021
Good live streaming software is the software that matches most of your criteria and performs the core tasks you have for it. Great live streaming software gives you the tools to take your live streaming to a whole new level — if you’re willing to put some work and money into it.Here are a couple of the biggest players in the live streaming software market in 2021. They offer mixes of features, functionalities, and price points, and at least one of them is bound to fit your situation.
The Open Broadcaster Software Studio is often the gateway software for people who are new to live streaming. You can easily see why, because it is free and compatible with a variety of platforms, you can customize it to your heart’s desire, and it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
On the downside, the OBS Studio is open source, which means it offers no official support. There is a large and engaged community that might help you out instead, but that’s not the best solution for everyone.
The Streamlabs version of OBS, also known as SLOBS, looks like its mission statement was to take OBS Studio and make it easier to use. Besides accomplishing that mission, SLOBS manages to be free, offer support, and come with features that make it especially attractive to gaming streamers.
But everything’s not gravy in the SLOBS camp. For example, you can only use the streaming software on a Windows computer. You should check whether the platform you want to stream to comes with native support in SLOBS. Also, be prepared for the occasional bug.
As you progress towards the professional, high-end live streaming software solutions, XSplit is a common steppingstone. It’s easy to use, comes in basic (free) and premium varieties, and it offers decent support and the occasional feature update. You can also use third-party apps and plugins with it.
Even though XSplit is easy to use, you will need to have some knowledge about encoding, because it doesn’t come with presets. You can forget about using it on Mac or Linux systems, and you really have to shell out for the paid version to avoid things like watermarks and locked features.
vMix is another option for the pros, although it does come with a basic, free plan. If 4k live streaming is what you’re looking for, vMix is a sound choice. Like Wirecast, it comes packed with many advanced features, it offers great support, and it’s available at several pricing points, which makes it easy to upgrade according to your needs.
If your needs, however, include live streaming from a Mac, vMix will be of no help to you — it’s only available on Windows systems. It’s a drain on system resources, which is something you’d expect from professional-grade streaming software. vMix also has the biggest price tag on this list.
What streaming software to consider?
Encoding software might be the only streaming software you absolutely need to go live, but it’s not the only streaming software you should consider using in your setup. Trying to reach an audience that’s distributed across several networks and platforms is a tough mission, for example, and it would be great to have something to help with that.
You do, of course. Multistreaming, or simultaneous streaming to several platforms, can go a long way toward boosting the success of your live streaming. Restream, a cloud-based multistreaming service, makes it all easy, thanks to:
- Support for over 30 platforms, covering the global networks, as well as the regional and niche ones.
- Easy to set up and use. As a cloud solution, it doesn’t require installation, and it has an intuitive interface that makes adding channels a breeze.
- It works with your encoding software, so if your encoder doesn’t have native support for a platform, Restream probably does. It can also hold your login data.
- It’s free. You get most of its functionalities for free, but when it’s time to upgrade, Restream will have options to offer you.
- It works on Windows and Mac. You can use it with any computer you have without investing in additional software or hardware.
Restream can easily connect with the most popular encoders on the market, while offering features that none or very few of them offer.
The road to live streaming usually takes people through the process of selecting the best streaming software for their needs. Even though your software of choice might change with time, it’s important that you start making good decisions with your first one.You should understand the key things that make a piece of streaming software the best for you. That includes learning about the whole streaming setup, but also about finding ways to expand your software’s functionality. Restream helps you get even more from every minute you spend streaming by letting you stream to a wider audience. That’s as important a feat as any in today’s crowded streaming landscape.