Streaming software is the workhorse of a booming industry, and it continues to grow. The audience for live video content in the US alone is expected to increase to 164.6 million viewers by 2024. New live streaming services appear all the time — every social network has one now — so sifting through the options and picking the best streaming software can be challenging. We created this guide to demystify live streaming software and help you choose the best one.
🤓 Understanding the live streaming setup
Before you can decide on the best streaming software, you should know what makes up a live streaming setup. Some variations are allowed, but the basics include:
- A camera — to capture your awesome content
- A microphone — to capture your content’s audio
- Streaming software — to take your video and send it to a platform, website, or network
- A stable internet connection — to transfer data without interruptions
- A computer or mobile device — to connect your camera, mic, and streaming software to the internet
🤔 What is live streaming encoding software?
When you turn on your camera, everything it captures needs to be “packaged” in a more practical format. Generally, you want to compress the data enough to make it transferable to the platform of your choice via a connection with reasonable upload speeds.
This process takes place in the encoder — the device or software that takes the live video you are capturing with your camera, mic, and computer and transforms or “encodes” it into a format that streaming platforms can broadcast. Encoders come in two forms:
- Hardware encoders are robust devices that encode video predictably and reliably well. They’re pricey, however, and they’re one-trick ponies — encoding is all they do.
- Software encoders are programs that depend on the computer’s hardware to do the encoding. Some software encoders are free to use. They have features that allow you to do switching, scene creation, and multi-camera setups.
Unless you’re a professional content producer, publisher, or someone with extra money to burn, you’ll most likely rely on a software encoder. Any broadcasting software you choose should take care of your basic encoding needs. But encoding isn’t the only thing you should search for when scouting out the best streaming software.
Main characteristics to consider
Most popular streaming software options have a few things in common, like letting you connect a camera and mic, recording video, and some video editing features. But there’s a lot that sets different streaming solutions apart. If you’re adamant about finding the best streaming software, look for these main characteristics:
- Possible compatibility issues. You can use most live streaming software with social networks and streaming websites. If you use other platforms, like Vimeo, Panopto, or Dacast, you may need to check for compatibility issues.
- Advanced or additional features. Live streaming software comes in tiers, with different levels of complexity and features. Some solutions allow you to multistream to several platforms at once or offer additional storage space to save recordings of your live videos. You might fall in love with a solution only to learn that it doesn't meet your needs. Scope out these features before committing to one software.
- Pricing. Some streaming software is freeware. In fact, the most popular solutions are available at no charge. Keep in mind, however, that some for-pay improvements in quality can go a long way in making your live stream more appealing.
Reviewing these three characteristics will 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, then you shouldn’t use them.
👀 Do you really need an encoder to live stream?
To stream live videos on your favorite social platforms, you don’t necessarily need encoding software. Instead, you can use a web-based streaming application that broadcasts your content from within a web browser — no download needed.
With Restream Studio, for example, you don’t need encoding software. All you need is a camera, a mic, and a device with a web browser. You can also use tons of customizable features to create professional broadcasts over multiple platforms in a matter of seconds.
Restream Studio’s arsenal of professional live streaming tools includes:
- Custom overlays and captions
- Custom background images
- Adding your own logo
- Screen sharing options
- Playing local video files
- Multiple screen share layouts
- Adding copyright-free background music
- Inviting guests directly to live streams
- All chat messages from across platforms in one central hub
- Displaying a chat overlay
Learn more about live streaming from your web browser in our full guide to Restream Studio.
🔥 The best streaming software in 2022
Good live streaming software should match most of your criteria and perform the core tasks you require. 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 time and money into it.
The solutions on our list are some of the biggest players in the live streaming software market in 2022. They offer mixes of features, functionalities, and price points, and you’ll likely find a good fit with at least one of them.
1. OBS Studio
Open Broadcaster Software Studio is like a gateway for those new to live streaming. It’s free and compatible with a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can also customize OBS as much as you like.
On the downside, OBS Studio is open-source, which means it offers no official support. There’s a large and engaged community that can help you out instead, but that’s not the best solution for everyone.
Streamlabs is live streaming software based on OBS, but it’s designed to be more user-friendly. It comes with more features than OBS, which can be helpful if you’re brand new to streaming. Streamlabs is free to download, offers customer support, and caters many of its features toward gamers.
Although the Streamlabs features make it easier for beginners to use, all those add-ons can slow down your computer. Be prepared for the occasional bug.
As you progress towards professional, high-end live streaming software solutions, XSplit is a common next step. It’s easy to use, comes in basic (free) and premium versions, and offers decent support and the occasional feature update. You can also use third-party apps and plug-ins with it.
Even though XSplit is easy to use, you’ll 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’ll have to shell out some serious cash for the paid version to avoid watermarks and locked features.
vMix is a good option for professional streamers, but it does come with a basic, free plan. If 4k live streaming is what you’re after, vMix is a sound choice. It comes packed with many advanced features, provides great support, and is available at several price points, making it easy to upgrade according to your needs.
If your needs include live streaming from a Mac, however, vMix will be of no help to you — it’s only available on Windows systems. It’s also a drain on system resources, which is not surprising from professional-grade streaming software. vMix also has the biggest price tag on this list.
🦑 Using encoding software to multistream
A great way to reach a bigger audience is to multistream, or live stream to more than one platform at the same time. You can easily multistream to as many platforms as you like via Restream, thanks to the following features:
- Support for over 30 top platforms covering the global networks, as well as the regional and niche ones. Streaming to YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more is as easy as signing into your account.
- Easy to set up and use. You don’t need to download or install anything. Restream 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.
- You can try it for free. With our free plan, you can get a taste of multistreaming and see if it’s right for you.
- It works on Windows and Mac. You can use Restream with any computer without investing in additional software or hardware.
All you have to do is connect your streaming channels (YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, etc.) to Restream, then connect Restream to your encoding software.
Learn how to connect your favorite live streaming platforms to Restream by reading our support articles:
And read how to connect some of the most popular encoders to Restream:
On your way to becoming a live streamer, you’ll have to go through the process of selecting the best streaming software for your needs. Even though your software of choice might change over time, it’s important to think carefully about the first one you choose so you can get off to a good start.
Understanding the key components of streaming software is crucial, including learning about the entire streaming setup and finding ways to expand your software’s functionality. Restream helps you get even more from every minute you spend streaming by letting you broadcast to a wider audience. That’s as important a feat as any in today’s crowded streaming landscape.