Nowadays, most live streaming services use proprietary software for encoding and (usually) packaging the stream into an RTMP file. This is why you usually have to wait several minutes before you can start streaming to your viewers after going live on services such as Twitch.tv or YouTube.
Multi-threaded software encoders, on the other hand, are easier to set up and can be run on a wider range of systems.
Software encoders are more than enough for beginners and can be run on a variety of devices, even smartphones. The processor in a modern smartphone is more than enough to encode in real time at 1080p with a bit rate of 5Mbps.
Some encoders can also take advantage of a technology called Intel Quick Sync to offload some of the workload to dedicated hardware on your computer’s processor.
This technology has been built into Intel processors for a few years now, and provides a boost in performance, without a huge increase in power consumption.
Because Quick Sync is proprietary technology from Intel, you’ll need an Intel processor to use it.
OBS, or Open Broadcaster Software, is a free and open-source software for streaming and recording. It’s designed to be fully integrated with Xsplit, but it can also be used independently. OBS supports a wide range of configurations and has a simple user interface.
The Elgato Game Capture HD is a popular option that’s often recommended for Twitch streaming. You can also use the device to record your screen or stream directly to services like YouTube and Facebook.
As an added bonus, you can use the capture device with any other program you choose, like OBS or XSplit. That means you have the option of using OBS as your streaming software and still getting the quality benefits of a dedicated encoder.
The Cam Link is a little different from most other dedicated encoders in that it relies on your computer’s processing power to do the encoding. This can be good for streaming on the go, as you don’t need to lug around a laptop or computer to handle the encoding. It also has some downsides, though, like a resolution limit of 720p and a minimum system requirement of a quad-core CPU.
The Integrated Web Screen ENC is another option that you can use with OBS. It plugs into your computer’s USB port and allows you to stream through a server run by the manufacturer. This means you don’t need to worry about streaming software, but it also means you have less control over your stream and what appears in the player.
The NVENC option is only available through NVIDIA graphics cards, so this may be an option for PC gamers out there. It leverages the power of NVIDIA’s dedicated video encoding chip to encode your video in H.264 format.
This will result in a much higher quality output than you’d get with your computer’s CPU or GPU, but it isn’t free. You’ll need to buy an NVIDIA graphics card if you don’t already have one to take advantage of this option.
XSplit is a separate streaming and recording program that is designed to pair with OBS Studio. It has fewer features than OBS, but it does boast some useful tools and functionality.
XSplit is a great streaming program that’s easy to use. The downside is that you’ll be limited to using their in-house Encoding Service, which only supports up to 720p. If you want to do any higher-quality streaming, you’ll need to look at another program.
You can get around this by using a different program as your video encoder and using XSplit as your streaming software. This will let you use a program like OBS or NVENC while still making use of XSplit’s easy-to-use interface. If you want to get really fancy, you can even stream to Twitch using their new HTML5 player.
Vmix is among the most powerful software encoders that are popular among streamers.
If you want to stream but don’t necessarily want all the extra work of setting up and learning a new piece of software, Vmix may be the tool for you.
It’s a simple streaming option that lets you broadcast straight to Twitch, but it also has some downsides.
Unlike most of the other streaming software out there, you’ll have very little customization options with Vmix. You’ll be working within their framework as opposed to building your own.
This makes the software very easy to use, but it also limits you in some ways.
You’ll need to host your own server if you want to get around the resolution limit, but this is a simple process and something you can do even if you aren’t very tech savvy.
The choice is ultimately up to you, but Vmix is a great option for anyone who wants something simple yet effective.
Wirecast is another popular premium choice. You’ll need to get your own streaming server to use this software, but that is the only major restriction.
It’s also worth noting that the layout of the program can be a bit confusing at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after putting in some time with the software.