Best Streaming Software

Last Updated on by Nicholas Frost

Many times, we create our content and stream it without even realizing what we are doing. But if you want to do it to promote your business or for fun or profit, you will need the best streaming software.

Streaming is the transmission or the receiving of video and audio content over the internet. If that transmission and watching happen in real-time, then you are live streaming. And it is everywhere. You have a video call – both of you are live streaming. You watch a video of a dog chasing a ball – you are streaming. Wait a minute – there’s no need to use any streaming software for that, you use the camera, hit the share button, and done. And for simple everyday life, you are right – all the tools at your fingertips.

What if you want to promote your business or become a vlogger? Aren’t you going to want something a little more polished? But isn’t that going to cost a fortune? Well, you can achieve a more polished production at a low or even free price with streaming software.

What do You Need for Streaming?

To stream a video and audio production, you need three components:

Source Media

The capture of the image and the sound that you are using. It can be a camera that records pictures and audio or screen capture software to catch that exciting bit of gameplay you want to share.

Encoder

This component takes your video and converts it into a digital signal. Usually into RTMP (Real Time Messaging Protocol) or HLS (https live streaming).

Publisher/Platform

This part puts your work in the digital space for other people to access.

The streaming software combines the capture, encode, and publish functions in one package. But it does so much more than that. It allows you to blend many sources, adjust the background, overlay graphics and text, insert still images or other videos, and more.

How do You Choose the Best Streaming Software?

Before you get on with trying to compare one software package with another, there are a few essential areas to consider.

How Are You Going to Use It?

Is this something that you have never done before, but think you might like to try? In this case, you probably want to dip a toe in the water with some free software (like OBS) and start learning how to use it. Build up your skills and see if you enjoy this means of communication.

Is the only thing you are ever going to want to do is post bits of gameplay and pictures of your cat? For the gameplay – free basic options that will let you do that. For the cat – stick to whatever you are doing now – unless you want to make your cat a global superstar. Then you might need some more professional streaming software that will let you overlay special effects and subtitles.

Perhaps you want to produce some business tutorials or a Questions and Answers Session? There are so many applications and content you could create with the right tools. Your desired product will determine what features will be useful.

How Much do You Know About Streaming?

Are you familiar with all the jargon, and do you know what it means? Some streaming software is user-friendly and comes with a lot of support, and some require knowledge of encoding. If you are prepared to invest your time and energy, you can learn what a bitrate is and why framerate and resolution are essential. The streaming software that will work best for you will depend on your level of knowledge.

Depending on your level of knowledge, you may prefer streaming software that has a lot of technical support available. And be prepared to pay for this because you would prefer to get on with creating quality content.

How Powerful is Your Hardware?

Some streaming software will use a lot of your CPU (Central Processing Unit) capacity. So much so that it may be impossible to do anything else on your computer. If streaming is going to be a large part of your life and possibly your primary source of income, then it would make sense to invest in extra hardware so that you can benefit from all the features your streaming software has to offer.

The hardware takes on some of the encoding load from your CPU. There is a range of hardware options available. A simple plug and play AV.io 4K capture card or a Pearl-2which has resolutions up to 4K.

Will the Streaming Software Work for You?

Most streaming software will run on Windows; sometimes, it can be tweaked to operate on a Mac.

Affordability

Your choice of streaming software may be limited by price. There is opensource streaming software that needs a bit of knowledge and has limited support. There is top of the range software that would equate to anything you would find in a professional broadcasting studio. And, there is everything in between. Some of the more expensive streaming software options have a monthly subscription option that gets around the problem of a hefty upfront payment. Also, the premium options offer a free trial so that you can see the benefits of the streaming software.

Technical Matters

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the maximum capacity of your system for both uploading and downloading data. You may have the fastest most professional computer, but if your upload bandwidth doesn’t support it, then you are going to have stops, lags and slow buffering. All of which are going to impact the viewers’ experience if you are live streaming. The upload bandwidth needs to be a minimum of 1.5X the bitrate.

Bitrate

Bitrate is the amount of data transferred in a set time, in bits per second (bps). Generally, the number is going to be very large and expressed in megabits per second (Mbps). Each resolution of a video has a minimum upload speed. It is better to have a higher bitrate than the minimum needed to upload. Good working upload speed for consistent broadcasting would be around 13Mbps.

Streaming Resolution

Resolution is the number of pixels in a frame. The higher the resolution, the better the quality of the picture. But it needs to be highly compressed to be transferred at the same bitrate.

Frame Rate

The frame rate is the number of frames shown per second (fps). The human eye is physically capable of seeing 1000 fps. Tests have shown that most humans can distinguish differences in framerates up to 150 fps.

The eye is shown many frames per second to trick the brain into seeing a moving image. For TV shows, the standard is 30 fps; video games can be anything between 30 and 60 fps. A high frame rate requires more data transfer.

System Requirements

If you intend to live stream, then you need to consider if your computer system can handle it. You don’t want your fans logging in for poor performance. The minimum requirements are the lowest settings at which your desired platform will run. You do need to allow for more capacity for any other applications that will be running in the background while you are streaming.

Desirable Features of Streaming Software

Minimum Functions

The primary functions expected from your streaming software are that it should be able to support live streaming and recording. It should support streaming to a single platform or destination, and it may be able to support simultaneous streaming to several platforms (multistreaming).

The software should be able to handle multiple video sources and layouts. Layouts are the design elements of how your video will look. It includes features such as having a trailer and organizing content into sections. Not all free software will do this.

A chroma key or a colored background (ordinarily green) allows you to substitute the desired image for your background. This means that you can film in front of a background that will then be removed and replaced. The software should offer a choice of customizable backgrounds for your video.

Live switching allows you to move between multiple cameras, and transitions allow seamless movement from one sequence to the next.

Advanced Functions

Some of the more advanced features of your streaming software may include:

The ability to host one or more guests – a way of interviewing a live person in real-time when they are not present in the same room.

The feature of a range of virtual sets to use when broadcasting from the comfort of your living room.

The ability to include social widgets as part of your broadcast – sharing, donating and subscribing.

Overlays and Layouts. You will soon want to be able to overlay information attractively and engagingly. To achieve a great looking video-stream, you will want flexibility in how you lay it out. Professional streaming software provides lots of customizable options for doing this quickly even during live streaming of an event.

We are all streamers now. We live chat face to face and share our video clips with our friends and the world. It’s not such a big leap to producing more rounded and professional offerings. When you are ready for that, then you will want some streaming software. It won’t break the bank and who knows where it may lead. The best streaming software available today covers a mix of free and premium offerings. There is bound to be one that will suit your needs.

Streaming Software – From Basic to Advanced

Nvidia Shadow Play

This streaming software was developed for the needs of those who want to record and broadcast gameplay. It has some useful features that would allow it to be useful for streaming, but you will need an Nvidia graphics card. This software is very light on the CPU because all the encoding takes place on the GPU (graphics processing unit). There are no overlays or the ability to use multiple sources to compile your scenes because mainly, it has been designed to stream your gameplay.

If the gameplay is all you want to stream and you either have or could install an Nvidia graphics card, then this is the system for you. If you’re going to begin streaming other material and you happen to already have an Nvidia graphics card on your machine, then it would help you to get started. It only can record locally. Also, you need to be able to stream at a high bitrate for quality video. You will probably soon want access to more advanced features.

If you have it and you are interested in recording and broadcasting gameplay, then this is great.

OBS Studio

The initials OBS represent Open Broadcaster Software. This streaming software has been developed as an opensource project built over time by a community of interested people who continue to support it. It is free to use and is an excellent introduction to a more technical approach to video streaming as a creator.

It has only basic features, but it will run on Linux, Windows, and Mac. It is generally reliable, but it does suffer from the odd bug. It doesn’t have a high impact on your CPU. It does not allow for multistreaming to more than one platform at the same time. There are no virtual sets.

It is not easy for the inexperienced to set up, but there is a lot of tutorial support online. Technical support is provided by the community that tweaks and maintains it so there can be a delay in getting a problem resolved.

This software will get you started with the basics.

Streamlabs OBS

Streamlabs is a tool used by gamers to live stream gameplay. This tool, combined with OBS, produces an opensource streaming software package that is just a little better than either of them.

It has an easy to use and clear dashboard for all the available functions. It has better support than OBS studio because it has a real-time trouble-shooter and real-time Discord support. So, if you have a problem, you should be able to get it sorted.

It has a few more advanced features. You can use social widgets for handling donations, keeping track of subscriptions, and enabling sharing. There are some free overlays; you can edit your videos and filter your audio.

This software will only run on Windows, and it still has a few bugs to sort out. It is, however, free and friendly to use and doesn’t hog your CPU resources.

XSplit

You have a choice between XSplit Broadcaster and XSplit gamecaster depending on how you want to use it.

You can use a free model of this streaming software, or you can pay a one-off cost or a monthly subscription.

This software is user-friendly with an excellent clear interface, and you can customize it to your requirements. It features a VCam tool that will allow blur, remove or replace the background to the webcam footage – without you having to shoot in front of a colored screen.

The disadvantage of the free version is that a watermark will show on video with more than 720p resolution or a frame rate of 30 fps. If you show footage using the VCam tool, then that too will be watermarked. You can only stream to a single destination.

If you pay to use the streaming software, then the watermarks are removed, and you can take advantage of multistreaming.

There are only two recording formats that will work with this software – MP4 or FLV. This streaming software will only work with Windows. It will support all web-based widgets and alerts. There is no encoding presets, so technical knowledge about encoding is required to get set up. There are excellent editing features for pictures and sound.

The paid functionality isn’t vastly different from what you can get for free with Streamlabs OBS. But you do get professional support and updates, and it is not very expensive. Plus, you can dispense with filing in front of a colored screen.

Wirecast

You can purchase a studio version with basic features or a pro model with more advanced features,

The basic functions are:

  • Hosting guests
  • 3D titles – that can be animated
  • Animated graphics
  • Able to use and encode many video sources
  • Can multistream.

If you choose to invest in the pro version then you get further features:

  • More guests,
  • High resolution recording,
  • 3D virtual sets
  • Instant replays
  • Live scoreboards
  • NDI output.

If you are a bit wary of investing straight away, then you can try before you buy. Anything you produce during your free trial will show a watermark.

You will receive new features and updates as they become available. If you want a premium service for support, then you can pay an annual fee.

This streaming software does not as yet, support 4K streaming, and it will impact on your CPU. You would be best to dedicate a single computer to your streaming activities if you are using this software. It will run on Mac as well as Windows. It is expensive.

VMix

This streaming software is for the professional with a host of advanced features. It will support a wide range of inputs – PTZ and NDI cameras, webcams, DVDs, soundcards and playlists. You can take in video pictures from remotely operated cameras. You can use a virtual set, animated overlays, video effects, instant replays, and host guests. It is ready for 4K encoding.

You can opt for one of six packages at different price points, starting at $60 for the basic to $1,200 for the Pro. You can also take a free trial of the product for 60 days. The material produced during the free trial is free of watermarks. This streaming software is only available for Windows.

The names of the packages give some indication of the levels of features available: Basic, Basic HD, SD, HD, 4K, and Pro. Basic has the least features and Pro the most. But this is reflected in the price. The Basic streaming software will support a resolution of 1080p but does not provide any better functionality than the available free software. But the price includes excellent technical support from a professional company.

The feel of the produced video is more polished. The interface may be more intimidating for the first-time user, but the value of being supported through learning how to use the software may make the entry-level price very attractive. Excellent technical support is available from the most basic to the highly advanced functions. As you demand more (and earn more) from your streaming software, you could progress through the packages until you find the level for you,

Lightstream

This free cloud-based streaming software that has minimal impact on your CPU and is portable. If you like to create and stream from any location, then this streaming software will help you. It has some excellent features such as useful overlays, live chat, guest-hosting and remote scene switching from a phone or a tablet. If this package doesn’t have enough tools for you, then you can import some from Streamlabs as these will be supported.

All your assets such as scenes, projects, and recordings, remain in the cloud, where you always have access to them. On the downside, this will only support streaming to 720p, it is quite basic, and it is known to have issues with sound quality.

On the upside, it is free, and it will automatically adjust the bitrate to prevent buffering and select the best encoding settings available. This streaming software makes it easy to get started and to create great content straight away.

And Finally

The internet has enabled everyone to become a creator of content. Some great, some not so beautiful, but all unique and personal. If you have something to share with the world, then you may as well present it in the best way possible. The best streaming software is the one that meets your needs and your vision. And remember, you don’t have to stick with the same software forever any more than you need to keep training wheels on your bike. Experiment and have fun.

 

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