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Comparing the Top 10 HLS Streaming Software for Live Broadcasting [2021 Update]

By Max Wilbert

29 Min Read

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Max Wilbert

Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

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      Broadcasting live streaming video requires a variety of specific tools. There are several types of streaming software, including encoders, live switchers, simulcasting tools, and more.

      Each of these tools plays an important role in enhancing the live streaming experience. HLS streaming software, in particular, is used with live streams that are delivered with HLS technology.

      In this post, we’re going to look at several of the best HLS streaming software offerings. We will review some of the top software in the live streaming game, including Wirecast, Switchboard Live, and Restream. What each of the tools has in common is its compatibility with HLS streaming to an HTML5 video player.

      Before we get into our comparison, we’re going to discuss the basics of HLS streaming and compare ingest and delivery in the context of live streaming. 

      Table of Contents:

      • HLS Streaming: The Basics
      • Delivery vs. Ingest in Streaming
      • What is HLS Streaming Software?
      • Comparing the Top 10 HLS Live Streaming Software 
      • Conclusion

      HLS Streaming: The Basics

      HLS streaming protocol
      HLS stands for HTTP Live Streaming and is a media streaming protocol for delivering visual and audio media to viewers over the internet.

      HLS, which stands for “HTTP Live Streaming,” is a video streaming protocol that was developed by Apple to deliver content to an HTML5 video player.

      This protocol became essential in the industry-wide transition from Adobe’s Flash player to the HTML5 video player. To put it into perspective, HLS is to HTML5 as RTMP was to Flash.

      As an adaptive bitrate streaming protocol, an HLS streaming server delivers the best available video quality to viewers at any given time.

      Over the past several years, HLS has become the most widely used live streaming protocol. Smartphones, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and many other devices, all support HLS.

      The biggest benefits of HLS streaming are improved security and nearly universal compatibility.

      Delivery vs. Ingest in Streaming

      hls software
      RTMP is a live streaming protocol that transmits (or ingests) video files from the encoder to an OVP.

      Before we get into our HLS streaming software comparison, it’s important to clarify the roles of HLS and RTMP encoding in delivery and ingest, respectively.

      In most cases, live streaming involves sending data from your capture device to an online video platform (OVP), with a few stops in between. OVPs either use their own content delivery network (CDN) or partner with a CDN to deliver streams.

      It is also possible to send the data via your own live streaming server, but this requires more equipment and technical knowledge.

      This process of sending the stream from an encoder to the online video platform is known as stream ingestion, or simply “ingest.” Stream ingestion usually occurs using RTMP.

      RTMP stands for “Real-Time Messaging Protocol.” As we mentioned, RTMP was previously used to deliver content to the Flash video player. RTMP ingest should not be confused with RTMP delivery.

      It is also possible to use HLS for ingesting, but this is not yet widely supported. HLS is used primarily for HLS delivery, whereas RTMP for stream ingestion.

      If you’d like to learn more about RTMP servers and how the two protocols work together, we recommend checking out our dedicated RTMP ingest guide.

      What is HLS Streaming Software?

      There are several types of software for HLS streaming. Typically, these tools specialize in a specific function that is related to live streaming, but it’s also fairly common for one software to include support for multiple functionalities.

      What makes them “HLS streaming software” vs. “streaming software” (which we discuss in other posts) is that they are specifically set up for streaming to an HTML5 video player via HLS delivery.

      Some of the main types of HLS streaming software include encoders, switchers, and simulcasting tools. Let’s break these categories down.

      Encoding Software

      Encoding software is probably the most important HLS streaming software, simply because most broadcasters need it. This software converts the RAW video files that your camera captures into a ready-to-stream digital video file.

      The benefit of software encoders rather than hardware encoders is that they are generally more cost-effective. Unlike hardware encoders, software encoders can be updated as the software is improved. That means the lifespan of live stream encoding software lives beyond its hardware counterpart.

      Simulcasting Software

      Simulcasting, which is short for “simultaneous broadcasting,” is streaming to multiple destinations at once. This functionality is also referred to as “multi-destination streaming.”

      Simulcasting requires the support of dedicated HLS streaming software.

      Many broadcasters use simulcasting software to stream the same content to their sites, apps, and popular social media platforms, all at once. With simulcast streaming, you can reach a larger audience.

      Switching Software

      When it comes to live streaming at the professional level, a reliable switcher is a must. Switching software allows broadcasters to switch between different live feeds, on-demand video, and other sources instantaneously.

      Using different sources throughout your stream can keep things exciting and engaging.

      Comparing the Top 10 HLS Streaming Software

      Now that you have an idea of how HLS streaming works and what HLS streaming software is, let’s take a look at the best HLS streaming software.

      With each option we highlight, we’ll share its key features, pricing, and compatibility, as well as pros and cons.

      1. Wirecast

      Wirecast HLS software
      Wirecast is RTMP compatible, thus compatible with most online video platforms. You can install Wirecast on Mac and Windows computers.

      Wirecast is a professional-grade HLS streaming software with a video switcher and encoder that is powered by Telestream.

      This HLS streaming software allows you to quickly switch between multiple sources, overlay graphics on the feed, and stream video. With Wirecast, you can record streams locally, as well as mixing audio and adding video effects.

      Wirecast features several enhancements and fixes, including Facebook Live polling, re-written WebStream plugin, and Virtual Camera improvements.

      To learn more about it, you can check out its tech specs on the Telestream website

      Key Features:

      • Support for unlimited sources (cameras, mics, IP cams, capture cards, and NDI)
      • Multiple bitrate streaming
      • Built-in graphics and titling tool
      • Integrates with Facebook Live and Twitter for sharing comments on-screen
      • Includes instant replay, scoreboard, and timers for sports
      • Free wireless camera app turns iOS devices into mobile live video sources
      • Stream to multiple destinations simultaneously
      • Integrated video chat via “Wirecast Rendezvous”
      • Local program output

      Pros:

      • Easy-to-use, user-friendly platform
      • Compatible with most popular operating systems
      • Fully loaded with valuable features

      Cons:

      • High price point
      • Many features locked in the “Studio” version
      • Consumes a lot of computer memory

      Pricing:

      The HLS streaming software comes in two versions:

      • Wirecast Studio for enhanced live production & streaming: pricing is $599 with a free trial
      • Wirecast Pro for advanced live production and streaming: pricing is $799 which also comes with a free trial

      Upgrading to Pro adds support for:

      • 7 guests via Rendezvous
      • 8-track audio output
      • Instant replay
      • Scoreboards
      • 3D virtual sets for green-screen use
      • Program feed
      • Support for a wider range of capture devices
      • ISO camera recording
      • “Present” version of NewBlue Titler Live.

      Additional Wirecast upgrades are available, including:

      • Premium support: $299/year
      • Firewire HDV camera input support: $99 (included in Pro version)
      • NewBlueFX Titler Live: $245 Standard version, $445 Advance version, $945 Ultimate version
      • Virtualsetworks: $329

      Compatibility:

      Wirecast comes in a version for Windows and macOS. The latest version of Wirecast is Version 14.2.1 which was released on May 18, 2021.

      These specifications are for the latest version of Wirecast above:

      • Resolution: 4096 x 3072 (maximum)
      • Processor: Intel i5 dual-core @ 2.3GHz, 6th generation (minimum); Intel i7 quad-core @ 2.8GHz+, 6th generation (recommended)
      • Input Sources: Unlimited
      • Output Destinations: Unlimited 
      • Memory: 4 GB (minimum); 16+ GB (recommended)
      • Hard Drive: 2GB, 7200 RPM for record to disk (minimum); 500GB+, Solid State OS Drive (recommended)

      2. vMix

      vMix HLS software
      Vmix is an HLS Streaming Software that allows you to broadcast live productions online.

      Next up is vMix, another powerful live switcher and HLS software application. Like Wirecast, vMix supports a wide range of inputs and streams to OVPs and CDNs as well as services like YouTube and Facebook.

      The latest version of this software is vMIx 24.

      Many broadcasters love this HLS streaming software. Let’s look in a bit more detail at vMix’s features.

      Key Features:

      • Video support up to 4K resolution
      • Supports NDI
      • Source from video, audio, or image files as well as DVD, playlists, and websites
      • Stream, record, and output video to professional decks and monitors simultaneously
      • Video transitions and other effects built-in
      • Support for 3D acceleration reduces the need for a top-end CPU
      • Virtual sets
      • PC and Mac desktop source (including audio) via computers on your network
      • vMix Call teleconference support for up to 8 remote guests
      • Titling support and four overlay channels
      • Instant replay support
      • Touch screen web interface

      Pros:

      • Some limitations on compatibility
      • Plans for every budget
      • 60-day risk-free trial
      • Users rave about switcher functions

      Cons:

      • Streams in relatively low bitrate
      • Some “bugginess” (which users suggest could be fixed with software update)

      Pricing:

      vMix is available in five different versions, ranging from Basic to Pro. Each version supports a different number of inputs, your purchase never expires, and includes the following versions:

      • Basic (free), which supports 4 (up to 2 camera/NDI) inputs and video up to 768 x 576 resolution
      • Basic HD ($60), which supports 4 inputs (up to 3 camera/NDI) and video up to Full HD 1920×1080 resolution
      • HD ($350), which supports 1,000 inputs, adds vMix call functionality, 4 overlay channels, and supports full HD video in 1920×1080 resolution
      • 4K ($700), which supports 1,000 inputs, 4K resolution video (4096 x 2160), PTZ control, 2 recorders, instant replay, 4 SRT outputs, and much more
      • Pro ($1200), which also supports 1,000 inputs, includes all 4K features and 2 records, plus up to 8 callers, up to 4 cameras for instant replay, and 4 SRT outputs

      vMix also offers a 60-day free trial and has all the features of vMix Pro including the ability to use resolutions greater than HD such as 4K, particularly to ensure vMix supports your computer hardware works with it before purchasing.

      This is a great perk, as most HLS encoder software offers only up to a 30-day free trial.

      Compatibility:

      vMix only works natively with Windows, but there are some limited tools from vMix that are supported on macOS. However, many broadcasters use Bootcamp to access vMix on macOS. 

      Learn more about how to vMix in our dedicated tutorial.

      If you want to know more about the latest changes introduced with the latest version such as color correction features, virtual streaming, and independent streaming control support check out this interview with vMix management team at NAB:

      3. VidBlasterX

      Vidblasterx HLS live streaming
      VidBlasterX is versatile live streaming software, allowing you to capture, stream, and broadcast everything, anywhere.

      VidBlasterX is a very powerful and capable live streaming software. However, VidBlasterX takes a somewhat different approach, especially when it comes to customization.

      This software is an encoder, mixer, stream recorder, and production tool, all in one.

      Key Features:

      • Modular user interface
      • Everything is customizable
      • Includes macro and scripting functionality to automate or hot-key actions
      • Supports overlays and lower thirds
      • Chroma key support
      • Live streaming and recording up to 4K resolution
      • Compatible with social media platforms as well as most OVPs, including Dacast with a direct integration
      • Audio mixer
      • Multiview support

      Pros:

      • Offers plans for a wide range of budgets
      • Feature-rich
      • Easily customizable

      Cons:

      • Not compatible with macOS
      • Not well-suited for inexperienced live streamers
      • Slightly complex

      Pricing:

      VidBlasterX is available in three versions. Each of the following options is priced with an annual subscription model:

      1. The Home version ($9/year) supports 7 modules for basic live streaming
      2. The Studio version ($99/year) supports 25 modules.
      3. The Broadcast version ($999/year) supports 100 modules. This version also supports multiple recorder & streamer modules in a single profile.

      The main difference between the versions is the number of simultaneously active modules you can have.  Additionally, the Broadcast edition also supports UDP streaming, multiple streaming sources, and recorder modules in a single profile, and includes priority support.

      Compatibility:

      VidBlasterX is available for Windows only.

      4. OBS Studio

      OBS Studio Broadcasting Software
      OBS Studio is a free and open-source live streaming software for video recording and live broadcasting.

      Now let’s take a look at the best free HLS streaming software reviewed in this article. OBS Studio is an open-source, community-based free HLS streaming server project for live broadcasting. It’s cross-platform and under active development, with new versions and upgrades released regularly.

      This streaming software is a great option for beginners that are still getting the hang of online video streaming since there is no financial investment required.

      Additionally, Dacast offers a customized version of OBS Studio that easily connects to save our users time. We offer a customized version of OBS HLS broadcasting software to our customers. This version makes it easier to directly connect to your Dacast live streaming service account.

      With this option, you don’t need to manually enter details. Instead, simply login to your Dacast account via OBS to start streaming live in minutes.

      Key Features:

      • HLS live streaming and recording functionality
      • Audio and video mixing, filters, and transitions
      • Support for hotkeys
      • Chroma key/green screen support
      • Scenes allow you to prepare overlays in advance for rapid switching
      • Support for a wide range of video, audio, and image sources, as well as screenshots
      • Expandable via plugins to add NDI functionality, remote control via WebSockets, advanced scene switching, and more
      • Detailed wiki and highly active user forum for support/help. Many YouTube tutorials are available as well.

      Pros:

      • It’s free
      • Easy-to-use for beginners
      • Frequent updates
      • Able to function on lower-quality internet

      Cons:

      • Some limitations on features
      • does not offer multi-bitrate streaming
      • Room for improvement for plugins

      Pricing:

      OBS Studio is open-source and completely free. There is no cost to accessing and using this HLS Streaming Software.

      Version 27.0.1 was released on June 11, 2021, and is available for download here

      Compatibility:

      OBS Studio is compatible with Windows 8 and later, OS X/Mac OS 10.13 and later, and Linux Ubuntu 18.04 and later.

      Check out our OBS for Dacast guide for Windows users, You can also review this OBS for Dacast guide for Mac users.

      Please note that these specifications are based on the latest version above:

      • Resolution: unavailable 
      • Processor: Dual or 4-Core (recommended)
      • Input Sources: unavailable
      • Output Destinations: 1
      • Memory: 4 GB or more (recommended)
      • Hard Drive: unavailable

      5. XSplit Broadcaster

      XSplit HLS Software
      XSplit’s streaming software is intuitively designed, and easy to use suite of video content creator tools.

      XSplit is an HLS streaming software that has five products: Broadcaster, Vcam, Connect Webcam, Presenter, and Capture. The XSplit Broadcaster is the most fitting product for the context of this post, as it works for both HLS live streaming and recording.

      XSplit Broadcaster is designed for professional broadcasting use for both businesses and creators who stream niche content like gaming.

      Key Features:

      • Support for a range of inputs including all major capture cards, videos, music, webcams
      • Display webcam and remove the background
      • Professional production features, including enhanced audio
      • Chroma key (green / blue screen)
      • Remote guests via Skype
      • Record streams locally
      • Integrated chat function
      • Other custom plugins and integrations
      • Edit and do secure video upload recordings

      Pros:

      • Organization by title tags
      • Streaming and recording tools
      • Suitable for business needs
      • 24/7 support

      Cons:

      • The platform is a little bit confusing
      • Requires a bit of a learning curve
      • Puts strain on some processors
      • Some features require you to watch an ad before accessing

      Pricing:

      The pricing plans for XSplit products are priced with a four-tier Premium subscription model.

      The Broadcaster Premium license includes the following four tiers:

      • Premium 3-month license: $15
      • Premium 12-month license: $30
      • Premium 36-month license: $60
      • Premium Lifetime license: $200

      Before committing to a subscription, however, a free trial is available for users to test the software. 

      Compatibility:

      The XSplit site does not specify operating system compatibility, but they do have some system requirements that you can review on their website.

      Head over to our dedicated guide to learn how to set up XSplit with Dacast.

      6. FFmpeg

      FFmpeg open-source software
      FFMPEG is a video streaming software solution compatible with live streaming platforms.

      FFmpeg is an open-source HLS streaming software that includes a library of tools for recording, converting, and streaming audio and video.

      FFmpeg compiles, runs, and passes the testing infrastructure FATE across most operating systems under a wide variety of environments, machines, and configurations. This software also comes with FFserver, which is the FFmpeg tool for live streaming.

      Additionally, FFmpeg is mainly a command-line application. That means that this streaming software is a bit more complex, which makes it best suited for professional users. There are minimal GUI interfaces available in this tool. 

      Key Features:

      • Open-source 
      • Primarily and encoder
      • Supports all resolutions
      • Local live stream recording
      • No mixing features
      • RTMP ingest makes it compatible with most OVPs

      Pros:

      • Very customizable
      • Equipped with professional tools
      • Multiple encoding configurations
      • Suitable for advanced broadcasting use
      • Highly compatible

      Cons:

      • Minimal educational materials, tutorials, or manuals for using the platform.
      • Highly complex

      Pricing:

      FFmpeg is free and open-source.

      Compatibility:

      FFmpeg is compatible with macOS, Linux, Windows, BSD, Solaris, and other popular operating systems.

      7. Streamlabs OBS

      streamlabs obs live streaming software
      Streamlabs OBS is another great open-source streaming software.

      Streamlabs is an HLS streaming software that offers a wide range of streaming capabilities. The software is open-source and free to download, but users can upgrade to the Prime version for access to advanced features.

      Streamlabs has a built-in web-based streaming studio called MelonApp that is designed for simulcasting, which is a nice value add.

      The software also has a new multistream feature that is built towards streaming to multiple platforms at once.

      Key Features:

      • Open-source and customizable
      • Simulcasting support
      • Several different production tools
      • Graphic overlays
      • Preset themes
      • Green screen/chroma keying

      Pros:

      • Easy for beginners to use
      • Stream layout design tools
      • Stream recording
      • Gaming-specific tools
      • Tipping and donations options

      Cons:

      • Very basic software
      • Limitations on graphic overlays and effects
      • Some features are a bit difficult to use

      Pricing:

      Streamlabs offers two different versions. These include:

      • Free: access to basic features
      • Streamlabs Prime: $19.99/month or $149/year; includes access to more advanced streaming features

      Compatibility:

      The Streamlabs website doesn’t indicate any limitations on operating system compatibility. However, the platform is suitable for streaming to Facebook, Twitch, YouTube, and more.

      8. Restream

      Restream video streaming HLS software
      Restream is a bit more advanced than the other HLS streaming software we’ve discussed.

      Restream is an HLS streaming software that specializes in simulcasting. Although simulcasting is the focus, Restream has several products for broadcasters, including Multistreaming, Studio, Analytics, and Chat.

      The Multistreaming product is the most popular offering from Restream. It supports streaming to over 30 destinations at once. Streaming to multiple destinations like this helps broadcasters expand their reach and grow their audience. 

      Key Features:

      • Primarily a simulcasting tool
      • Analytics and data reporting
      • In-browser software
      • Streaming support
      • Chat tool with filters
      • Branding customization

      Pros:

      • Simulcasting capabilities
      • Variety of products for different use-cases
      • Some production tools
      • Engagement and interaction tools
      • Peer-to-peer streaming capabilities

      Cons:

      • No encoding support
      • Strong internet required
      • Minor issues with video quality

      Pricing:

      Restream has several pricing plans for both individuals and businesses. These include the following plans:

      • Free: $0/months (for individuals)
      • Standard: $16/month (for individuals)
      • Professional: $41/month (for individuals)
      • Premium: $83/month (for businesses)
      • Business: $249/month (for businesses)

      Compatibility:

      Restream works on Windows, macOS, Linux, and some gaming consoles.

      9. SplitCam

      Splitcam Streaming Software
      SplitCam is a bit different than the other HLS streaming software we’ve discussed.

      SplitCam is a video streaming software with many functionalities. Its primary purpose is webcam splitting which allows you to stream to an audience while doing peer-to-peer streaming.

      Some use cases would be live training sessions, webinars, and other virtual streaming events that involve interaction from viewers.

      It is important to note that SplitCam is not an encoder, but it is a tool for simulcasting,  mixing, and splitting. SplitCam is compatible with many major peer-to-peer services and streaming solutions, which definitely is a plus.

      Another great aspect of SplitCam is that it offers a community forum for users to share ideas, ask questions, and troubleshoot issues. This sort of community support is great for broadcasters who are still learning the ropes.

      Key Features:

      • Free to use
      • Split webcam streaming
      • Simulcasting support
      • Audio and video mixing
      • Wide range of tools and features
      • HD streaming

      Pros:

      • Split streaming from a single webcam
      • Wide range of functionality
      • Very accessible
      • Supports HD streaming

      Cons:

      • No encoding tools
      • No mobile streaming support

      Pricing:

      SplitCam is free to download and use. 

      Compatibility:

      SplitCam is compatible with Windows and macOS.

      10. Switchboard Live

      Switchboard Live HLS software
      Switchboard Live is an HLS streaming software that focuses on simulcasting.

      Switchboard Live is an HLS streaming platform that is dedicated to simulcasting to multiple destinations. In addition to simulcasting, Switchboard Live also has tools for video player embedding.

      This software is very basic and focuses on simulcasting functionality, but it doesn’t offer much in the way of additional features. Switchboard Live is a great option for broadcasters that are simply looking to invest in simulcasting support.

      Key Features:

      • Specialized simulcasting tool
      • Video embedding features
      • Easy to use
      • New StreamShare tool

      Pros:

      • Preferred simulcasting tool by many major brands
      • Quick and easy to set up
      • Unlimited destination streaming
      • Compatible with major platforms

      Cons:

      • Very basic tool
      • No HLS encoding support

      Pricing:

      Switchboard Live has three different pricing plans, including:

      • Indie: $35/month; supports streaming to 3+ destinations
      • Pro: $99/month; supports streaming to 5+ destinations. 
      • Business: $350/month; supports streaming to 10+ destinations

      Compatibility:

      Switchboard Live supports simulcasting to Facebook, Periscope, Twitter, YouTube, Twitch, and YouTube.

      Conclusion

      Choosing the right HLS streaming software to use for your live video stream event may seem overwhelming. There is more than one “best” software since every streamer has slightly different needs.

      However, by comparing the features and pros and cons of each plan, you’ll be able to determine which software best fits your individual streaming needs.

      Before making a decision, make sure you are working with an RTMP-compatible online video platform. One great option is Dacast.

      With very competitive live streaming pricing, Dacast is a feature-rich platform. We offer a free trial to test out all of our great features risk-free for 30 days.

      All you have to do to get started is create a Dacast account today. No credit card required.


      GET STARTED FOR FREE

       

      For regular tips on live streaming and exclusive offers, we also invite you to join our LinkedIn group. Additionally, we love to hear from our readers! Have you experienced other issues and challenges related to the HLS software we review here? If so, let us know in the comment section below. We will get back to you.

      Thanks for reading, and happy streaming!

      author avatar

      Max Wilbert

      Max Wilbert is a passionate writer, live streaming practitioner, and has strong expertise in the video streaming industry.

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