Broadcasting live stream requires some specific tools. One of these is a live streaming encoder. These come in two main types. A hardware encoder, and a software encoder—which is sometimes called live streaming software. This blog will take a look at the best live streaming software available for live video streaming.
There is a wide range of encoders available for live streaming. We’re going to look at several of the best live stream encoding software, including Wirecast, vMix, VidBlasterX, and OBS Studio.
Before we dive into this, we’ll explore one other issue. We’re going to look at HLS streaming protocol and RTMP—an important topic to understand for effective streaming. Then, we’ll turn to the best live streaming software. Let’s dive in.
HLS streaming – a review of the basics
Here’s a quick overview. HLS stands for HTTP Live Streaming. HLS is a video streaming protocol that was developed by Apple as an alternative to Flash. Adobe’s HDS (HTTP Dynamic Streaming) is based on Flash and is still a competitor to HLS. As an adaptive bitrate streaming protocol, HLS 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—by far. Android smartphones, as well as iPhones, desktop and laptop computers, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and many other devices, all support HLS. Security is not generally a problem for viewers of HLS streams.
Delivery vs. ingest
Let’s get into a bit more detail. In most cases, live streaming involves sending data from your encoder to an Online Video Platform (OVP). OVPs either use their own CDN (Content Delivery Network) or partner with a CDN to deliver streams. You can also send the data to your own live streaming server, but this requires more equipment and technical knowledge.
This process of sending the stream is known as stream ingestion. Stream ingestion usually occurs using RTMP. RTMP stands for Real-Time Messaging Protocol. Interestingly, RTMP uses Flash for video standards. Ingesting a live stream via RTMP should not be confused with RTMP delivery, which requires a Flash plugin for the video to be played.
Let’s review how this would look in the context of live streaming via our own streaming solution. Once you have begun live streaming via your encoder, Dacast’s CDN partner Akamai receives (ingests) the feed-in RTMP format, after which their servers convert the feed to HLS. The stream can then be delivered in chunks of 10 seconds to edge servers on the CDN network. Users are automatically connected to the fastest server and served with the HLS stream.
All the best live streaming software we consider here also deliver streams in RTMP format. That video can then reach viewers via HLS streaming or another format.
Best live streaming software with RTMP ingest
Alright, now let’s move on and take a look at the best live streaming software. With each option we highlight here, we’ll share its key features, price, and compatibility, as well as our general thoughts.
First up is Wirecast, from the company Telestream. Wirecast is a capable, professional-grade video switcher and encoder. It allows you to quickly switch between multiple sources, overlay graphics on the feed, and stream video. You can record streams locally, as well as mixing audio and adding video effects.
- Support for unlimited sources, including 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
Wirecast comes in two versions. Wirecast Studio, for $695, includes 2 guests via Rendezvous and the Express version of the NewBlue Titler Live tool.
The Pro version, which costs $995, adds support for 7 guests via Rendezvous, 8-track audio output, instant replay, and scoreboards, 3D virtual sets for green-screen use, program feed, support for a wider range of capture devices, ISO camera recording, and the “Present” version of NewBlue Titler Live.
Both versions include one year of standard support. Dacast users can access a 10% discount as well.
Wirecast comes in a version for Windows and for macOS. The latest version of Wirecast is version 8, which includes some great new features.
Next up, let’s examine vMix, another powerful live switcher and streaming application. Like Wirecast, vMix supports a wide range of inputs and streams to OVPs and CDNs as well as services like YouTube and Facebook. Many people absolutely love the software. Let’s look in a bit more detail at vMix’s features.
- Video support up to 4K resolution
- Supports NDI
- Source from video, audio, or image files as well as DVD, playlists, and web sites
- 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
If you want to know more about the latest changes introduced with vMix 21, such as color correction features, virtual streaming, and independent streaming control support check out this interview of vMix management team at NAB:
vMix comes in six versions ranging in price from free (Basic) to $1200 (Pro). Each version adds additional features and capabilities. For example, only the HD version ($350) and above support the vMix call function.
VMix restricts access to Instant Replay, video resolution, the total number of inputs, and a number of other advanced features to only higher-priced plans as well. To learn more about pricing, visit the vMix pricing page. A 60-day free trial is available.
vMix is only available for Windows PCs. Learn more about how to use it here.
Next up on our best live streaming software review is VidBlasterX. Like vMix and Wirecast, VidBlasterX is a very powerful and capable live video production software application. However, VidBlasterX takes a somewhat different approach, especially when it comes to customization. Here’s why we consider VidBlasterX to be one of the best live streaming software apps.
- 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
VidBlasterX is available in three editions: Home, Studio, and Broadcast. Billed as an annual subscription, these versions cost $9, $99, and $999 per year respectively.
First, the difference between the versions is the number of simultaneously active modules you can have. The Home editions support up to seven modules, enough for basic live streaming. The Studio edition supports up to 25 modules, and the Broadcast edition supports 50 modules. These higher limits allow professional users with multiple monitors to set up and oversee complex workflows.
Additionally, the Broadcast edition also supports UDP streaming, multiple streamer and recorder modules in a single profile, and includes priority support.
VidBlasterX is available for Windows PCs only.
Finally, let’s take a look at a free alternative to the best live streaming software reviewed above. OBS Studio is an open-source, community-based project for live streaming. It’s cross-platform and under active development, with new versions and upgrades released regularly. The community seems to love OBS. Here are some of the key features of OBS Studio.
- 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
- One notable negative is that OBS Studio does not offer multi-bitrate streaming
- Detailed wiki and highly active user forum for support/help. Many YouTube tutorials are available as well.
Finally, Dacast offers a customized version of OBS Studio that easily connects to save our users time.
OBS Studio is compatible with Windows 7 and later, OS X/Mac OS 10.8 and later, and Linux.
Deciding on the best live streaming software to set up your next live video stream event can be tricky. Every streamer has slightly different needs. That’s why we simply aim to provide you with the knowledge to help you make a decision on your own.
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 access free live streaming and all our great features for 30 days (no credit card required).
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 best live streaming 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!