Comparing the Top 10 Live Streaming Encoder Software + Hardware Solutions [Updated for 2021]
Table of Contents
The quality of your live stream can make or break your audiences’ experience. Lagging video and shaky audio becomes a distraction from the message you’re trying to share.
which is converting RAW video files into digital ones, is one of the best things you can do to maintain professional quality. This requires a dedicated live streaming encoder, which can come in their form of both hardware and software.
In this post, we’re going to talk about what exactly an encoder is, what purpose it serves, some processes related to encoding, and the best live streaming encoders on the market.
Table of Contents:
- What is a Live Streaming Encoder?
- What is Transcoding?
- Cloud Video Transcoding vs. Encoding
- Hardware vs. Software Encoding
- Top 10 Live Streaming Encoders: A Comparison
- How to Choose the Best Encoder for Streaming
Note to our readers: We’ve updated and expanded this article to reflect the top options, features, and updated pricing as of May 2021.
What is a Live Streaming Encoder?
A live streaming encoder is a tool that transforms video content into a different format. The purpose of encoding a video is to create a digital copy of your video that can be transmitted over the internet. Digital video content can be embedded or streamed live right on your website.
Live streaming is very time-sensitive, and it requires an encoder that is capable of processing the video feed in real-time.
Broadcasters have the option to choose between a hardware or software encoder. Which way you go will largely depend on the purpose of your stream and what sort of budget you are working with. Most professional broadcasters will go with a hardware encoder, but due to the high price point, most beginner to mid-experienced broadcasters will go with live streaming encoder software.
Encoding vs. Codecs
Codec is short for “coder-decoder” and it encodes a video for storage and decodes for broadcast. Oftentimes, the term “encoder” is used to describe hardware or software codec.
What is Transcoding?
Transcoding and encoding are often misused interchangeably. Rather than converting the format of a video, video transcoding converts a video to a smaller size.
The purpose of transcoding a video is so that your viewers can watch the video in the size that works best with their internet speed. For example, somebody with slower internet would watch your video in lower resolution to minimize buffering.
There is overlap in transcoding and encoding tools. Some encoders have transcoding capabilities, and some transcoders have encoding capabilities.
Cloud transcoding is typically considered a simple alternative to a hardware encoder. While a hardware encoder stores multiple versions of one video, cloud video transcoders convert and broadcast each version as it’s created.
Hardware vs. Software Encoding
While hardware and software encoders are slightly different, they function very similarly. They both take RAW video files and convert them into digital files.
The main difference that sets hardware and software encoders apart—and the characteristic that allows hardware encoders to perform more effectively—is that hardware encoding devices have the sole purpose of encoding. Software encoders work with your computer’s operating system, so encoding isn’t the primary function.
Of course, the difference in performance capabilities is reflected in the price tag. Hardware encoders run upwards of $600 to $1000. Encoder software is often less than $100 and can be found by some providers for free.
Hardware encoders are best suited for experienced, professional broadcasters. Software encoders work well for beginner broadcasters.
Top 10 Live Streaming Encoders: A Comparison
There are several video streaming software solutions available today.
Each is equipped with a unique set of features and functionality at different price points. In order to determine which is the right video encoder software for your broadcast, you want to ask yourself the following.
- Is the encoder compatible with my streaming platform?
- What features does the encoder provide? Is it the best option for my broadcasting needs?
- What’s my budget?
Keeping those questions in mind, let’s explore the top encoding software on the market.
Telestream’s Wirecast offers encoder software that is widely compatible with many online video platforms. The professional video streaming services that Wirecast works with include Dacast, IBM Video Cloud, and Wowza. These streaming platforms, among others, allow you to live stream your event to any RTMP-enabled streaming destination. They also support recording MP4 or MOV files to any drive.
Wirecast recently launched a new streaming encoder that features several enhancements and fixes, including Facebook Live polling, re-written WebStream plugin, and Virtual Camera improvements. Wirecast is compatible with a variety of capture cards, devices, and camera inputs.
Wirecast supports live video compositing via a “layers” architecture similar to many graphics programs. The encoder facilitates live switching, picture-in-picture composition, titles, audio delay, and many other fine-tuning compositional elements.
Wirecast’s video encoder software makes it easy to incorporate pre-recorded video content into your broadcast. It also supports the encoding of HD and SD sources for streams broadcast simultaneously to multiple servers and platforms.
The Wirecast Pro enhanced program adds several other specialized features, including:
- Live scoreboards
- Virtual 3D
- Use of IP cameras and web streams
- 8-track audio output
These advanced features of Wirecast Pro make it a better choice than the basic Wirecast program for most live-streamed events. With all those features, Wirecast’s biggest downside may be the price. To start, you can download a free trial version of the basic software.
- 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
The latest version of Wirecast is 14.2.1. It is the newest full version and was released on May 18, 2021. It features several enhancements and fixes, including FBLive polling, re-written WebStream plugin, and Virtual Camera improvements. To know more about it, you can check out its tech specs here.
- Easy-to-use, user-friendly platform
- Compatible with most popular operating systems
- Fully loaded with valuable features
- High price point
- Many features locked in the “Studio” version
- Consumes a lot of computer memory
The 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
Pro adds support for:
- 7 guests via Rendezvous
- 8-track audio output
- Instant replay
- 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/yr
- Firewire HDV camera input support (Studio users only need to purchase this feature; the Pro version includes it): $99
- NewBlueFX Titler Live (for creation of animated graphics and titles): $245 Standard version, $445 Advance version, $945 Ultimate version
- Virtualsetworks (pre-made virtual sets for green screen use): $329
Wirecast caters to a variety of live streaming contexts, including:
- Live event production
- Broadcasting Live Sports
- Faith-based events
- Television and radio broadcasts
- Digital marketing and social media.
2. Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS)
OBS Studio is an open-source software encoder for live streaming. OBS Studio is a great option for those new to live streaming as it’s effortless to use. OBS Studio’s broadcasting software offers downloads for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
The encoder is equipped with a powerful API, which enables community-generated plugins and scripts. These add-ons can provide further customization and functionality specific to your needs.
Advanced features of this streaming encoder software include:
- Real-time video/audio capturing and mixing
- Unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions
- Intuitive audio mixer
- Modular “Dock” UI
- Real-time video/audio capturing and mixing
- Unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions
- Intuitive audio mixer
- Modular “Dock” UI
- 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
- 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.
- It’s free
- Easy-to-use for beginners
- Frequent updates
- Able to function on lower-quality internet
- Some limitations on features
- Room for improvement for plugins
OBS Studio is open-source and completely free. There is no cost to accessing and using this software.
Version 26.1.1 was released on January 6th, 2021, and is available for download here. for both macOS and Windows operating systems.
OBS Studio is compatible with Windows 7 and later, OS X/Mac OS 10.8 and later, and Linux.
Additionally, Dacast offers a customized version of OBS Studio that easily connects to save our users time. We offer a customized version of OBS Studio’s live 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.
Dacast has developed a customized version of this video encoder software. As a Dacast customer, you can access this customized software for no charge with direct Dacast integration of the OBS Studio platform. Within just a few clicks you can be up and streaming.
See for yourself in this video:
Please note that OBS Studio does not support multi-bitrate streaming. Multi-bitrate streaming can be crucial when broadcasting to diverse users in distinct locales.
Regardless of this minor setback, we still highly recommend this encoder, particularly for those who are testing or becoming familiar with live streaming.
Like Wirecast, VidBlasterX is a professional-quality streaming encoder software.
They offer three packages: VidblasterX Home, VidBlasterX Studio, and VidBlasterX Broadcast. The main difference between each version is the number of modules each supports. Each successive module also adds additional advanced features pro broadcasters will appreciate.
VidBlasterX Home is a basic product. It supports up to 7 modules. VidBlasterX Studio has several features for studio production of videos (hence the name) and allows for more versatile video. The Studio version supports HD and full-screen television-quality production, as well as community support.
VidBlasterX Broadcast incorporates all the features of VidBlaster Studio, adds more module capacity, and is recommended for professional broadcast studios. With Broadcast, you get direct email support from the developer.
- 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
- Has plans for a wide range of budgets
- Easily customizable
- Not compatible with macOS
- Not well-suited for inexperienced live streamers
- Slightly complex
VidBlasterX is available in three versions. Each of the following options is priced with an annual subscription model:
- The Home version ($9/year) supports 7 modules.
- The Studio version ($99/year) supports 25 modules.
- The Broadcast version ($999/year) supports 100 modules. This version also supports multiple recorder & streamer modules in a single profile.
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 streaming sources, and recorder modules in a single profile, and includes priority support.
One drawback of VidBlasterX is that it does not come in a Mac OS version, so it requires a Windows machine to operate.
vMix is another amazing live video production software for streaming. This Australian-based software is a strong option in terms of encoding software.
It includes a wide range of excellent features, and the vMix app includes regular software updates. vMix provides support for a wide range of inputs including webcams, cameras, capture cards, DVDs, soundcards, playlists, photos, PPT presentations, and more.
- NDI support
- Chroma key and virtual streaming sets
- Built-in titling tool that supports animation via XAML
- Live streaming platform integrations (including with the Dacast streaming platform)
- vMix Social allows you to pull and display content from popular social media platforms
- Instant replay, slow motion, and scoreboards
- Training videos available
- vMix “reference systems” ease difficulty around building a custom live production system
- Wide range of features
- Support for a wide range of inputs
- Plans for different budgets
- Free updates to the software
- Not a dedicated solution
- Some features are a bit tricky to use
- Only compatible with Windows
Each purchase never expires, and all editions include free updates for a year. The versions are:
- Basic: Free; 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 is compatible with Windows operating systems.
5. LiveU Solo
The LiveU Solo is a highly capable hardware encoder that is well-suited for encoding and producing remote streams. It is a powerful device that supports up to 5G 4K HEVC streaming.
This encoder is globally renowned and has contributed to massive streams, including Presidential events, World Cups, Olympic events, Super Bowls, and more.
- Seamless integration with modems and cellular data
- Robust remote streaming
- Lifetime support
- Responsive bandwidth consumption for uninterrupted streaming
- Boost up to 3 connections at once
- Suitable for live event streaming
- Team friendly
- Some issues with streaming to social media platforms
- Supports network bonding
- Geared towards remote streaming
- Can get a bit complicated
- Access to some basic features r
LiveU Solo’s pricing is based on location. Please check out their pricing page to see how much this encoder costs in your region.
LiveU Solo is compatible with USB sources.
Teradek offers compact live stream encoding hardware that is perfect for live streaming on the go or from a remote location.
Unlike many other hardware encoders available, Teradek’s products are light and sleek. Some are built with portable chassis that are designed especially for remote location streaming experiences.
- Sleek design
- Capable of remote streaming
- Built for streaming on the go
- Top tier video quality
- Good for mobile streaming
- High-quality video streaming
- Compact and portable
- Very expensive
- Not well suited for beginners
Pricing for Teradek’s encoding devices ranges from $700 to $14,000. Some of their top products are priced as follows:
- Bolt: A very powerful compact solution for on the go 4K HD cinema-quality video with zero latency ($1500-$13,500)
- Vidiu Go: Live streaming encoder that can be used for broadcasting on the go ($1500-$2700)
- Bond: Backpack encoder for broadcasting on the go ($7000-9000)
- Prism: 4K encoding and decoding device ($2000-3000)
- Cube: Designed to support IP video ($1800-$2800)
- Ranger: Encoder for wireless connection to OVP from television-grade capture equipment
The different Teradek encoder lines support HDMI and SDI video inputs and a wide variety of consumer and professional-grade hardware.
TriCaster is premium encoding hardware designed for advanced live streaming. Its capabilities extend beyond encoding, so it is a useful tool for broadcasters that are looking for additional production support.
TriCaster’s hardware encoding tools are built to connect to capturing devices to encode video content in real-time, making them quite powerful for live streaming.
- Real-time encoding for live broadcasting
- Live steam recording functions
- Tools for mixing and editing
- Real-time moving graphic processing
- Auto-archiving for on-demand playback
- Mixing and editing tools
- Live streaming support
- Very expensive
- Requires support of costly accessories to use
- Can be a bit difficult to use
- The hardware is bulky
The cost of TriCaster encoders ranges from roughly $5,000 to $18,000.
NewTek offers several different products in the TriCaster line, including:
- TriCaster 2 Elite: Encoding device for advanced, television-grade broadcasting
- TriCaster 4k Mini: Portable desktop encoder
- TriCaster TC410 Plus: Encoding tool for mid-sized productions
- TriCaster TC1: Everything broadcasters need for end-to-end video production
Check out TriCaster’s “Where to Buy” page to find local reseller pricing.
TriCaster hardware encoders support HD-SDI inputs and a wide range of professional hardware and accessories.
You can also access Tricaster documentation here.
8. Niagara Video
Niagara Video is an online streaming brand that offers a wide range of functionality. They offer nearly 20 different encoding hardware options, in addition to a few different software solutions.
Niagara Video has been at the forefront of encoding for nearly two decades, and the company is often considered a trailblazer in the industry.
It is important to point out that these tools are built for both encoding and transcoding.
- Many hardware encoding options
- Encoding and transcoding support
- Solutions for education, government, and more
- Live event streaming
- Wide variety of encoding tools to choose from
- Many functionalities
- No pricing transparency
Niagara has many products, but their pricing is not listed on their website. Users must contact the company for pricing for each product.
However, to give you a better idea of their price points, we were able to find a price of $1,299 for the GoStream Mini 150 posted online.
Niagara’s encoders currently include several model lines, each of which is available in a variety of configurations. Each model also includes a 1-year limited warranty. Although we don’t have specific pricing info, here is a breakdown of a few of their top hardware encoders:
- The new Niagara 9300 Series is a 1U rack-mount unit that supports HD and/or SD SDI inputs with up to 8 stereo pairs (16 channels) of embedded audio. The 9300 allows you to deliver multiple simultaneous streams. It also includes a web SDK to enable customizations and integrations. Additionally, it supports the new SCX Linux software or SCX+ software.
- The GoStream Digital and Analog encoders are powerful, compact two-channel streaming encoders with integrated solid-state drives. They’re available in SDI or DVI-I versions, as well as versions that support Component/Composite/S-Video and HDMI/DVI VGA. Additionally, they support Transport Stream (UDP/RTP), Adobe Flash (RTMP), Windows Media, and Apple’s HLS protocol.
- The GoStream B264 encoder is designed for hard use in broadcast and streaming applications. This small unit (3 fits in 1 RU) features two SDI inputs, two ASI outputs, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a variety of other connectivity options.
- The GoStream Mini 200 is a flexible, affordable encoder with low power consumption and support for common consumer and prosumer video formats such as AVC / HEVC, H.264 / H.265. The device includes inputs for SDI, HDMI, component, composite, DVI/VGA, and unbalanced audio. Additionally, it also has the ability to record a file as MP4 while streaming live.
Compatibility depends on each individual model.
9. Blackmagic Web Presenter
Many of the hardware encoders we’ve reviewed so far are very powerful and come with an overwhelming price tag. The Blackmagic Web Presenter provides a cheaper alternative for broadcasters who are streaming on a more basic level.
This encoder is sleek in design and can be purchased for under $500. It is great for broadcasters who have minimal encoding needs.
- Provides built-in tech monitoring
- Supports high-quality streaming
- Sports a compact design
- Provides support for many popular streaming platforms
- Can connect to cellular data
- Highly compatible
- Capable of remote streaming
- Relatively inexpensive
- Geared more towards beginners
The Blackmagic Web Presenter costs $495.
Blackmagic Web Presenter claims to support all of the most popular streaming platforms.
Founded in 2014, Resi is an end-to-end live streaming platform that is equipped with a variety of streaming tools. This company offers all of the tools that broadcasters need to get started with live streaming.
- Hardware and software offerings
- End-to-end live streaming support
- Simulcasting capabilities
- Some encoding support
- Automation tools
- Cloud streaming
- Monitoring tools
- Produces high-quality streams
- Wide range of functionality
- Highly reliable product
- Great customer support
- Solutions for multiple use cases and industries
- Can only use it with Resi software
Resi offers several hardware encoders for broadcasters with different needs and budgets. Here are the options that are available:
- RAY E1210 – $1,299.99
- PRISM SINGLE E1200 – $2,999.99
- PRISM DUAL E2211 – $3,999.99
- PRISM DUAL+ E2221- $4,499.99
When it comes to live streaming software compatibility, the Resi hardware encoders are quite limited. The encoders only work with their own software. There is not much other information available on compatibility with these tools.
How to Choose the Best Encoder for Streaming
The live streaming encoder software that you should choose greatly depends on the features that you need to help you reach your goals. That being said, no single live streaming encoder will be the perfect match for every broadcaster.
In order to identify which features are most important to you, take some time to think about the following questions:
- Is the encoder compatible with your streaming platform?
- What features does the encoder provide? Is it the best option for your broadcasting needs?
- What’s your budget?
- How big is your target audience?
- How many camera feeds do you need to incorporate into your videos and which camera will you use?
- What kind of computer will you use, and with what kind of operating system?
- How much will you need to do in the way of studio effects or video editing?
- What are the top requirements of your live streaming platform service?
- How much money do you want to spend? Is this a flexible or fixed price-point for you or your business?
If you’re new to live streaming video, we recommend that you start with OBS Studio to become familiar with how to stream live video on your website. After you get down the basics, you can upgrade later to a more powerful program if you like.
Overall, it’s important to ensure that any encoder streaming software you choose helps you to meet all of your goals for producing and broadcasting your video content.
The encoder that you choose plays a huge role in the quality of your live stream. There are many options and configurations to consider when choosing one to operate your live stream. While hardware encoders tend to produce better quality streams, software encoders are easier to use and more cost-effective.
If you’re new to live streaming video, we recommend Dacast’s custom version of OBS since it is free for our users and allows anyone to become familiar with how to stream live video on your website. After you get down to the basics, you can upgrade to a more powerful tool if necessary.
Overall, it’s important to ensure that any live stream encoder software you choose, as with your hardware, your cameras, and your streaming platform, allows you to meet all of your goals for producing and broadcasting your video content.
If you are looking for a unified streaming solution with both live and VOD streaming capabilities, give Dacast a try. Why not sign up for our 30-day free trial (no credit card required) to test out all our features for yourself! Click the button below to sign up for free today.
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