Live Streaming Encoding Software and Top Hardware Encoder Alternatives
Table of Contents
Live streaming is a business practice that is on the rise. Businesses, schools, and other organizations live stream conferences, webinars, classes, and events to connect with their audiences.
There is one step in the live streaming process that absolutely cannot be overlooked: encoding. An encoder is a critical element of any live stream. First, live streaming encoding software or hardware tool takes information from your camera. Next, the encoder converts that information into a compatible form that for embedding and streaming. Finally, many broadcasters use a professional streaming host like Dacast to embed and stream live video to viewers.
The process of encoding occurs between the video capture and the broadcast. In order to find a tool that can handle these processes in real-time, you’ll want to look for special encoding software for live streaming.
Today, we are going to discuss a couple of streaming encoding software options and features. These include live streaming encoding software from Wirecast, vMix, and OBS Studio, as well as hardware encoders from Teradek and Videon.
Table of Contents
- What is an Encoder?
- Top Encoding Software for Live Streaming
- Hardware Encoder Alternatives
What is an Encoder?
An encoder is a critical element of any live stream. It takes information from your camera and converts that information into a format that is compatible with embedding and streaming.
Typically, your camera captures footage in the RAW format, but digital files are required for live streaming over the internet.
Since an encoder is such an essential part of live streaming, you want to make sure to invest in one that is capable of performing with speed and accuracy.
There are both hardware encoders and software encoders. Hardware encoders are pieces of equipment that connect to your video capturing device, and software encoders run on your computer. Each of these software encoders has a list of minimum system requirements to ensure compatibility with your live streaming setup.
Hardware encoders are a pretty hefty investment, but they provide a more powerful solution. Although the quality of hardware encoders is difficult to match, many software encoders can produce professional streams at a much lower price point.
Top Encoding Software for Live Streaming
Here are three of the best live streaming encoding software options available.
1. Wirecast Live Streaming Encoding Software
Wirecast is a product of Telestream. Telestream released Wirecast 13.1.2, the latest version, in April 2020. Some of its main features included an in-app video-chat feature, 8-track audio mixing, performance improvements, and support for NDI IP-based workflows. The newest version of the encoding software, released in 2019, adds a Stock Media Library, Advanced Audio Mixing, QR Code Generator Source, and more.
Updates and new versions are generally available as a free or paid upgrade, depending on the version you originally purchased.
Wirecast is RTMP compatible. This means it is also compatible with most online video platforms. You can install Wirecast on Mac and Windows computers.
A free trial is available, but the full version of the software comes in two versions: Wirecast Studio and Wirecast Pro.
You can purchase Wirecast Studio for $599 and Wirecast Pro for $799.
Wirecast Features Recap:
- Mix multiple sources, including cameras, microphones, graphics, etc.
- Support for capture cards, webcams, IP cameras and more
- Mac and Windows compatible
- Stream to social media platforms as well as OVPs
- NDI support
Check out this video tutorial to see how to set up a live stream with Wirecast
2. vMix Live Streaming Encoding Software
Available for Windows PCs only, vMix provides similar streaming features to Wirecast. For example, vMix supports video sources up to 4K resolution as well as NDI sources. Other sources include video files, DVDs, PowerPoint presentations, and more.
vMix outputs RTMP video for compatibility with most online video platforms, including Dacast. It also supports recording, both locally and via output to professional-grade decks.
Like Wirecast, vMix includes a video call feature for “talk show” style streams. Both include a titling tool for adding graphics, an audio mixer, and more. vMix also offers a “Social” plugin for pulling content from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter into your live streams.
vMix offers six distinct pricing plans. The free version is very basic and only supports 4 inputs and a maximum resolution of 768 x 576. The basic HD version includes support for full HD resolution for $60.
The $150 SD version includes a playlist feature and support for up to 1000 inputs and 4 overlay channels at 768 x 576 resolution. The $350 HD version ads support for 1 caller via vMix video calling and full HD resolution on top of SD version features.
The 4K version adds support for 4K resolution, 2 video callers, instant replay, and Pan-Tilt-Zoom control. It runs at $700. The most inclusive version is $1,200 Pro version adds support for up to 8 video callers and 4-camera instant replay
vMix Features Recap:
- Compatible with Windows (but not iOS)
- Supports multiple file formats
- Simulcasting functions
- Uses FMLE encoder
- Uses specialized codec to minimize latency
It is important to note that vMix licenses do not expire, and they include free updates for one year after the purchase.
Let’s now take a look at another encoding software option, this time a free open source option. OBS Studio is a community-developed, open-source live streaming encoding software application. It’s supported on Mac, Windows, and Linux. This wider range of compatibility can be a big advantage over vMix and Wirecast.
Like both of those apps, OBS Studio streams via RTMP to the OVP of your choice.
OBS Studio supports multiple camera and audio sources, as well as video, audio, and graphic files. It also includes a mixer, video sources, and support for profiles to quickly save and load a particular streaming setup.
OBS Studio is a great choice for beginner streamers who are learning the ropes. Dacast has developed a customized version of OBS Studio that makes it easy to connect the two platforms. To access this version, log in to your Dacast account and click the “Encoder Setup” tab. You’ll find a download link there.
OBS Studio Features Recap:
- Free, open-source and cross-platform
- Community-developed plugins add lots of functionality
- Custom version for Dacast users
- Does NOT support streaming in multiple bitrates
Check out this video tutorial to see how to set up a live stream with OBS encoder using a Mac:
Hardware Encoder Alternatives
While encoding software for live streaming is great for beginner to mid-level broadcasters, there is another way to go: hardware encoders.
The advantage of using a hardware encoder is that they are single-purpose devices dedicated to encoding media streams. This makes them a bit more effective than their software counterparts.
Hardware encoders come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The smallest mounts directly on cameras. These devices allow mobile live streaming by connecting to Wi-Fi and cell networks. The most robust of these models allow you to “bond” multiple cell networks together. This helps to create a stronger internet connection in congested or remote areas.
You can mount larger hardware encoders on racks in broadcast studios. These units are extremely fast and reliable, with a professional-grade price to match.
Let’s take a look at two different hardware encoder options.
1. Teradek Hardware Encoder
The VidiUGO ($1199) and VidiU Pro ($799) encoders are camera-mounted units designed for mobile live streaming from a single camera. These devices both feature HDMI camera inputs and a built-in battery. They stream in up to 1080p full HD resolution, delivering streams via RTMP.
The VidiUGO battery lasts about 2.5 hours, while the Pro lasts two hours. The Pro also includes an SD card slot for internal recording.
The VidiUGO supports internet connections via Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or a single USB cell network modem. The VidiU Pro adds the ability to merge connections from up to four iPhones or other LTE-connected iOS devices via Teradek’s Sharelink cloud service.
The Cube series of encoders take the Vidiu encoder functionality to the next level. In addition to supporting cellular bonding, the Cube series supports the SDI inputs used on professional video cameras.
In fact, the latest Cube 755 encoder ($1,790) offers even more functionality. It supports the H.265 standard for extra video compression at bit rates up to 30 Megabits per second. This device produces professional broadcast quality from a mobile encoder.
Teradek Feature2 Recap:
- Small, portable hardware encoders
- Cellular bonding for true mobile live streaming in HD-quality
- Companion iOS app allows remote configuration and monitoring
- Tools to add scoreboard and graphics in real-time
2. Videon Hardware Encoder
Videon is an audiovisual services company that offers a wide range of products and services, which includes a number of hardware encoders.
Their offerings include the Verastreamer and the Edgecaster. These professional-grade encoders accept the HDMI source. They also deliver highly reliable live streams at up to 4k full HD resolution and 60 frames per second.
Videon Features Recap:
- Very expensive
- Powerful hardware encoder
- Direct integration with Dacast
- High resolution
Shopping around for an encoding software for live streaming can be a daunting task. There are so many great options to choose from with such a wide variety of features. Our best advice for choosing the best encoder is to outline your broadcasting goals and identify which features you need. Determine your budget, and work from there.
Haven’t tested your encoder with Dacast yet? You can start now by signing up for our 30-day free trial (no credit card required). Try out our streaming solutions for yourself, by clicking the button below:
We also welcome questions in the comment section, below, and we will get back to you. For regular tips and exclusive offers for live streaming, feel free to join our LinkedIn group. Thanks for reading and happy broadcasting!
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