For many B2C broadcasters, software encoders suffice. However, as a professional broadcaster, it is important to consider using RTMP. RTMP is a video streaming protocol that makes high-quality live streaming possible.
Today we’re going to dive into one of the more complicated live streaming topics: RTMP encoding.
Let’s discuss how video transcoding fits into a live video streaming workflow and how to configure an RTMP encoder and connect it to a live streaming platform. We’ll also review some of the top video streaming protocols and the most popular RTMP-enabled encoding software on the market.
This post has been updated to reflect the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding new features in the lastest versions of RTMP-enabled encoders released as of April 2021.
Table of Contents
- What is an Encoder?
- Hardware vs. Software Encoders
- What is RTMP Streaming?
- What is RTMP Ingest and Why Is It Important?
- Common Video Streaming Protocols
- Configuring Your RTMP Encoder
- Popular RTMP Encoders for Live Video Streaming
What is an Encoder?
A live video encoder is a tool that converts a video from the RAW format to the digital format. On one end, video footage from a camera is fed to the encoder. This footage is converted into a different format in real-time. The purpose of the conversion is to prepare the video to be broadcasted over the internet.
You can use either a hardware encoder or a software encoder. Each comes with a set of benefits and drawbacks.
Hardware vs. Software Encoders
There are two types of encoders: hardware and software. A software encoder is a program that works with your online video platform. It uses your computer’s processing power to encode and deliver the video.
A hardware encoder is a dedicated device. They come in various forms. Some are small and suited for mounting on a camera. Others are backpack-mounted or rack-mounted for use in studios or broadcast vehicles.
Hardware encoders are typically considered superior to their software counterparts because they produce a higher quality stream. However, hardware encoders are typically a much larger investment than software encoders.
Depending on the type of broadcasting you are doing, the investment in the hardware may be worth it. Since there is encoding software available for under $100, it is worth testing them out if you’re not sure whether or not you’re ready to make the investment.
What is RTMP Streaming?
RTMP streaming is a method of streaming that is different from its predecessors in the sense that it maintains constant contact between the RTMP video player and the RTMP server. This constant contact makes an RTMP live stream very robust and reliable. It is also possible to live stream on mobile devices via RTMP ingestion to HLS.
For many years, Flash Player and RTMP worked hand-in-hand to produce ultra-low latency live streams.
Many consider RTMP streaming outdated since it was so closely intertwined with the Flash Player technology, which is completely dead in terms of OTT streaming today. However, the RTMP live stream technology lives on via RTMP-enabled encoders.
What is RTMP Ingest and Why Is It Important?
RTMP ingest is the technology that transmits the video files from the encoder to the online video platform. RTMP ingest requires the use of a compatible encoder, but fortunately, most of the top encoders on the market use this technology.
RTMP ingest involves three phases: the handshake, the connection, and the stream.
This process is highly technical, and broadcasters who use an online video platform generally do not need to worry about what goes on behind the scenes. However, understanding how RTMP ingest works may help you understand the importance of choosing a capable encoder.
Common Video Streaming Protocols
Now that you have a better idea of the purpose of RTMP video streaming encoders, let’s do a quick comparison of the most common video streaming protocols.
RTMP Streaming Protocol
Most encoders use the RTMP stream format. RTMP stands for Real-Time Messaging Protocol. RTMP streaming is a delivery method designed for live streaming. It’s not a codec, but an RTMP protocol commonly uses the H.264 codec. Simply put, the purpose of a live streaming encoder is to encode video feeds into RTMP or another live streaming protocol and send them out to an RTMP streaming server.
The RTMP protocol is no longer commonly used to deliver streams to viewers. Most often, a modern option like the HLS streaming protocol is preferred. Since RTMP is still the standard for delivering your streams to your online video platform, the two work together to make the magic of live streaming possible.
To put things into perspective, your video follows this path:
- Recorded by an RTMP-enabled IP camera
- Fed to RTMP encoder and prepared for delivery using the Real-time messaging protocol
- Sent to your online video platform
- Prepared for delivery to viewers using the HLS protocol
- Sent to viewers
This path is traveled almost instantaneously. RTMP and HLS rely on one another to bring your live stream to your audience.
HLS Streaming Protocol
HLS stands for “HTTP Live Streaming.” It is a streaming protocol that was originally designed and used by Apple. HLS is actually responsible for the phasing out of Quicktime.
HLS works by chopping up videos into smaller clips to make them easier to transmit over the internet.
Although it is praised for its compatibility, HLS has about 15-30 seconds of latency.
RTSP Streaming Protocol
RTSP, also known as Real-Time Streaming Protocol, is a lesser-known protocol for streaming video online.
This protocol was designed to control the streaming servers used in entertainment and communications systems. RTSP servers sit between the live stream and the viewer, issuing “play,” “pause” and “record” commands.
When the RTSP controls the server-to-client connection, video-on-demand streams are used; when it controls the client-to-server connection, RTSP utilizes voice recording streams.
RTMP vs. RTSP
RTMP and RTSP are both streaming protocols, meaning they are sets of rules that govern how data travels from one system of communication to another. If the video data you’re trying to send to your viewers is a car, then the streaming protocol is the roads that the car takes to get from one place to another.
Choosing between RTMP vs RTSP streaming protocols greatly depends on your individual business needs and how many extra steps you are willing to take to make your content playable on your website.
RTMP vs HLS
As we mentioned, RTMP and HLS work together to bring streams to life. They have complementary functions.
RTMP transmits the video from the encoder to the online video platform.
HLS transmits the video from the online video platform to the viewers’ devices.
Configuring Your RTMP Encoder in 6 Steps
In order to prepare for a smooth live stream, you have to make sure all of your RTMP settings are properly configured.
Here is a 6-step walkthrough for configuring your RTMP-enabled encoder.
1. Connect Your Video Sources
The first step is to connect your video sources. The method that you use to do this differs depending on whether you’re using RTMP encoder hardware or a software encoder.
If you’re using RTMP encoder hardware, the method is simple. Generally, hardware encoders have dedicated cable inputs for video cameras. These may include SDI inputs as well as HDMI. Additionally, some encoders support cameras via wifi. Generally, these systems are plug-and-play.
The method for connecting cameras to software encoders may be a little more complex. Generally, this involves installing a “capture card” on a desktop computer. Laptops and other devices can use external capture cards that often attach via USB.
Once your camera is physically connected to the encoder, it should be auto-detected. You can select it from a dropdown menu of “inputs.”
2. Create a New Live Channel and Connect Your OVP
The next step is creating a new live channel. This actually occurs via your online video platform.
To complete this step with Dacast, follow these steps:
- Log into your account.
- Click “Live Channels” in the left-hand sidebar.
- Click the orange “Create” button in the upper right.
- Enter a title for your new live channel, then click “Add New.”
- Click the “Encoder Setup” tab in the top-center of the screen
- This tab shows three simple setup steps. The first step involves selecting a publishing point (optional) and selecting a bitrate, resolution, and aspect ratio (also optional). The settings you select in your encoder will override these settings.
- The second step allows you to select an encoder. Select the option that matches the encoder you’re using, or select “other RTMP encoder.”
- Finally, on the right side of the window, a dialogue box will appear with a stream URL, a login, and a password. Leave this window open.
After your new live channel is created, you’ll need to link your encoder to Dacast. This involves navigating your encoder settings, usually labeled something like “Broadcast Settings” or “Output.” Enter your Dacast stream URL, username, and password here. Your encoder is now connected to your online video platform.
3. Select Video and Audio Encoding Options
The next step is to select your video and audio settings. First, select a resolution, such as 1920 x 1080 (full HD) or 720 x 480 (standard definition). In this step, you’ll also select a bitrate and a codec. It’s most common to use H.264 video compression, or advanced video coding (AVC) for video, and AAC for audio.
For more on setting up your encoder and choosing the best settings, check out our walkthrough guide. To skip ahead and access the live encoder configuration settings, check out our recommended live encoder settings.
4. Get an Embed Code
At this point, we recommend that you carry out a brief test stream. A test stream begins with embedding a video player on your website. Since this is just a test, you may wish to use a private webpage.
The exact method for embedding live streaming video to your website depends on the online video platform you’re using. If you’re using Dacast, we provide simple embed codes that can be pasted into any website to display your video.
5. Conduct a Test Stream
Now, you’re ready to begin a test stream. Head to the Dacast back office and hit the toggle to turn your live channel “On.” Turn on your cameras and start recording. Since this is a test, it doesn’t matter what you’re streaming. Begin your live stream from the RTMP-enabled encoder you’re using to stream.
Visit the web page you embedded your video player on and take a look at how the stream is working. Test it out with both a desktop computer and a mobile device.
If you’re having problems here, you’ll need to do some live stream troubleshooting. Troubleshooting can be frustrating, so try to be as systematic as possible. Check every link in the system. Ensure that cables are connected and that settings are correct. If you need more help, consider contacting Dacast technical support.
6. Start Streaming
You’ve now fully configured your RTMP-enabled encoder and are ready to begin live streaming. Feel free to now copy your video player over to whatever web page or site you plan to stream on.
You are now ready to begin your live stream.
Popular RTMP Encoders for Live Video Streaming
Let’s go over some of the more popular RTMP encoders on the market. If you’re in the market for an RTMP-enabled encoder for live streaming, this breakdown can help you narrow down your options and so you don’t have to shop around.
1. OBS Studio
OBS Studio, previously known as Open Broadcaster Studio, is an open-source platform with encoding capabilities. This is a software encoder and our article is based on the latest version of the classic OBS Studio Version 26.1.1 released on January 11, 2021, for free download. This professional video streaming and broadcasting software are available for both macOS and Windows operating systems.
OBS Studio offers many great features for new broadcasters who are just getting the hang of live streaming. The software has a set of OBS-specific settings and system requirements to ensure the most optimal live broadcasting experience.
OBS Studio comes with a variety of recording and encoding tools, including audio and video mixing, multiple integration options, and an easy-to-use interface. Other key features include:
- 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.
- Free to use
- Works with most OVPs
- Works with Windows 8, 8.1, and 10; macOS 10.12+; as well as Linux
- Is open-source for ongoing development and crowdsourced improvements
- Great for beginners
- Lack of detailed guidance and support
- Very basic compatibility with macOS
- Very taxing on CPU and memory
OBS Studio is free to use for everyone and has a working integration with Dacast.
Best Use Case:
OBS Studio is best used as an encoding software along with a professional online video platform.
Wirecast is a live video streaming tool with encoding capabilities. It is owned and operated by Telestream, which has been around since 2004, but their video production tools have been around since 1998. The team at Telestream recently released the latest Wirecast on January 25, 2021. It is the newest full version is the 14.1 update.
Wire cast is a software video switcher that controls real-time switching between several video sources.
It is used for encoding and mixing professional broadcasts.
- Input sources from cameras, mics, webcams, IP cameras, capture cards, and desktops
- Ideal for sports: instant replay, scoreboards, clocks, and timers
- The free wireless camera app allows you to use any iOS device as a video source
- NDI support
- Graphics and titling tool
- Audio mixer and up to 8 audio tracks
- Built-in video conference tool
- Stream to more than one destination simultaneously
- Support for MIDI hardware controllers
- Stream and record simultaneously, with re-stream and live captions options
- Multi-service broadcasting
- Works on both Windows and macOS
- 3D graphics
- Simulcasting capabilities
- Update: brand new features in Version 14.1 include:
- New Luma Key and Color Key
- Precision Chroma Key Settings
- Improved Ability to Size and Scale Sources, as well as Source Connections
- Free Stock Media Library
- Improved Shot Bin and Layers
- Facebook Streaming Updates
- NDI PTZ Camera Controls (Pro Version Only)
- Jam-packed with advanced features
- Compatible with both Mac and Windows
- Great customer support
- Regular system updates
- High price point
- Slightly complicated
Wirecast has two encoding plans, and the software comes in two versions:
- Wirecast Studio for enhanced live production & streaming: pricing is $599
- Wirecast Pro for advanced live production and streaming: pricing is $799
This is a bit expensive for encoding software, but it is geared towards advanced streamers. They offer a free 30-day trial if you want to try before you buy.
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
Best Use Case:
Wirecast Studio is best suited for advanced, professional broadcasters who intend on operating elaborate live streams.
VidBlasterX is a live streaming software encoder that focuses on video production. VidblasterX is no longer free and relies on a subscription-based local installation to distribute its software. The latest edition is the X, or the 5th version of the solution, and has 3 editions: Home, Studio, and Broadcast. Each edition comes with more features than its lower-tiered version, and the biggest difference between them is in the number of modules allowed in a single profile: Home supports up to 7 modules, Studio supports up to 25, and the top tier Broadcast edition supports up to 50.
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
- Free version
- Plans for every budget
- Supports multiple streams
- Easy setup
- Audio mixing and video editing
- Branding limitations on the free version
- Only works on Windows OS
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.
Best Use Case:
VidBlaster has a wide range of best uses since it has such a variety of plans, but the encoding tools are at the core. It works well with professional OVPs such as Dacast. Here is a tutorial on how to stream on Dacast with VidBlasterX.
vMix is a streaming software tool with encoding capabilities that was designed for Windows operating systems. vMix was developed by StudioCoast. The latest version of the Windows-specific software is 22.214.171.124 and includes an upgrade to a free 60 day trial of vMix PRO for download. While vMix is for Windows only, the software can be installed on a Mac via Boot Camp if the machine has a Windows partition.
vMix offers an array of video streaming tool plans. They offer a wide range of features at different price points, so there are options for broadcasters of every level of expertise. vMix offers powerful encoding services.
- 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 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
- Many powerful features
- Reliable customer support
- Professional platform
- Added speed for specialized codecs
- A high price point for most inclusive plans
- Only works with Windows
- A bit tricky to use
vMix is available for Windows computers only, and it comes in five different editions. Each purchase never expires, and all editions include free updates for a year. The versions are:
- 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
Best Use Case
vMix is best used as an encoding tool alongside a professional online video platform.
TriCaster offers high-end RTMP encoder hardware from NewTek for advanced broadcasters. It has a wide range of capabilities that extend beyond encoding. Since this is a hardware solution, there are no trackable online download versions or editions. That said, TriCaster has 4 core products: Mini 4K, TC410 Plus, TC1, and the flagship 2 Elite.
The TriCaster encoding tools are designed to aid broadcasters in live streaming by encoding in real-time.
- Expensive hardware
- Built-in mixing tools
- Real-time encoding
- Recording capabilities
- Can process moving graphics
- Record to DDR
- High price tag
- Requires additional paid tools to use
- Complicated setup
- Very heavy (some devices over 20 pounds)
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
Best Use Case
Tricaster’s encoding devices are best suited for advanced, professional broadcasters.
TeraDek is a physical encoding tool that was built for mobile broadcasting. It is most commonly used by advanced, professional broadcasters due to its elevated price point. Its functionality and convenient design make it worth the hefty investment. Like TriCaster, TeraDek is a hardware encoder with a variety of products but features CORE 2.0, which is a cloud-based streaming management platform designed to update and support live streaming capabilities to their product line. The service runs on cloud technology, allowing users from anywhere in the world to access the platform through TeraDek hardware products.
TeraDek RTMP encoder hardware was built to encode on the go. There are 4 core products: Bolt 4K, TeraDek RT, VidiU Go, and Cube. Its compact designs and portable chassis allow broadcasters to stream beyond the studio.
- Small enough to film and encode on the go
- Product support and updates through CORE
- Phenomenal video quality
- A bit expensive
- Built for live streaming
- Top-of-the-line video quality
- Portable chassis
- Compact design
- A very high price point
Teradek offers a wide range of encoding devices for professional broadcasting. Some of their top products include:
- Bolt: A very powerful compact solution for on the go 4K HD cinema-quality video with zero latency
- Vidiu Go: Live streaming encoder that can be used for broadcasting on the go
- Bond: Backpack encoder for broadcasting on the go
- Prism: 4K encoding and decoding device
- Cube: Designed to support IP video
- Ranger: Encoder for wireless connection to OVP from television-grade capture equipment
Teradek’s encoding tools start at $1,490 for Vidiu Go, $1,790 for CUBE, $2,490 for the Bolt 4K LT, and $3,499.95 for the CTRL.3 version of TeraDek RT.
Best Use Case:
TeraDek is best suited for advanced, professional broadcasters.
7. Niagara Video
Niagara Video offers nearly 20 different RTMP encoder hardware and software options for broadcasters of different levels of expertise. Niagara Video has been serving the broadcasting community for nearly 20 years and they are considered a “trailblazer and innovator” in their industry. The company offers both hardware and software solutions, focusing on verticals including sports broadcasting, enterprise and corporate, churches and houses of worship, government, education, and more.
Niagara’s encoding tools are designed to encode and transcode video content.
- A wide variety of encoding tools to choose from
- Many hardware and software encoding choices
- No Pricing transparency
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.
- 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.
- Finally, 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.
Niagara has many products, and it would be best to please contact Niagara directly for pricing on their products and solutions as their pricing is not transparent. 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.
Best Use Case
Since Niagara offers a wide variety of products and solutions, there is not one single best use. However, the primary function of their products is to encode and transcode live video content.
There’s so much to know about video encoding. From RTMP and HLS to recording devices and OVPs, there really are so many moving parts involved in live streaming.
Configuring an RTMP encoder requires many steps, but it doesn’t have to be confusing or complicated. While it can be overwhelming and if it’s your first time streaming, the process becomes pretty straightforward with a little bit of direction.
Luckily, there are so many wonderful encoding tools on the market, so you’ll have no problem finding one with the features that best suit your streaming needs.
If you are looking for an end-to-end live streaming video platform to host your live streams, look no further. Interested in giving our streaming solutions a try? Why not take advantage of our free 30-day trial (no credit card required). You can test all the Dacast features for yourself to see if it’s a good fit for you!
Any questions? Let us know by leaving a comment below! We have experience with most kinds of live video streaming encoders, so we can probably help no matter what issues you’re experiencing. For exclusive offers and regular live streaming tips, join our LinkedIn group.
Thanks for reading and happy streaming!