Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise – the quality of your live stream matters. No one wants to sit through a laggy stream!
Whether you’re a professional broadcaster or an amateur streamer, we’re sure you want to provide the best, high quality audio and video experiences to your viewers. Here’s where a live streaming encoder will help you.
Conversations about live streaming encoders can get pretty complicated so we’re here to explain the key terms and leave you feeling confident about what to look out for when choosing the encoder for your beginner or professional live streaming.
What is a live streaming encoder?
A live streaming encoder refers to hardware or software that converts your raw video content into a digital format so you can stream it on your favorite platforms. The purpose of encoding a video is simply to allow it to be transmitted over the Internet.
If you’re using anything other than a webcam or a mobile phone to capture your video stream, you’ll need a streaming encoder. Converting your video into a digital format makes it readable for different types of devices, such as Android or iOS smartphones, tablets, or laptops.
Whether you choose a hardware or a software encoder is entirely up to you and your budget. They both take raw video files and convert them into digital formats, but hardware encoders tend to be much more expensive.
That’s because hardware encoding devices are solely made for the purpose of video encoding. Whereas software encoders often have other functionalities besides encoding.
So, if you’re an experienced, professional broadcaster, it’s worth investing in a hardware encoder. But if you’re a beginner, put away the extra pennies and opt for a live streaming encoder software instead.
What is a transcoder?
A lot of people think an encoder and transcoder are the same thing, but it’s a common misconception.
A video transcoder is a tool which allows you to convert your video file into a smaller size. Transcoding lets your viewers enjoy your video content no matter how good or bad their internet connection is.
There are tools out there that have both encoding and transcoding capabilities. There are also cloud video transcoders, which unlike the hardware ones, convert and broadcast each live video version that is created, rather than storing multiple versions of the same video.
Let’s throw another term into the mix – codecs.
What is a codec?
When talking about streaming videos, encoding and transcoding, you might come across the term ‘codec‘.
A codec is a device or a computer program that both encodes and decodes your digital video. It’s short for ‘coder-decoder’. The encoder compresses a media file and the decoder decompresses it.
Codecs serve one important purpose, as without them, your video or audio files would take up too much storage space. If media files weren’t compressed, you would also find it difficult to send them over the internet.
There are hundreds of codecs, but the most popular include HEVC (high efficiency video coding), H.264 (for live streaming, Blue-ray and cable TVs) and MP3.
Do you need an encoder for live streaming?
Traditionally, live streaming required the use of specialized encoding software, transforming raw video data into compressed formats suitable for online transmission. However, with the advent of social media platforms and mobile applications, live streaming has become more accessible than ever before. For instance, popular social platforms have simplified the process, allowing users to live stream directly from their smartphones to their profiles without the need to install separate encoding software.
However, for users seeking greater control over their live streaming experience and more advanced features, standalone encoding software remains a powerful choice. Professional software encoders offer a plethora of customizable settings, real-time video effects, and superior video quality, catering to the needs of content creators, businesses, and broadcasters alike. With such encoders, users can fine-tune their video streams, incorporate overlays, integrate interactive elements, and achieve broadcast-quality productions.
Hardware vs. Software Encoders
In the realm of video streaming, broadcasting, and content creation, the process of encoding plays a pivotal role in delivering high-quality visuals to audiences worldwide. However, the encoding landscape is divided into two distinct camps: software encoders and hardware encoders. Each approach brings its own set of advantages and limitations, leading to an ongoing debate among professionals on which is superior. Let’s delve into the key differences between software encoders and hardware encoders to shed light on this encoding dilemma.
Software encoders are applications or programs running on general-purpose computing devices, such as computers or servers. They utilize the processing power of the CPU to convert raw video data into a compressed format, typically using codecs like H.264 or H.265. These encoders excel in versatility and flexibility due to their software-based nature, offering a wide range of encoding options and customizable settings.
- Frequent Updates
- Performance Dependency
- System Resource Consumption
On the other side of the encoding spectrum, hardware encoders are specialized devices designed explicitly for video encoding tasks. These dedicated devices come equipped with dedicated hardware components, such as specialized chips or FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays), optimized to handle the complex computations involved in video compression.
- Dedicated Encoding
- Low Latency
- Power Efficiency
- Standalone Operation
- Limited Customization
- Initial Investment
The decision between software and hardware encoders ultimately boils down to specific use cases, requirements, and budget considerations. Software encoders shine in their flexibility, feature richness, and cost-effectiveness, making them a top choice for content creators, online streamers, and small-scale productions. On the other hand, hardware encoders excel in delivering high-performance, low-latency encoding for large-scale broadcasting, live events, and situations where dedicated encoding devices are indispensable.
How to pick the best live streaming encoder?
Before we dive into our recommendations for the best live streaming encoders, there’s a few elements you need to keep in mind that will help you choose the best one for your needs.
- Budget – Decide how much you’re willing to spend on your encoder. If your budget is big, you might want to go for a hardware encoder. But if you’re looking for something more affordable, a software encoder will do just fine.
- Experience – If you’re at the beginning of your broadcasting or live streaming journey, software encoders are not only less expensive, but also easier to use for basic streaming setups. If, however, you’re an experienced broadcaster, hardware encoders will be the best fit for your advanced streaming setups.
- Video quality – The maximum video quality you aim for will influence your live streaming encoder choice. When doing your research, check if your encoder will let you stream in HD or 4K UHD.
- Compatibility – If you’re going for a software encoder, make sure that it’ll work with your Mac or Windows operating system. Also, check if it’s compatible with your codec and your streaming platform.
The 12 best live streaming video encoder solutions for 2023
Now that you know the key terms associated with encoding, we’re going to dive into and compare eight of the best live streaming video encoder solutions to help you create high quality live video streams for your audiences.
VidBlasterX is a software encoder with a variety of mixing, editing, and video production features. It’s one of the most professional encoding software out there.
It’s got modular based user interface so you can arrange and chain individuals modules together and create your own ideal workflow. The software encoder offers a wide range of features, all of which are customizable.
With VidBlasterX’s user-centric approach, both novices and seasoned professionals can harness the power of its technology to elevate their video production. The software’s intuitive and user-friendly interface makes it easy for anyone to get started, while its robust set of advanced tools and features empowers experienced users to craft intricate and visually stunning content.
VidBlasterX supports overlays and lower thirds, 4K resolutions, and it’s got a handy chroma key (green screen) support.
From live events and virtual presentations to engaging online shows, VidBlasterX stands as a reliable and versatile solution, making it a go-to choice for creators seeking to captivate audiences with immersive and dynamic visual experiences.
- Price: $9/year for Home edition, $99/year for Studio edition, £999/year for Broadcast edition
- OS Compatibility: Windows 7 or higher
- Platform Compatibility: Popular social media platforms including YouTube and Facebook
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, AAC, MP3, AC3, PCM
- Bitrate: Default video bitrate is 200kbps
- Level: Professional
Pros: It’s a very high-performing software encoder which supports 4K video resolution for the best quality videos. It’s got plenty of features and different pricing plans to suit any budget.
Cons: Not compatible with macOS.
2. OBS Studio
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) Studio is a free and open source software for video recording and live streaming. It’s equipped with a powerful API, enabling community-generated plugins and scripts for customization and specific functionality to suit your needs.
OBS Studio’s widespread popularity can be attributed to its versatility and flexibility and as an open-source software, OBS Studio encourages collaboration and innovation. The software’s real-time video and audio capturing capabilities, coupled with the integration of custom transitions and unlimited scenes, empower users to create visually captivating productions that transition greatly between different content elements.
The software enables real-time video/audio capturing and mixing and has unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions. It’s got HLS live streaming, plugins to add NDI functionality, and support for hotkeys.
- Price: Free
- OS Compatibility: macOS, Windows, Ubuntu
- Platform Compatibility: YouTube, Twitch, Facebook Live, and more
- Codec Compatibility: AAC, MP3 and H.264
- Bitrate: Up to 9000kbps
- Level: Entry-level
Pros: It’s free and easy to use. There are detailed wiki and tutorial guides to help you get started, and a large active community that can answer all your questions. It updates frequently.
Cons: OBS Studio doesn’t support multi-bitrate streaming, so your users won’t be given the option to manually select the best video quality to suit their internet network conditions (like 144p, 240p, 480p, 720p, etc.). Looking at the latest TechRadar review, there are also some ‘annoying glitches’.
TriCaster is a premium real-time encoding hardware for advanced live streaming.
With TriCaster’s advanced encoding capabilities, broadcasters can achieve high-quality live streams with low latency, making it an ideal choice for live events, sports broadcasts, conferences, and other professional productions. Moreover, TriCaster’s user-friendly interface and features streamline the entire production process, empowering users to elevate their content and captivate audiences with engaging visuals and seamless multi-camera switching.
There are several products in the TriCaster line, including TriCaster Mini 4K NDI, TriCaster 2 Elite, TriCaster 1 Pro, and more, all of which are useful for broadcasters looking for additional video production support. Deciding which one to pick from the TriCaster family will largely depend on your needs and budget.
- Price: $5,000 – $18,000
- Connectivity: HD-SDI inputs
- OS Compatibility: Windows and MacOs
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, Microsoft Azure, Periscope, Twitch, Ustream, YouTube, and more
- Codec Compatibility: H.264
- Level: Professional
Pros: Auto-archiving for on-demand playback. Good editing tools and real-time graphic processing.
Cons: With price tags between $5,000 and $18,000, TriCaster isn’t the most budget-friendly option. The devices can also be quite bulky.
Wirecast professional live video streaming and production studio software lets you create high-quality live-streaming video in minutes, which is great for YouTube live streaming, live sports streaming, Facebook live streaming, and more.
Wirecast’s built-in animated lower thirds title library adds a professional touch to the stream, providing users with visually appealing graphics and branding elements. Moreover, the encoder’s advanced shot composition capabilities, offering up to 250 overlay layers, give broadcasters unprecedented control over their production, ensuring dynamic and visually-rich live streams.
Whether you’re a seasoned broadcaster or just starting your streaming journey, Wirecast equips you with the tools and flexibility needed to produce polished and immersive live video content..
- Price: $599 for Wirecast Studio, $35/month for Wirecast Pro
- OS Compatibility: Windows 10 or higher and macOS Monterey 12 or higher
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo via RTMP or SRT
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, H.265, MP3, AAC, and more
- Bitrate: Recommended that an upload speed rate of at least double the selected video bitrate be available, especially for a total target bit-rate of 10Mbps or less, or when there are multiple outgoing streams
- Level: Professional
Pros: According to GetApp reviews, it’s great value for money, easy to use, full of useful features and there’s great customer support.
Cons: Takes up a lot of computer memory and requires stable internet connection.
Another high-end live streaming encoder from Teradek is Vidiu Go. With Vidiu Go you can stream over the combined bandwidth from Ethernet, WiFi, and up to two 3G / 4G / LTE modems, or use several iPhone and Android smartphones as hotspots for more bandwidth redundancy.
Designed with the modern broadcaster in mind, Vidiu Go brings a revolutionary approach to live streaming by reducing setup time to a mere 10 seconds. This blazing fast readiness empowers content creators and journalists to respond swiftly to breaking news, sporting events, or any other time-sensitive scenarios, delivering live coverage to audiences across the globe with unparalleled speed and efficiency.
Whether in the midst of a bustling city or on a remote adventure, Vidiu Go equips broadcasters with a compact and portable solution that effortlessly adapts to any environment, capturing and transmitting high-quality live content that keeps viewers engaged and informed, no matter where the action unfolds.
- Price: $990
- Connectivity: SDI and HDMI
- OS Compatibility: Windows and macOs
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch, Vimeo
- Codec Compatibility: H.264 and H.265
- Bitrate: 500kbps to 12Mbps
- Level: Professional
Pros: Low-latency streaming, remote setup, great for broadcasting on-the-go.
Cons: VidiU Go has limited access to Core’s suite of features and can only stream with RTMP/S.
ATEM Mini switchers by Blackmagic Design have built-in live streaming encoders.
Its most popular model – ATEM Mini Pro – has a hardware streaming engine for live streaming via ethernet, or via the USB which also works like a webcam. It has four HDMI video inputs, two video outputs, recording to USB disks, 2D DVE, and green screen chroma key support.
Equipped with four HDMI video inputs, the ATEM Mini Pro empowers users to effortlessly switch between multiple sources, enabling dynamic multi-camera setups for professional-grade broadcasts.
Additionally, the switcher offers two video outputs, catering to both the program feed and a multi-view display for monitoring all video sources simultaneously. The option to record directly to USB disks enhances the switcher’s versatility, allowing users to capture their live productions for later editing or archiving.
- Price: $295 for ATEM Mini Pro
- Connectivity: HDMI and USB 3.0
- OS Compatibility: Mac and Windows computers
- Platform Compatibility: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, YouTube, Facebook Live, Skype, Twitch
- Codec Compatibility: H.264
- Bitrate: Up to 70Mbps
- Level: Mid-level
Pros: 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon for ease of use and value for money. Portable and sleek design.
Cons: It’s a switcher with a built-in hardware encoder which might be overwhelming for beginners.
7. LiveU Solo
LiveU Solo hardware video encoders offer one-touch, wireless live streaming, directly from your camera to popular social media platforms and any web destination. This effortless connectivity means you can instantly engage your audience with real-time coverage of events, breaking news, and compelling stories, making your content stand out in today’s fast-paced digital landscape.
Supporting up to 4K resolution, LiveU Solo ensures that your viewers enjoy a pristine HD video, immersing them in every detail of your live broadcasts. Additionally, the bonded 4G/5G streaming capability guarantees a robust and stable connection, even in areas with challenging cellular networks.
LiveU Solo uses the same bonding technology deployed by global broadcasters (think World Cup and the Olympics!) which allows you to combine multiple IP connections (cellular, WiFi and Ethernet), ensuring bandwidth consistency across the most challenging cellular networks.
- Price: Starting at $995
- Connectivity: HDMI/SDI inputs
- OS Compatibility: Windows and macOS
- Platform Compatibility: Any leading social media platform and webpage, including Ustream.tv, Amazon Live, Twitch, Facebook Live, and more
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, HEVC
- Bitrate: Up to 20Mbps
- Level: Professional
Pros: Robust remote streaming and compatibility with all major platforms and websites. Great for teams and individuals.
Cons: Lack of customization. Some features require hardware upgrades.
vMix is an all-in-one live video production software solution with features including live mixing, switching, recording and live streaming of SD, full HD and 4K video sources including cameras, video files, DVDs, images, and PowerPoint.
vMix can be used in large scale multi-camera events or simple one person webcam productions.
It’s got full NDI capabilities, chroma key support, 13 transition effects, and 100+ built-in animated titles, scoreboards and tickers.
The integration of full NDI capabilities in vMix allows for effortless network-based video input and output, facilitating seamless integration with NDI-compatible devices and systems. This enables users to access and utilize video sources from multiple locations, enriching their live streams with diverse perspectives and enhancing collaboration across remote teams.
vMix’s chroma key support enables content creators to effortlessly incorporate green screen technology, opening up a world of creative possibilities and virtual set designs.
- Price: $60 for Basic HD, $350 for HD, $700 for 4K, $1200 for PRO. Subscription license MAX for $50/month. There is a free 60-day fully functional trial.
- OS Compatibility: Windows 10 or higher
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Ustream.tv and many more
- Codec Compatibility: AVI, MP4, H264, MPEG-2, WMV, MOV and MXF
- Bitrate: Default bitrate is 128kbps
- Level: Professional
Pros: vMix has got a wide range of features and plans to suit any budget. Supports multi-bitrate streaming. Easy to connect to streaming setups.
Cons: Not compatible with mac or Ubuntu.
XSplit Broadcaster is a live streaming encoder software designed for both beginners and experienced streamers. It offers a range of features to produce quality live streams and recordings for various platforms.
XSplit Broadcaster supports numerous plugins and integration and enables simultaneous streaming to platforms like Twitch, YouTube, Facebook Live, and others, saving time and effort for multi-platform streamers. Apart from live streaming, It offers sturdy recording capabilities, convenient for creating on-demand content.
- Price: Free version, $200 for Premium
- OS Compatibility: Windows 7 or higher
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitter, LinkedIn
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, AAC, VP8, VP9 and more
- Level: Entry-level to Professional
Pros: User-friendly Interface, multiple plugin and platform support and scene management.
Cons: Resource intensive and the free version comes only with basic features.
10. Niagara Video
Niagara Video offers a range of key features that cater to an array of streaming needs. With hardware encoding options, users can choose the most suitable solution for their requirements.
The live event streaming capability ensures that users can broadcast content in real-time, while the portability of the system enhances convenience for on-the-go streaming endeavors. With compatibility for both analog and digital inputs, Niagara Video can integrate with a range of devices and sources. Moreover, the support for NTSC/PAL ensures global compatibility.
- Price: Must contact company for product prices
- OS Compatibility: Depends on each model
- Platform Compatibility: YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Vimeo Live, DailyMotion, LinkedIn
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, H.265, AAC, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, AV1 and more
- Bitrate: Streaming only – up to 12000 Kbps; record and stream – up to 6000 Kbps, depending on the resolution and frame rate
- Level: Professional
Pros: A range of encoding tools available, functionalities to cater to various streaming requirements, professional-grade equipment and simultaneous streaming of multiple formats and resolutions.
Cons: Complexity in handling smaller productions, lack of pricing transparency and some high-tech features might be hard to navigate.
Resi is an end-to-end live streaming platform, boasting an array of streaming tools to cater to diverse broadcasting needs. Among its arsenal of offerings are both hardware and software encoding tools, enabling broadcasters to commence their live streaming journey.
Resi provides hardware encoders designed to encode video and audio signals in real-time. These dedicated devices boast specialized hardware components, optimized to ensure efficient and high-quality video encoding. Suitable for professional-grade streaming applications, live events, and broadcasting scenarios, these hardware encoders deliver a good performance and reliability.
In addition to its hardware offerings, Resi also offers software-based video encoders. These applications leverage the processing power of computers or servers to handle video compression and streaming tasks. The software encoders from Resi can be utilized on a range of devices, including PCs, laptops and cloud-based servers.
- Price: Starting from $1200
- OS Compatibility: The hardware encoders work only with the company’s software
- Platform Compatibility: YouTube Live, Facebook Live, Twitch, Vimeo Live, DailyMotion
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, H.265, VP9, MP3, Opus
- Level: Professional
Pros: Works well with unstable internet connection, reliable customer support, wide range of functionalities.
Cons: Can only be used with Resi software, expensive and the initial set-up can be difficult.
Matrox, a streaming technology company, offers a variety of live streaming video source encoder options. These hardware encoders support professional streaming setups, having features such as 4K encoding and decoding using the H.264 codec, low-latency encoding, live stream recording, HDMI inputs and compatibility with up to six streaming protocols.
In addition to its impressive hardware encoders, Matrox also provides a range of versatile software solutions that cater to different streaming needs. Users can leverage real-time analytics and monitoring tools to track their stream’s performance, enabling them to make informed adjustments on the fly. The software’s adaptive bitrate streaming technology ensures that viewers receive the best possible quality, regardless of their internet connection, while its intuitive interface simplifies the streaming setup process for both novices and seasoned professionals.
- Price: Must inquire a verified Matrox distributor for price points
- OS Compatibility: Windows and Mac
- Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube Live, Twitch, Vimeo Live, DailyMotion
- Codec Compatibility: H.264, H.265, MPEG-2, AAC, MP3, Opus
- Bitrate: Stream at bitrates up to 20 Mbps or record at bitrates as high as 30 Mpbs
- Level: Professional
Pros: Reliable performance, low-latency encoding, hardware and software options.
Cons: No price transparency, a steep learning curve, codec limitations, hardware requirements.
Get ready to live stream!
Let’s be honest, live streaming encoders are essential to help you deal with frustrating issues like lagging, never-ending buffering and poor video/audio quality.
As you can see, there are many software and hardware encoders out there, but we hope our quick comparison of the eight best ones will now make your decision easier. Keep in mind your unique requirements, including budget and compatibility with your preferred streaming platform when choosing the right live streaming encoder for you.
Feel free to get in touch with one of our team to chat through how we can help you improve your live streaming workflows.
Now… lights, camera, and action!