We are slowly transitioning to a streaming world. Whether you want to live stream or capture content from the web, the options are unlimited. With the best streaming software, you can stream like the pros although finding the right program is easier said than done.
Our crack team of experts has taken care of the hard part, so you won’t have to dig through thousands of streaming solutions. We found seven of the top options available and have broken them down below so you can spend more time producing content and less time worrying about the webcam software running the show.
With that in mind, there’s no streaming software buying guide, but there are things you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re new. Always consider the system requirements compared to the guts of your current rig. For modern PCs, it shouldn’t be an issue, but it can be a problem for users with an outdated OS or i5 chip.
You’ll also want to consider the quality along with your bandwidth and the number of total inputs. Resolution can range from 720p all the way up to 4,096 x 2,160 otherwise known as 4K. Never assume you’ll get the full range out of the box as you may have to pay extra for higher quality by upgrading to a premium tier.
Best Streaming Software
The Best Free Streaming Software
Open Broadcaster Software is a fine piece of programming that allows you to create perfect content for your broadcasts. That includes folks that simply want to edit a quick clip along with power users that are ready to blast their feed to Twitch, YouTube or Facebook.
This full-featured software can do a bit of everything, and while we won’t say it’s intuitive to use, it is quite capable. The Multiview feature allows you to monitor multiple scenes at once and edit with a click. There are a number of customizable transitions at the ready, and a hotkey for every function. It’s no slouch in the audio department either considering the in-depth editing tools including a mixer with per-source filters like gain and noise gate.
Depending on your prowess with these types of programs, you may have a little trouble setting this one up. That was the main complaint from users as some had difficulty setting up profiles and the number of settings can be overwhelming to some combined with sparse documentation. It’s a program you need to figure out as you go, but one that will not disappoint if you can deal with a few quirks.
OBS is available for Windows, Linux or Mac systems and it won’t cost you a penny. This open source solution is free to download and has a large, active community on hand if you happen to hit a tricky spot or get overwhelmed by the settings. It’s a fantastic program, and arguably the best streaming software for Twitch.
- It’s free!
- Highly customizable
- Works with Linux, Windows, and Macs
- Excellent for live streaming
- Could be overwhelming for beginners
- Missing some editing features
XSplit Broadcaster & Gamecaster
For Game Streamers and Broadcasters
Our top option for the best streaming software comes from XSplit which has two different streaming programs available. Both are geared towards consumers that want to post their passion online whether it’s a few rounds of Fortnite or an in-depth technical teardown.
While both programs share some features, we’re going to start with XSplit Broadcaster. It’s not ideal for beginners that want something easy but is the only way to go for pros or those that need access to third-party plugins. Broadcaster lets you adjust and set everything from the resolution and overlays to custom scenes for your audience. You can pull up technical stats like dropped streams or set keys for security.
On the flipside, Gamecaster is perfect when you want something simple and need to get your stream up on Twitch or YouTube. It automates almost everything, so you can spend more time focusing on the game and your audience and less time tinkering with transitions. It’s ready to roll after installation and works with consoles as well provided you have the proper card for capturing gameplay.
Either way you roll, XSplit has a solution for you, and we’re pleased to say both programs are free to use if somewhat limited. Broadcaster will slap you with a watermark if you exceed certain settings and you can’t use content commercially sans a license. You will get more bells & whistles if you upgrade to a Premium License which is good for both programs along with access to green screen software. Unfortunately, you’ll need to have a Windows-based PC to take advantage of this slick program, so Mac and Linux users are out of luck.
- Chroma key
- Enhanced audio features
- Excellent support
- Not compatible with Mac or Linux
- Limited free version
An Excellent Choice for Beginners
Unless you’re new to the scene, it’s safe to say you’ve probably heard of Streamlabs. Well, the company has shaken things up this year with Streamlabs OBS, another program built to make streaming easy for beginners.
One of the big draws of Streamlabs OBS is the power. According to the company, you can save up to 25% of your processing power through their streamlined system. We didn’t put it to the test, but most users agree that CPU and memory usage is lower compared to similar streaming software. The interface is simplified as well although you still have access to all the features that made the original OBS popular.
This game recording software has everything you need to take your game to Twitch including a mask feature that lets your audience dress you up through donations. There are more themed layouts that you can shake a (joy)stick at, and we’re big fans of any program that’s easy to use. SLOBS certainly falls into that category, which makes it an app we highly recommend checking out.
This one is still a little green compared to other programs on our list, but it’s still an option for the best free streaming software even in its Beta state. At this time, you can only use Streamlabs OBS if you’re running Windows, but we expect that to change in the near future given the current state of the program.
- Optimized x264 settings
- Face masks
- Huge theme library
- Website integration
- No Mac or Linux compatibility
- Still in Beta
Live Stream like the Pros
Wirecast is a program plenty of folks have heard of, but not many have tried. We’ll get to that reason soon enough, but first, we want to talk about what makes this one special and why it may be the last piece of software you ever buy.
Compared to our other picks, Wirecast is a professional program. Telestream has two different versions of Wirecast available as well although both share a common set of features. The software gives you full control over your presentations with things like 3D animated titles, video conferencing and unlimited support for inputs. Like layers? Well, you can use up to 250 with this program it can connect to any service under the sun.
Widgets, playlists, and GPU accelerated coding are all standard features for the Studio and Pro versions of Wirecast, but there are some key differences. The Pro version adds things like multi-track recording and NDI output along with ISO recording from individual sources. It also comes with three “virtual sets” along with Instant Replay and a Live Scoreboards.
We only touched on a handful of features Wirecast brings to the table, but trust us when we say it’s not a tool for beginners. It’s a tool professionals will surely appreciate, however, and while there’s a 30-day trial, both versions are pricey. Both versions are compatible with Windows and the Mac OS, and the Studio version is $695 while Wirecast Pro will set you back $995.
- Multiple-bitrate streaming
- 3D animated titles
- Integration with over 30 platforms
- Virtual sets
- GPU accelerated coding
- System requirements
- It’s expensive
The Best Game Streaming Software
This streaming solution was introducing several years ago, and it’s come a long way in a very short time. The open source GameShow live streaming software is another program that’s perfect for Hitbox, YouTube and Twitch and considerably cheaper than other alternatives.
This program has a unique scene building system which allows for endless combinations through layers. Most users found the learning curve minimal, and the playlist feature adds automation to the mix once you set things up. We’re also fans of the dynamic editing system and its toolset. Green screens are only a click away, and you can adjust all the audio sources from one panel to perfect the sound from your streaming mic and streaming webcam.
Other features to note include a widget system and documents which lets you switch styles with ease when you stream a different game. It’s also lightweight and won’t bog your system down like other streaming software although results will vary depending on the settings and your PC. Gameshow doesn’t have quite as many features as OBS or similar programs, but the price makes it an option if you’re streaming on a budget.
This program is compatible with both Windows and Macs, and while there is a free version, there’s a catch. According to the user guide, the resolution, frame rate, and bitrate are capped, and there’s an annoying watermark if you attempt to overcome those limits. That said, you can unlock the program forever for $29 and get free updates for a year. After that, you’ll need to pay $29 per year for new updates, but the watermark is gone forever.
- Streamlab and Twitter alerts
- OBS transfers
- Custom gaming templates
- Nice price tag
- Limited platform support
- Paid updates
A Free Cloud-based Streaming Solution
Looking for something different that doesn’t require a lot of horsepower or even a download? If the answer is yes, Lightstream Studio may be the solution for you, especially if you long to go live on YouTube, Facebook, Twitch or Mixer.
Cloud gaming is still not quite there yet, but cloud-based services like Lighstream Studio are making waves. The program uses engines in the cloud to handle the encoding which frees up your system’s resources for gaming. The system scans your PC and automatically chooses the best settings which makes setting it up a simple as well. It even monitors your streams for interruptions and adjusts the bitrate accordingly.
You won’t find quite as many features in this free streaming software as you will with paid options, but we’re big fans of their “Guest Star” system. It’s not necessarily something you’ll use for gaming although the ability to conduct a live interview by sending a quick connect link is certainly noteworthy. If you do need to broadcast gameplay with multiple parties, the Lightstream Prism software could be a better fit with 4-way streaming capabilities.
The best live streaming software can come in many forms, and simple is the first word to come to mind with Lightstream Studio. While it’s missing a few things, it is effortless to use, and the mobile remote feature is something you’ll wonder how you ever lived without. For now and the foreseeable future, Lightstream’s streaming software and its updates are completely free.
- Cloud-based system
- Ease of use
- Phone control
- Guest links
- Limited compared to paid alternatives
- Cloud-based systems aren’t for everyone
Streaming Software Built for Professionals
vMix is another high-end piece of streaming software similar to Wirecast. That means you can edit, add transitions or even add guests to your live shows with a few clicks of a mouse. What sets this one apart from the rest is the sheer amount of options along with a quirky pricing system.
What you’ll get from this software depends on how much you’re willing to pay. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as that means there is a price point for everyone whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned streaming pro. The base package is free and allows you to load four inputs with one overlay channel and a max resolution of 768 x 576. There are some other missing features, but it gives you a good idea of what the program can do.
When you’re ready to step up to the big leagues, you’ll get more inputs, overlay channels and features like vMix call, Instant Replay and external or virtual outputs. Need to browse while you work? That’s not a problem with web browser input, and the touchscreen interface lets you control the program remotely from your favorite smartphone or slate. Again, your mileage will vary depending on the package you choose, and there are plenty of options to consider.
There are six tiers of vMix which range from the free Basic software all the way to Pro with a price tag of $1200. Unless you need 4K encoding or external outputs, the HD tier provides plenty of bang for your buck with 1000 inputs, four overlay channel, vMix Call and a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. It may be pricey, but vMix is definitely a contender for the best streaming software depending on your needs.
- Touchscreen web interface
- Pro level tools
- NDI compatibility
- Built-in templates
- The price tag
- System requirements