What is the best free software for your livestream?

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I quit my job in early 2020. Two months later, the United States went into lockdown and everyone glued to their screens. So like many avid gamers, I started broadcasting on Twitch. After deciding what to stream and when, and getting a webcam, I had to choose my streaming software. When you are starting out as a streamer, your budget, or lack thereof, will be a major factor. And to date, I haven’t felt the need to switch to a paid streaming platform as so much can be accomplished with free options.

After an occasional google search, I first opted for XSplit. The setup process was pretty straightforward, which required a lot of guesswork and finding guides out of the equation. XSplit is probably best known for allowing users to stream content across multiple platforms, such as Twitch, Facebook Gaming, and YouTube. It also offers the ability to change video settings for resolution up to 4k and frames per second well above the standard 60 frames per second.

That said, XSplit requires you to create an account or sign in with an existing social media account. And unless you pay for an XSplit subscription, you will only be able to stream on one platform and the quality levels will be capped at 720p and 30fps.

It’s also important to note that the features differ on each platform. For example, Twitch does not support 4k resolution in streams, whereas YouTube does. Additionally, while XSplit allows higher framerate settings, Twitch, Facebook Gaming, and YouTube all recommend streaming at no more than 60 fps.

When I first started I settled on Twitch and then decided to maximize my potential audience by creating a Facebook page and simultaneously streaming to both sites, but not with XSplit, as streaming to multiple sources is a big deal. premium functionality. Then I qualified for the Twitch Affiliate Program.

Without going too far off topic, I will remind everyone of the importance of reading contracts. One of the stipulations that many streamers miss in the Twitch Affiliate Agreement is that Twitch owns the exclusive rights to each of their streams for 24 hours, which means that everything, including clips, cannot be downloaded or broadcast on another platform. I quickly stopped the double posting on Facebook.

Image: OBS

I have had great success with XSplit. It’s solid software and has received many updates since I first tried it. But, in my search for the best combination of free software options and features, I decided to switch to a different program: Open Broadcaster Software.

Aptly named, OBS is open source, which means advanced users can code their own plugins and casual users can download and use them. It also means that bugs are usually caught and fixed quickly, and it’s usually the first program to receive new updates.

The process of setting up OBS is both easier and more complicated than setting up XSplit. While the initial download and run of the installer works in its favor, OBS requires a lot more tweaking to ensure the best quality delivery to your audience. Manual setup can take a lot of time and research.

On top of that, OBS lacks a chat overlay and customizable themes out of the box. These flow theme overlays need to be downloaded separately and installed manually, which is not very difficult but takes more effort than the other options.

But all is not bad. OBS also has many advantages. Unlike the free version of XSplit, OBS allows live streaming at 1080p and 60fps, taking full advantage of the recommended limits. It’s also less resource-intensive, saving your CPU for more important things like your gaming. OBS also supports cross-platform streaming.

OBS has been good for me, but I never felt like it clicked. The options available to make my feed look the way I wanted were just not available. Instead, my strongest recommendation for free streaming software goes to the Streamlabs platform.

Streamlabs is a business designed for live streamers. Because OBS is open source, users were able to build their own versions on top of it, allowing streamers to choose from all kinds of pre-built tools, like chat monitoring bots and overlays. But that’s not all Streamlabs does. It also has tools to create your community and edit your clips.

Streamlabs alert box shows how to adjust alerts

Image: Streamlabs / Ben Gonzalez for Polygon

The Streamlabs setup process is by far the easiest, taking advantage of Open Broadcaster Software’s plug-and-play approach. The main difference, however, is the built-in optimizer. Rather than having to manually select the best settings for your streaming machine, the optimizer takes care of everything for you.

Where Streamlabs really shines is in its customization options. OBS and Streamlabs both have adjustable user interfaces. Simply click and drag the different information boxes around the window to suit your needs. But Streamlabs makes customizing the layout and design that your audience sees and interacts with is much more convenient.

Streamlabs also has a bunch of free overlays available on their site. Instead of looking for a feed overlay that matches your style and vibe, then uploading it and bothering to integrate it into OBS, you can just install it directly with the click of a button. Remember to keep your hardware limits in mind, as each additional tool running on Streamlabs will consume more power from your CPU.

The way you set up the streaming experience and manage the backend can have a huge impact on your audience’s first impressions and make watching the streaming more enjoyable. Animated backgrounds, chat management bots, and sound alerts create a more engaging experience. And it will take time to organize the perfect mix of immersive and meta features that make your feed unique.

You’ll also want to be comfortable with the settings and fine-tuning the visual and sound effects of your stream. While Streamlabs is clearly the winner of the Big Three Free Options, some companies that offer sponsorship deals will be associated with another company’s platform, such as StreamElements OBS.

(While I was writing this article, controversy erupted around Streamlabs ‘new premium service. While I am in conflict over Streamlabs’ recommendation, I still think their free streaming software is the best choice for them. streamers. I encourage you to dig deeper and assess the options for yourself.)

Whether you’re starting to broadcast as a hobby or want to make it your next career change, live streaming requires some serious groundwork. The best thing to do is to be informed about the pros and cons of each option and choose the one that best suits your streaming needs.


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