Live streaming is the broadcasting of an event, such as a concert, live film or video chat. It is often called webcasting, especially for events that allow viewer comments to be factored in. Live streaming usually refers to Internet-based distribution, though the term is also commonly used for forms of broadcasting that have traditionally been based on terrestrial television or radio waves.
Live streaming has become the new trend for sharing video content online. And more and more people and organizations would like to try live streaming and want to know what live streaming software they should use. This post aims to help you find the best free live streaming software for Windows, Mac, and Android with a clear comparison chart.
The main characteristics of live streaming software to consider
Most popular streaming software options have a few things in common. For example, you would have to look very hard to find a solution with no support for H.264 encoding, the most widespread video encoding standard in use today.
But there’s a lot that sets different streaming solutions apart. If you’re adamant about finding the best streaming software, look for a few main characteristics, such as:
- Possible compatibility issues. Most stream ingestion happens over RTMP, or the Real Time Multimedia Protocol. You’ll be able to use most live streaming software with social networks and streaming websites. But if you’re using alternative content delivery networks, check the streaming software for server ingest compatibility issues.
- Advanced or additional features. Live-streaming software comes in tiers, with different levels of complexity and features. You might fall in love with a solution only to learn that it doesn’t meet your needs. Scope these features out before committing to one software.
- Pricing. Some streaming software is freeware. In fact, the most popular solutions are available for no charge at all. Keep in mind, however, that some for-pay improvements in quality can go a long way in making your live stream more appealing.
Built by Telestream, the Wirecast live broadcasting software enables live streaming to any RTMP destination. This software also supports recording streams locally.
Wirecast software is compatible with a wide range of capture cards, devices, and camera inputs. This encoding option includes live switching, picture-in-picture composition, titles, audio delay, and other similar features.
If you need to use pre-recorded video within your live broadcast, Wirecast makes this aspect easy, as well.
Wirecast supports a range of other technologies, including:
- Support for multiple video capture and live inputs simultaneously (USB, Capture Card, NDI, Wirecast Go, Webstream IP sources)
- GPU-accelerated encoding
- Pro Audio FX Built In
- RTMP, RTP multi+unicast
- Multi-channel audio ingest
Wirecast is compatible with both macOS and Windows.
- Easy-to-use, user-friendly platform
- Compatible with most popular operating systems
- Fully loaded with valuable features
- Green screen
- Instant replay
- High price point
- Many features locked in the “Studio” version
- Consumes a lot of computer memory
vMix is a highly powerful encoder and was developed by StudioCoast. The latest version of the Windows-specific software is 18.104.22.168 and includes an upgrade to a free 60 day trial of vMix PRO for download. While vMix 24 is for Windows only, the software can be installed on a Mac via Boot Camp if the machine has a Windows partition. Like Wirecast, vMix software supports a wide range of inputs. These include:
- Video cameras (supported capture cards) at up to 4K resolution
- NDI: send and receive HD low latency video and audio
- Video Files: AVI, MP4, H264, MPEG-2, WMV, MOV and MXF
- Audio Files: MP3 and WAV
- Web Browser, RTSP, PowerPoint, Photos, Solid Colour, and more.
- Webcams, DVDs, playlists, PowerPoint, and other sources
vMix includes native support for multi-bitrate streaming, which is very useful for professional broadcasters who highly value user experience.
Additionally, this software supports the Network Device Interface (NDI). NDI sends your secure video upload over gigabit ethernet networks and green screens.
vMix also includes a built-in titling tool that includes animation support. Additionally, it offers an instant replay and slow-motion feature.
vMix is only available for Windows PCs. However, it is possible to run it on a Mac using a certain technique. While vMix cannot be installed directly on OSX, the solution when using a Mac is to install it on Windows via Boot Camp.
- Some limitations on compatibility
- Plans for every budget
- 60-day risk-free trial
- Users rave about switcher functions
- Streams in relatively low bitrate
- Some “bugginess” (which users suggest could be fixed with software update)
Next up on our list of video streaming software is VidBlasterX, an RTMP-enabled live video production software. VidBlasterX enables streaming to most streaming platforms including Dacast. The input support and other features on VidBlasterX are similar to Wirecast and vMix.
For studio users, VidBlasterX supports:
- Video routing
- Recording streams to local disks
- Displaying outputs on a monitor of your choice
- Outputting to a Blackmagic DeckLink video card
VidBlasterX utilizes a unique modular design. For example, broadcasters can add each feature via a “module.” You can then add, rearrange and remove these at your discretion.
VidBlasterX is compatible with the Windows operating system.
- Has plans for a wide range of budgets
- Easily customizable
- Not compatible with macOS
- Not well-suited for inexperienced live streamers
- Slightly complex
The Open Broadcaster Software Studio is like a gateway software for those new to live streaming. It’s free and compatible with a variety of platforms, including Windows, Mac, and Linux. You can also customize OBS as much as you like.
On the downside, OBS Studio is open-source, which means it offers no official support. There is a large and engaged community that can help you out instead, but that’s not the best solution for everyone.
The Streamlabs version of OBS, also known as SLOBS, performs like a more user-friendly version of OBS Studio. SLOBS is also free, offers support, and comes with features that make it especially attractive to gaming streamers.
But not everything’s gravy in the SLOBS camp. For example, the platform you want to stream to may not come with native support in SLOBS. Also, be prepared for the occasional bug.
As you progress towards professional, high-end live streaming software solutions, XSplit is a common steppingstone. It’s easy to use, comes in basic (free) and premium versions, and offers decent support and the occasional feature update. You can also use third-party apps and plugins with it.
Even though XSplit is easy to use, you will need to have some knowledge about encoding, because it doesn’t come with presets. You can forget about using it on Mac or Linux systems, and you have to shell out some serious cash for the paid version to avoid watermarks and locked features.
If you have a GeForce graphics card, Nvidia Shadowplay is bundled along with the drivers. It has a major advantage over most streaming software: it encodes in the GPU rather than the CPU, meaning it has negligible impact on performance, but it’s far less flexible than OBS Studio. There are no overlays or multi-sources scenes – just the game itself.
If you’re only interested in streaming gameplay then Nvidia Shadowplay will get the job done, but if you want to create something more sophisticated then you’ll be better off with OBS – particularly since you can set OBS to use Nvidia’s NVENC encoding.
Shadowplay’s video recording and screengrab tools are excellent, but streaming isn’t its strongest suit.
Live streaming is a form of real-time broadcasting over the internet using mediums such as a website or applications on mobile devices. With that in mind, it’s obvious why you want to choose the best software for live streaming when contemplating this option for your marketing campaign.