Thanks to the advent of technology over this past decade, live streaming is now easier and more popular than ever.
According to research, live streaming grew by 99% in just the last year alone!
By 2025, the global enterprise video market is estimated to reach $25.6 billion.
These insane growth rates make it clear that the video streaming industry offers massive opportunities for businesses and individuals who want to incorporate professional broadcasting into their businesses.
But, with countless live streaming software options out there, how do you choose the best streaming software for you?
To help you answer that question, read on to discover the 10 best streaming software platforms for 2021.
Hint: If you have already chosen a streaming platform, click here to learn what equipment you’ll need.
- What is the Best Streaming Software?
- What Features to Look For in Streaming Software
- How Does Streaming Software Work?
- What Equipment Do I Need to Live Stream?
- How to Live Stream (An Overview)
- Best Streaming Software FAQ
What is the Best Streaming Software?
Whether you are a content creator who wants to try live streaming for the first time or a business owner whose main source of income is live streams, there’s a suitable solution for you.
Read through this list to discover which of these 10 top streaming software options is ideal for you.
The best open-source streaming software for recording and live streaming (Free).
OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is my top pick for live streaming software. It’s free – but don’t let that fool you.
This is an extremely powerful tool that allows you to live stream to YouTube, Twitch, DailyMotion, Hitbox, and many other sites.
Thanks to its easy-to-use interface, this tool can be used by beginners. But, it’s also perfect for advanced users who want high levels of customizability and don’t mind setting everything up from scratch.
You can use OBS on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. With it, you can capture sources such as whole screens, screen regions, webcams, direct game capture, etc.
- Extremely Flexible: OBS has a ton of features and capabilities that are hard to beat, even when compared to some paid software.
- Hotkeys: You can set up hotkeys for virtually every action, such as starting or ending a stream, muting audio, and switching between scenes.
- Studio Mode: This feature allows you to instantly preview scenes and sources for any last-minute adjustments.
Pros of OBS Studio:
- Free and open source
- Easy to use
- Tons of online tutorials and guides
- Lightweight with low CPU usage
- Extremely customizable
You can download and use OBS Studio for free.
Get Started With OBS Studio
Flexible platform for live streaming real-time and recorded videos (Starts from Free).
OneStream is among the best platforms for streaming live and pre-recorded videos.
With this software, you can publish to over 40 social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Steam, Instagram, Periscope, and Twitch.
You can easily schedule pre-recorded streams on social media up to 60 days in advance. Simply upload the file, choose a date and time, and then select the streaming destination.
When streaming live, you can couple this platform with a variety of other streaming tools. Configuration is easy and can start multicasting in no time.
- Embed Player: Embed live streams so you can reach wider audiences with ease.
- Playlist Streaming: Queue recorded videos and schedule them to go live in any order you choose.
- Custom RTMP Streaming: Use server URL and stream key to stream to your own custom destination.
Pros of OneStream:
- Social media streaming to 40+ networks
- Schedule pre-recorded streaming up to 60 days in advance
- Use streaming tools like Zoom for real-time multi-streaming
- Add subtitles and captions to pre-recorded live streams
- Live chat feature for single or multiple streaming platforms
You can use OneStream for free. Premium plans start at $10/month for the Basic plan which comes with unlimited live streaming, pre-recorded streaming, and multicasting.
Get Started With OneStream
Streaming software with a wide range of functionality for easy streaming (Free).
Streamlabs OBS is a popular software deployed by a lot of Twitch users. This free streaming app is built on top of the OBS platform with a focus on ease of use and flexibility.
It’s an all-in-one solution that is ideal for both beginners and experts. You can get additional features and interactions by upgrading to a paid plan.
The software syncs with a variety of platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, Mixer, and Twitch. It automatically adjusts all the necessary settings for optimal output.
Furthermore, you can personalize how your stream looks and feels, a feature that is helpful for existing brands.
- Streamlabs Dashboard: You can use this dashboard to manage all the software elements without opening your browser.
- Themed Visual Layouts: You get themes for different games and genres to help you deliver a more personalized and immersive experience.
- Widget Themes: Choose from a variety of specific widgets designed for different broadcasts.
Pros of Streamlabs OBS:
- Free to use and easy to set up
- Huge library of add-ons and elements
- Tons of functionality for creators
- Easy on the CPU
- “Face Masks” bonus feature
Streamlabs Open Broadcaster Software is free and open source on Github.
Simply download it from the website and you can get started with your live streaming and recording.
Get Started With Streamlabs OBS
Versatile production and streaming tool for big-budget live production (Starts from Free).
vMix is a top-tier streaming software designed for power users.
It offers a growth-focused pricing system and comes with a set of powerful features, including instant replay, scripting controls, PTZ camera control, and a virtual scoreboard.
The software has a modern, super-slick interface that comes with a bit of a learning curve – something that is likely to agitate first-time users.
However, the platform also offers fantastic technical support and once you get the hang of it, this is an amazing tool that will take your video streaming to the next level.
- Live Chat: The software has tools that allow you to view comments and reply to them on your live stream.
- vMix Social: You can easily integrate content from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and other social media accounts into your live stream.
- Replay Feature: vMix also has a replay feature that allows you to show instant replays in slow-motion as a way to increase engagement.
Pros of vMix:
- Free “Lite” version
- Dozens of powerful features
- Robust technical support
- High-quality 4K output
- Plans for every budget
vMix Offers a 60-day risk-free trial for you to test drive the software.
Paid plans start at $60 (one-time purchase) for the Basic HD plan.
Get Started With vMix
Intuitively designed streaming software for professional broadcasters ($15/month).
XSplit has two versions: XSplit Gamecaster, and XSplit Broadcaster, both of which come with a clean user interface that contains all the essential capabilities for live streaming and recording.
The Broadcaster option is a beefed-up version of the Gamecaster, which only has the essentials required for streaming video games.
This software, which is one of the major players on the scene, works on Windows and is ideal for streamers who require dedicated support, advanced settings, and a suite of tools designed specifically for video content creators.
Once you sign up, there’s no need to go looking for any other extensions or plugins. Everything you need is right there in one convenient place.
- All-in-One App: XSplit Broadcaster is a comprehensive streaming and recording application favored by a lot of content creators in sports, gaming, etc.
- Robust Platform Support: The software has support to stream on all major platforms through the use of native plugins and custom RTMP.
- Limitless Customization: The platform comes with a powerful user interface that offers 100% customization.
Pros of XSplit Broadcaster:
- Intuitive user interface
- Easy to set up, customize, and use
- Third-party app integration through URLs and files
- Amazing 24/7 native support
- Additional plugins can be used to extend the functionality
XSplit Broadcaster pricing starts at $15/month.
12 months costs $60, and you can get a lifetime license for $200.
Get Started With XSplit Broadcaster
A slightly different type of broadcasting software perfect for beginners (Starts from Free).
Restream Studio has everything you need to successfully stream live from your browser.
The platform is a simulcasting broadcasting software with several solutions for creators.
Each plan is focused on helping broadcasters enhance their live streams so they reach their audience everywhere and better connect with them.
You can live stream on YouTube, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and many others – all at the same time!
The software is compatible with Windows, Linux, and Mac OS, as well as some of the leading gaming consoles.
- Real-Time Channel Toggling: When you upgrade to the paid plan, you get access to the super useful real-time channel management feature.
- Custom Destinations: You can multistream to over 30 platforms for free – although it’s important to note that broadcasting to some channels may require a paid subscription.
- Robust Analytics: All users can access metrics on the platform to track and analyze live stream performance, including average viewers, maximum viewers, monthly stream time, etc.
Pros of Restream Studio:
- Insightful data from analytics
- No time limit on live streams
- Live stream directly from the browser
- Tools to boost audience interaction
- Multi-streaming capabilities
You can use Restream Studio for free.
Alternatively, you can upgrade to the premium plans, which start at $16/month to unlock more advanced features and remove Restream branding.
Get Started With Restream Studio
Best live video streaming service to capture, produce, and stream ($599, one-time fee).
Wirecast is by far the priciest option on this list. However, it’s also one of the most powerful tools for serious live streamers.
This live webcasting software costs $665 and you can upgrade to the Pro plan for a cool $995! But, you do get full value for your money.
This is an all-in-one platform for live streaming that is designed to be simple to use for both beginners and professional live streamers alike.
With it, you can capture, produce, and share content quickly and easily. The software mimics television studio production tools and can handle streaming any event, including giant tournaments, concerts, and everything in between.
It’s perfect for anyone who is already getting steady revenue from streaming and wants to take it to the next level.
- Full Customization: Wirecast offers a wide range of options to customize your live stream for a more personalized experience.
- ISO Recording: The software archives all your live video inputs as they are (without modification) and keeps the video clip separate from composite program recording.
- Stock Media Library: You get free access to over 500,000 media assets, including music, videos, backgrounds, and lower thirds.
Pros of Wirecast:
- Ideal for beginners and professionals alike
- Stream/record to multiple destinations
- Awesome graphics, audios, and stock media
- Quality, reliable, and timely technical support
- Green screen and instant replay features
Get Started With Wirecast
Robust, easy to use software perfect for non-technical users (Free)
Twitch Studio is a streaming app from Twitch that was developed to help the platform’s fans live stream games from the same platform.
It’s perfect for anyone who is new to the world of live streaming and wants to stream directly to Twitch.
This free app offers a guided setup for all the devices, as well as your streaming set up, including the webcam and your game feed.
With it, you get customizable templates to make it easy for you to hit the ground streaming.
It also comes with automatic hardware acceleration and access to step-by-step onboarding and recommended settings to help you make your streams look as professional as possible.
- Content Mixing: You can easily connect your iPad or iPhone and share the screen to live feed as a way to mix up your content.
- Extensive Integration: You also get built-in activity feeds, alerts, chat, and much more to help you avoid the hassle of installing extra plugins.
- Customizable Templates: The software has starter layouts and overlays that you can use to personalize how your stream looks.
Pros of Twitch Studio:
- Extremely easy, guided setup
- Basic features included in the install
- Simplifies technical features like bitrate selection
- Offers multiple stream layouts
- Compatible with Windows and Mac
Twitch Studio is a free streaming software by Twitch.
Get Started With Twitch Studio
The best streaming service with no software downloads (Starts from Free).
Lightstream Studio is one of the easiest services to use because there are no downloads necessary. You can use the software directly from your browser.
All you have to do is head over to the Lightstream Studio website and connect the service to your preferred streaming platform.
You can then personalize your look and you’re ready to start streaming!
Lightstream will automatically detect the best settings and monitor your internet connection for any hiccups.
It’s ideal for talk shows and podcast streams, particularly for content creators who travel a lot and need access to their suite of scenes on the go.
- Live Support: If you need assistance, you get live one-on-one support on the website through chat.
- Remote Control: Use a smartphone to easily start and stop your stream, switch between scenes, etc.
- Invite Guests: You can host your live show with guests and conduct interviews, panels, podcasts, product launches, and more.
Pros of Lightstream:
- No download or installation required
- Encoding handled by cloud-based tech
- Remote control feature using a smartphone
- One-click “Guest Mode” feature to include guests
- Live chat support
Lightstream offers two versions:
- Free: $0
- IRL: $99 per month
The free plan lets you stream up to 3 hours and has max output quality of 720p 30 fps.
The premium plan can stream up to 12 hours and offers 720p 60 fps max output quality.
Get Started With Lightstream
A fast, easy way to broadcast your favorite games (Free).
ShadowPlay is a tool that comes bundled together with NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards.
It works on Windows and is designed primarily for gamers. It’s a sort of mix between software and hardware.
Unlike most other streaming software, ShadowPlay encodes using the computer’s GPU (graphics processing unit) as opposed to the CPU (central processing unit).
This means that your computer’s performance is left virtually unaffected, and all your CPU power can be used to provide an awesome game experience.
- Broadcast Games: Quickly and easily broadcast all your favorite games on Facebook, YouTube Live, Twitch, etc. with just a couple of clicks.
- Instant Replay: Instantly replay and record all your amazing stunts to help boost engagement with your audience.
- NVIDIA Highlights: This feature allows you to automatically capture and save the key moments in your games, including clutch kills, match-winning plays, etc.
Pros of NVIDIA ShadowPlay:
- Awesome tool for local recording
- Uses GPU, not CPU, for unaffected performance
- Shortcuts for easy gameplay capture
- Instant replay and highlights feature
- Low-impact game recording and streaming
NVIDIA ShadowPlay is free to download and use.
Get Started With NVIDIA ShadowPlay
What Features to Look For in Streaming Software
These days, we have extremely advanced live streaming tools, the majority of which offer intuitive, simple-to-use interfaces that make it easy for anyone – even complete beginners – to get started.
But, whether you’re a novice or an experienced user, the software you choose will depend on the features you require.
So, here are some of the most important features to look for in streaming software.
1. Compatibility: These days, stream ingestion mostly happens over RTMP (real-time multimedia protocol). This allows you to use the majority of live streaming software with all the major streaming websites and social networks.
However, if you plan to use alternative networks for content delivery, then you need to check the server ingest compatibility.
2. Integration: Consider choosing a platform with developer-friendly API and SDK features that allow you to integrate live streams into various services, digital media workflows, and cloud video applications.
3. Multi-platform Live Streaming: A streaming tool with extensive integration for social media sites will allow you to live stream simultaneously on YouTube, Twitch, and various other platforms.
4. Advanced/ Additional Features: With live streaming software, you get different tiers, different features, and different levels of complexity. It’s best to consider this early on in order to avoid falling in love with particular software, only to find out later on that it doesn’t meet your needs fully.
5. Preview Editor: This feature allows you to quickly make edits of your video clips or create new ones altogether before taking your stream live.
6. Multiview Feature: Multiview allows you to keep a close eye on all your cams. You can easily switch or transition between multiple cams with a few clicks of the mouse.
7. Themes and Templates: Choose a streaming software with plenty of customizable themes and templates so you can personalize your broadcast and create an immersive live streaming experience.
8. Live Chat: This feature is important in helping you to boost audience engagement when live streaming. It allows you to interact with your viewers and answer all their questions in real-time. This feature is also great for gauging their reaction.
9. Real-Time Analytics: Being able to measure and track the success of your live stream is an important feature. So, choose a platform that gives you access to real-time stats from metrics like new subscribers, number of viewers, geography & demographic-based engagement, etc.
10. Pricing: The features above are some of the most important characteristics to consider, but there’s also the issue of pricing.
Although this should never be the first consideration, you still need to choose streaming software that offers all the features you need at an affordable price.
If you opt for freeware streaming software, keep in mind that you’ll likely be sacrificing quality and advanced features that could go a long way in helping you make your live stream more professional and appealing.
How Does Streaming Software Work?
Now that you know which basic requirements you should take into consideration when choosing the best streaming software, it’s time to look at how streaming software works.
Live streaming software is an encoding program that’s designed to convert raw video input into a more convenient digital format for viewing over the air, in real-time.
Although this sounds like a simple enough process, live streaming is actually a resource-heavy task.
The software tends to use quite a lot of the CPU’s resources as they work to continuously convert live video for broadcasting.
Moreover, live streaming tools typically handle a lot more than just converting video.
They also take care of all the other “under-the-hood” tasks that go along with live streaming, such as uploading newly-converted video to broadcasting platforms, as well as adding overlays and extra effects before sending the video over the air.
That’s why cloud software works great for this. When a lot of the encoding is taken care of by cloud-based tech, it makes the entire process more efficient as fewer resources are used.
As a general rule, the more effective the video conversion process, the more expensive the software (although, It’s important to note that expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better, as evidenced by our top pick, OBS, which is a free streaming software option).
What Equipment Do I Need to Live Stream?
Here’s what you need for a simple live streaming set up.
Computer, Console, or Smartphone
The first thing you need is an audio or video source to allow you to provide material for your live stream.
This is the key component of any streaming setup. Smartphones offer an easy entry into live streaming since there’s no need to think about any additional hardware or software.
Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and other consoles make viable options, as well.
However, the most popular choice for live streaming is a desktop computer which allows you to use a wider variety of hardware and broadcasting software with core features, such as adding overlays and creating unique scenes.
Microphone and Camera
Next, you’re going to need a high-quality microphone to ensure your audio commentary is perfectly audible to your audience.
Gamers can get away with using a gaming headset that has a built-in microphone. However, for most people, it’s best to opt for a standalone mic.
Some popular choices include:
You also need to invest in a good quality camera and a capture card that you will use to connect a non-USB camera to your computer.
It’s possible to get good results using a webcam, and this option is great because it doesn’t need a capture card.
Here are some popular webcam choices:
In addition to the equipment above, you also need an encoder to package the input and send it to a platform, website, or network.
(Remember, streaming software is in there, too, as an option for encoding data).
You also need a stable internet connection that will allow you to transfer data efficiently to the destination, as well as a streaming service which will serve as the destination and deliver output.
Background, Sound Panels, and Lighting
There’s also some additional streaming gear that you may require, such as sound panels, lighting, and background.
When streaming with a camera, you want to use flattering lights that make it easier for your viewers to see you.
You might consider using tools like softboxes with LEDs with low heat production to give you a gentle light without overheating or half cooking you in the process.
That’s it for the basics of a live streaming setup.
As you gain more experience as a live streamer, you will begin to figure out what other additional gear you may need to add to your broadcasting system.
Now, let’s take a quick look at how to get started live streaming to your audience.
How to Live Stream (An Overview)
Here’s a brief walk-through that explains how to use streaming software. The process is generally the same across different software vendors.
For the purposes of this example, I’m going to use XSplit to demonstrate how to live stream on Twitch.
Step #1: Click on “Broadcast” and then select “Set up a new output”. From the available options, choose “Twitch” as your output.
Step #2: Next, click “Authorize”. Proceed to sign in with your Twitch account and then click the “Next” button.
This is what the screen looks like:
Step #3: Verify your Twitch credentials and then browse through the setup wizard to identify the best interest server, resolution, and connection speed for your lifestream.
When you’re done with that, you can then click the “Finish” button.
Now you can start broadcasting on Twitch.
Best Streaming Software FAQ
What Does Streaming Mean?
Streaming is a means of transmitting or receiving data (video, audio, etc.) in a continuous flow over a computer network with virtually no immediate or intermediate storage within network elements.
The process allows playback to begin even as the rest of the data is still being received. The term “streaming” refers to the content delivery method as opposed to the content itself.
How to Enable Live Streaming on YouTube
1. Verify your YouTube account
2. Enable live streaming on YouTube
3. Wait 24 hours for live streaming to activate on your account.
4. Choose which avenue to use for live streaming: Web browser, Mobile Device, Software Encoder, or Hardware Encoder
5. If using streaming software, download and install your chosen tool
6. On YouTube, click “Create a video post” at the top right-hand corner
7. Select “Go Live”
8. In the top navigation bar of the Control Room, click “Stream”
9. Add a title for your stream, as well as a description, and choose a privacy setting
10. Choose an appropriate category for your stream and then upload a thumbnail
11. Now you can decide if you want to stream immediately or schedule the event for later
12. Hit “Create Stream, and a window will pop up with the stream name/key
13. Open your streaming software and then paste the stream key in the appropriate field
14. If required, also paste the stream URL from YouTube which you can find in the settings menu
15. If you’re ready to start live streaming, start the stream on your streaming software
Once you’re done streaming, you can end the stream through the software. A recording will be automatically uploaded to your channel so your viewers can watch it on demand.
How to Live Stream on Facebook
1. Go to https://www.facebook.com/live/create
2. Click “Create Live Stream”
3. Select where your life broadcast will be posted
4. If you want your stream key to be permanent select “Use a persistent stream key”. If you don’t select this, you will not be able to use the same stream key again once your stream has ended.
5. Copy the server URL and stream key/persistent stream key and paste them into your streaming software settings and then start the stream from the encoder.
6. You’ll be shown a previous screen where you can then add a title and write a description for your Facebook live stream.
7. Click “Go Live Now” to stream immediately, or “Schedule Live Video Event” if you want to stream your broadcast later.
Video streaming meets a lot of needs in the virtual world. But, with an ever-growing number of software providers, it’s getting more and more difficult to know how to choose the best streaming software to suit your needs.
I hope this article simplifies that process for you, and to recap what we’ve just covered:
There are a lot of great streaming software options available to you, some of which are free or have free versions.
My number one recommendation for streaming software is OBS Studio.
It‘s free to use, but you can pay for advanced features if you require them.
But, since many factors play a role in determining the right streaming software for you, this may not be ideal for everyone.
- For someone who is just getting started and is looking for a free option to play with, then OBS would be a great tool to consider
- But, if you plan to stream video games mostly, then you might look at Streamlabs OBS and XSplit.
- If you need to do professional live productions of concerts, sports events, news, etc., then Wirecast or vMix may serve you best.
All other factors come into consideration to help you make a choice. Once you are clear on your primary use case, it becomes a lot easier to pick the right software.
There is no right or wrong choice. And the good news is that you can take advantage of the free trials offered by many of the software on this list to help you find out which one is a good fit for you.