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What is a Live Streaming Encoder?

An encoder converts the format for your video from RAW to digital.

live streaming encoder is a tool that transforms video content into a different format. The purpose of encoding a video is to create a digital copy of your video that can be transmitted over the internet. Digital video content can be embedded or streamed live right on your website.

Live streaming is very time-sensitive, and it requires an encoder that is capable of processing the video feed in real-time.

Broadcasters have the option to choose between a hardware or software encoder. Which way you go will largely depend on the purpose of your stream and what sort of budget you are working with. Most professional broadcasters will go with a hardware encoder, but due to the high price point, most beginner to mid-experienced broadcasters will go with live streaming encoder software.

Encoding vs. Codecs

Although there is a distinction between the two, the terms “codec” and “encoder” are often used interchangeably. 

There is a bit of overlap between encoders and codecs. While encoders serve the sole purpose of encoding, codecs are designed to encode and decode.

Codec is short for “coder-decoder” and it encodes a video for storage and decodes for broadcast. Oftentimes, the term “encoder” is used to describe hardware or software codec.

What is Transcoding?

Transcoding and encoding are often misused interchangeably. Rather than converting the format of a video, video transcoding converts a video to a smaller size.

The purpose of transcoding a video is so that your viewers can watch the video in the size that works best with their internet speed. For example, somebody with slower internet would watch your video in lower resolution to minimize buffering.

There is an overlap in transcoding and encoding tools. Some encoders have transcoding capabilities, and some transcoders have encoding capabilities.

Cloud transcoding is typically considered a simple alternative to a hardware encoder. While a hardware encoder stores multiple versions of one video, cloud video transcoders convert and broadcast each version as it’s created.

Hardware vs. Software Encoding

While hardware and software encoders are slightly different, they function very similarly. They both take RAW video files and convert them into digital files.

The main difference that sets hardware and software encoders apart—and the characteristic that allows hardware encoders to perform more effectively—is that hardware encoding devices have the sole purpose of encoding. Software encoders work with your computer’s operating system, so encoding isn’t the primary function.

Of course, the difference in performance capabilities is reflected in the price tag. Hardware encoders run upwards of $600 to $1000. Encoder software is often less than $100 and can be found by some providers for free.

Hardware encoders are best suited for experienced, professional broadcasters. Software encoders work well for beginner broadcasters. 

Top 10 Live Streaming Encoders: A Comparison

There are several video streaming software solutions available today.

Each is equipped with a unique set of features and functionality at different price points. In order to determine which is the right video encoder software for your broadcast, you want to ask yourself the following.

Keeping those questions in mind, let’s explore the top encoding software on the market.

1. Wirecast

Telestream’s Wirecast is a high-end software encoder.

Telestream’s Wirecast offers encoder software that is widely compatible with many online video platforms. The professional video streaming services that Wirecast works with include DacastIBM Video Cloud, and Wowza. These streaming platforms, among others, allow you to live stream your event to any RTMP-enabled streaming destination. They also support recording MP4 or MOV files to any drive.

Wirecast recently launched a new streaming encoder that features several enhancements and fixes, including Facebook Live polling, re-written WebStream plugin, and Virtual Camera improvements. Wirecast is compatible with a variety of capture cards, devices, and camera inputs.

Wirecast supports live video compositing via a “layers” architecture similar to many graphics programs. The encoder facilitates live switching, picture-in-picture composition, titles, audio delay, and many other fine-tuning compositional elements.

Wirecast’s video encoder software makes it easy to incorporate pre-recorded video content into your broadcast. It also supports the encoding of HD and SD sources for streams broadcast simultaneously to multiple servers and platforms.

The Wirecast Pro enhanced program adds several other specialized features, including:

  • Replay
  • Live scoreboards
  • Virtual 3D
  • Use of IP cameras and web streams
  • 8-track audio output

These advanced features of Wirecast Pro make it a better choice than the basic Wirecast program for most live-streamed events. With all those features, Wirecast’s biggest downside may be the price. To start, you can download a free trial version of the basic software.

Key Features:

  • Support for unlimited sources, including cameras, mics, IP cams, capture cards, and NDI
  • Multiple bitrate streaming
  • Built-in graphics and titling tool
  • Integrates with Facebook Live and Twitter for sharing comments on-screen
  • Includes instant replay, scoreboard, and timers for sports
  • Free wireless camera app turns iOS devices into mobile live video sources
  • Stream to multiple destinations simultaneously
  • Integrated video chat via “Wirecast Rendezvous”
  • Local program output

The latest version of Wirecast is 14.3.3. It is the newest full version and was released on October 4th, 2021. It features several enhancements and fixes, including FBLive polling, re-written WebStream plugin, and Virtual Camera improvements. To know more about it, you can check out its tech specs here.

Pros:

  • Easy-to-use, user-friendly platform
  • Compatible with most popular operating systems
  • Fully loaded with valuable features

Cons:

  • High price point
  • Many features locked in the “Studio” version
  • Consumes a lot of computer memory

Pricing:

The software comes in two versions:

  1. Wirecast Studio for enhanced live production & streaming: pricing is $599 with a free trial
  2. Wirecast Pro for advanced live production and streaming: pricing is $799 which also comes with a free trial

Pro adds support for:

  1. 7 guests via Rendezvous
  2. 8-track audio output
  3. Instant replay
  4. Scoreboards
  5. 3D virtual sets for green-screen use
  6. Program feed
  7. Support for a wider range of capture devices
  8. ISO camera recording
  9. “Present” version of NewBlue Titler Live.

Additional Wirecast upgrades are available, including:

  • Premium support: $299/yr
  • Firewire HDV camera input support (Studio users only need to purchase this feature; the Pro version includes it): $99
  • NewBlueFX Titler Live (for creation of animated graphics and titles): $245 Standard version, $445 Advance version, $945 Ultimate version
  • Virtualsetworks (pre-made virtual sets for green screen use): $329

Compatibility:

Wirecast caters to a variety of live streaming contexts, including:

  • Live event production
  • Broadcasting Live Sports
  • Faith-based events
  • Education
  • Television and radio broadcasts
  • Digital marketing and social media.

2. Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS)

Dacast offers access to OBS Studio to our users for free.

OBS Studio is an open-source software encoder for live streaming. OBS Studio is a great option for those new to live streaming as it’s effortless to use. OBS Studio’s broadcasting software offers downloads for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The encoder is equipped with a powerful API, which enables community-generated plugins and scripts. These add-ons can provide further customization and functionality specific to your needs.

Advanced features of this streaming encoder software include:

  • Real-time video/audio capturing and mixing
  • Unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions
  • Intuitive audio mixer
  • Modular “Dock” UI

Key Features:

  • Real-time video/audio capturing and mixing
  • Unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions
  • Intuitive audio mixer
  • Modular “Dock” UI
  • HLS Live streaming and recording functionality
  • Audio and video mixing, filters, and transitions
  • Support for hotkeys
  • Chroma key / green screen support
  • Scenes allow you to prepare overlays in advance for rapid switching
  • Support for a wide range of video, audio, and image sources, as well as screenshots
  • Expandable via plugins to add NDI functionality, remote control via WebSockets, advanced scene switching, and more
  • One notable negative is that OBS Studio does not offer multi-bitrate streaming
  • Detailed wiki and highly active user forum for support/help. Many YouTube tutorials are available as well.

Pros:

  • It’s free
  • Easy-to-use for beginners
  • Frequent updates
  • Able to function on lower-quality internet

Cons:

  • Some limitations on features
  • Room for improvement for plugins

Pricing:

OBS Studio is open-source and completely free. There is no cost to accessing and using this software.

Version 27.1.3 was released on October 4th, 2021, and is available for download here. for both macOS and Windows operating systems.

Compatibility:

OBS Studio is compatible with macOS 10.13 or newer, Windows 8, 8.1, and 10, as well as Ubuntu/Linux 18.04 operating systems. For the Linux version, FFmpeg is required.

Additionally, Dacast offers a customized version of OBS Studio that easily connects to save our users time. We offer a customized version of OBS Studio’s live broadcasting software to our customers. This version makes it easier to directly connect to your Dacast live streaming service account.

With this option, you don’t need to manually enter details. Instead, simply login to your Dacast account via OBS to start streaming live in minutes.

Check out our OBS for Dacast guide for Windows users, You can also review this OBS for Dacast guide for Mac users.

Dacast has developed a customized version of this video encoder software. As a Dacast customer, you can access this customized software for no charge with direct Dacast integration of the OBS Studio platform. Within just a few clicks you can be up and streaming.

See for yourself in this video:

Please note that OBS Studio does not support multi-bitrate streaming. Multi-bitrate streaming can be crucial when broadcasting to diverse users in distinct locales.

Regardless of this minor setback, we still highly recommend this encoder, particularly for those who are testing or becoming familiar with live streaming.

3. VidBlasterX

VidBlasterX is a budget-friendly software encoder.

Like Wirecast, VidBlasterX is a professional-quality streaming encoder software.

They offer three packages: VidblasterX Home, VidBlasterX Studio, and VidBlasterX Broadcast. The main difference between each version is the number of modules each supports. Each successive module also adds additional advanced features pro broadcasters will appreciate.

VidBlasterX Home is a basic product. It supports up to 7 modules. VidBlasterX Studio has several features for studio production of videos (hence the name) and allows for more versatile video. The Studio version supports HD and full-screen television-quality production, as well as community support.

VidBlasterX Broadcast incorporates all the features of VidBlaster Studio, adds more module capacity, and is recommended for professional broadcast studios. With Broadcast, you get direct email support from the developer.

Key Features:

  • Modular user interface; everything is customizable
  • Includes macro and scripting functionality to automate or hot-key actions
  • Supports overlays and lower thirds
  • Chroma key support
  • Live streaming and recording up to 4K resolution
  • Compatible with social media platforms as well as most OVPs, including Dacast with a direct integration
  • Audio mixer
  • Multiview support

Pros:

  • Has plans for a wide range of budgets
  • Feature-rich
  • Easily customizable

Cons:

  • Not compatible with macOS
  • Not well-suited for inexperienced live streamers
  • Slightly complex

Pricing:

VidBlasterX is available in three versions. Each of the following options is priced with an annual subscription model:

  1. The Home version ($9/year) supports 7 modules.
  2. The Studio version ($99/year) supports 25 modules.
  3. The Broadcast version ($999/year) supports 100 modules. This version also supports multiple recorder & streamer modules in a single profile.

First, the difference between the versions is the number of simultaneously active modules you can have. The Home editions support up to seven modules, enough for basic live streaming. The Studio edition supports up to 25 modules, and the Broadcast edition supports 50 modules. These higher limits allow professional users with multiple monitors to set up and oversee complex workflows.

Additionally, the Broadcast edition also supports UDP streaming, multiple streaming sources, and recorder modules in a single profile, and includes priority support.

Compatibility:

One drawback of VidBlasterX is that it does not come in a Mac OS version, so it requires a Windows machine to operate.

This VidBlaster help site provides a walk-through on setting up VidBlasterX as your encoder for live streaming. For more information on VidBlaster, you can also click here.

4. vMix

VidBlasterX offers professional broadcasters live video production, encoding, and streaming software solutions.

vMix is another amazing live video production software for streaming.  This Australian-based software is a strong option in terms of encoding software. The latest version of the Windows-specific software is 24.0.0.71 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.

It includes a wide range of excellent features, and the vMix app includes regular software updates. vMix provides support for a wide range of inputs including webcams, cameras, capture cards, DVDs, soundcards, playlists, photos, PPT presentations, and more.

Key Features:

  • NDI support
  • Chroma key and virtual streaming sets
  • Built-in titling tool that supports animation via XAML
  • Live streaming platform integrations (including with the Dacast streaming platform)
  • vMix Social allows you to pull and display content from popular social media platforms
  • Instant replay, slow motion, and scoreboards
  • Training videos available
  • vMix “reference systems” ease difficulty around building a custom live production system

Pros:

  • Wide range of features
  • Support for a wide range of inputs
  • Plans for different budgets
  • Free updates to the software

Cons:

  • Not a dedicated solution
  • Some features are a bit tricky to use
  • Only compatible with Windows

Pricing:

vMix is available for Windows computers only, and it comes in 5 different lifetime license editions. Each purchase never expires, and all editions include free updates for a year. The versions are:

  • Basic (free), which supports 4 (up to 2 camera/NDI) inputs and video up to 768 x 576 resolution
  • Basic HD ($60), which supports 4 inputs (up to 3 camera/NDI) and video up to Full HD 1920×1080 resolution
  • HD ($350), which supports 1,000 inputs, adds vMix call functionality, 4 overlay channels, and supports full HD video in 1920×1080 resolution
  • 4K ($700), which supports 1,000 inputs, 4K resolution video (4096 x 2160), PTZ control, 2 recorders, instant replay, 4 SRT outputs, and much more
  • Pro ($1200), which also supports 1,000 inputs, includes all 4K features and 2 records, plus up to 8 callers, up to 4 cameras for instant replay, and 4 SRT outputs

The following is a subscription license and includes, and is charged on a monthly basis:

  • MAX ($50/month), which also supports 1,000 inputs, 1,000 NDI inputs, and includes all 4K resolution video (4096 x 2160), PTZ control, 2 recorders, instant replay, 4 SRT outputs

vMix also offers a 60-day free trial and has all the features of vMix Pro including the ability to use resolutions greater than HD such as 4K, particularly to ensure vMix supports your computer hardware works with it before purchasing. This is a great perk, as most encoding software offers only up to a 30-day free trial.

Compatibility:

vMix is compatible with Windows operating systems.

5. LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo is a reliable hardware encoder.

The LiveU Solo is a highly capable hardware encoder that is well-suited for encoding and producing remote streams. It is a powerful device that supports up to 5G 4K HEVC streaming.

This encoder is globally renowned and has contributed to massive streams, including Presidential events, World Cups, Olympic events, Super Bowls, and more.

Key Features:

  • Seamless integration with modems and cellular data
  • Robust remote streaming
  • Lifetime support
  • Responsive bandwidth consumption for uninterrupted streaming
  • Boost up to 3 connections at once

Pros:

  • Suitable for live event streaming
  • Team friendly
  • Some issues with streaming to social media platforms
  • Supports network bonding
  • Geared towards remote streaming

Cons:

  • Can get a bit complicated
  • Access to some basic features r

Pricing:

LiveU Solo’s pricing is based on location. Please check out their pricing page to see how much this encoder costs in your region.

Compatibility:

LiveU Solo is compatible with USB sources.

6. Teradek

Teradek technology offers video and encoding solutions and is used around the world by professional and amateur broadcasters to capture and share content.

Teradek offers compact live stream encoding hardware that is perfect for live streaming on the go or from a remote location. 

Unlike many other hardware encoders available, Teradek’s products are light and sleek. Some are built with portable chassis that are designed especially for remote location streaming experiences.

Key Features:

  • Sleek design
  • Capable of remote streaming
  • Built for streaming on the go
  • Top tier video quality
  • Expensive

Pros:

  • Good for mobile streaming
  • High-quality video streaming
  • Compact and portable

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Not well suited for beginners

Pricing:

Pricing for Teradek’s encoding devices ranges from $700 to $14,000. Some of their top products are priced as follows:

  • Bolt: A very powerful compact solution for on the go 4K HD cinema-quality video with zero latency ($1500-$13,500)
  • Vidiu Go: Live streaming encoder that can be used for broadcasting on the go ($1500-$2700)
  • Bond: Backpack encoder for broadcasting on the go ($7000-9000)
  • Prism: 4K encoding and decoding device ($2000-3000)
  • Cube: Designed to support IP video ($1800-$2800)
  • Ranger: Encoder for wireless connection to OVP from television-grade capture equipment

Compatibility:

The different Teradek encoder lines support HDMI and SDI video inputs and a wide variety of consumer and professional-grade hardware.

We have two tutorials to stream with different Teradek models: VidiU and Cube.

7. TriCaster

TriCaster is innovative software-driven technology, offering broadcasters professional-grade tools for encoding and video production.

TriCaster is premium encoding hardware designed for advanced live streaming. Its capabilities extend beyond encoding, so it is a useful tool for broadcasters that are looking for additional production support.

TriCaster’s hardware encoding tools are built to connect to capturing devices to encode video content in real-time, making them quite powerful for live streaming.

Key Features:

  • Real-time encoding for live broadcasting
  • Live steam recording functions 
  • Tools for mixing and editing

Pros:

  • Real-time moving graphic processing
  • Auto-archiving for on-demand playback
  • Mixing and editing tools
  • Live streaming support

Cons:

  • Very expensive
  • Requires support of costly accessories to use
  • Can be a bit difficult to use
  • The hardware is bulky

Pricing:

The cost of TriCaster encoders ranges from roughly $5,000 to $18,000.

NewTek offers several different products in the TriCaster line, including:

  • TriCaster 2 Elite: Encoding device for advanced, television-grade broadcasting
  • TriCaster 4k Mini: Portable desktop encoder
  • TriCaster TC410 Plus: Encoding tool for mid-sized productions
  • TriCaster TC1: Everything broadcasters need for end-to-end video production

Check out TriCaster’s “Where to Buy” page to find local reseller pricing.

Compatibility:

TriCaster hardware encoders support HD-SDI inputs and a wide range of professional hardware and accessories.

You can also access Tricaster documentation here.

8. Niagara Video

Niagara is a less popular but equally capable streaming encoder.

Niagara Video is an online streaming brand that offers a wide range of functionality. They offer nearly 20 different encoding hardware options, in addition to a few different software solutions.

Niagara Video has been at the forefront of encoding for nearly two decades, and the company is often considered a trailblazer in the industry.

It is important to point out that these tools are built for both encoding and transcoding.

Key Features:

  • Many hardware encoding options
  • Encoding and transcoding support
  • Solutions for education, government, and more
  • Live event streaming

Pros:

  • Wide variety of encoding tools to choose from
  • Many functionalities

Cons:

  • No pricing transparency

Pricing:

Niagara has many products, but their pricing is not listed on their website. Users must contact the company for pricing for each product.

However, to give you a better idea of their price points, we were able to find a price of $1,299 for the GoStream Mini 150 posted online.

Niagara’s encoders currently include several model lines, each of which is available in a variety of configurations. Each model also includes a 1-year limited warranty. Although we don’t have specific pricing info, here is a breakdown of a few of their top hardware encoders:

  1. The new Niagara 9300 Series is a 1U rack-mount unit that supports HD and/or SD SDI inputs with up to 8 stereo pairs (16 channels) of embedded audio. The 9300 allows you to deliver multiple simultaneous streams. It also includes a web SDK to enable customizations and integrations. Additionally, it supports the new SCX Linux software or SCX+ software.
  2. The GoStream Digital and Analog encoders are powerful, compact two-channel streaming encoders with integrated solid-state drives. They’re available in SDI or DVI-I versions, as well as versions that support Component/Composite/S-Video and HDMI/DVI VGA. Additionally, they support Transport Stream (UDP/RTP), Adobe Flash (RTMP), Windows Media, and Apple’s HLS protocol.
  3. The GoStream B264 encoder is designed for hard use in broadcast and streaming applications. This small unit (3 fits in 1 RU) features two SDI inputs, two ASI outputs, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a variety of other connectivity options.
  4. The GoStream Mini 200 is a flexible, affordable encoder with low power consumption and support for common consumer and prosumer video formats such as AVC / HEVC, H.264 / H.265. The device includes inputs for SDI, HDMI, component, composite, DVI/VGA, and unbalanced audio. Additionally, it also has the ability to record a file as MP4 while streaming live.

Compatibility:

Compatibility depends on each individual model.

9. Blackmagic Web Presenter

Blackmagic Web Presenter is basic encoding hardware.

Many of the hardware encoders we’ve reviewed so far are very powerful and come with an overwhelming price tag. The Blackmagic Web Presenter provides a cheaper alternative for broadcasters who have a streaming setup on a more basic level.

This encoder is sleek in design and can be purchased for under $500. It is great for broadcasters who have minimal encoding needs.

Key Features:

  • Provides built-in tech monitoring
  • Supports high-quality streaming
  • Sports a compact design
  • Provides support for many popular streaming platforms
  • Can connect to cellular data

Pros:

  • Highly compatible
  • Capable of remote streaming
  • Relatively inexpensive

Cons:

  • Geared more towards beginners

Pricing:

The Blackmagic Web Presenter costs $495.

Compatibility:

Blackmagic Web Presenter claims to support all of the most popular streaming platforms.

10. Resi

Resi is an end-to-end live streaming platform and offers both hardware and software encoding tools.

Founded in 2014, Resi is an end-to-end live streaming platform that is equipped with a variety of streaming tools. This company offers all of the tools that broadcasters need to get started with live streaming.

Key Features:

  • Hardware and software offerings
  • End-to-end live streaming support
  • Simulcasting capabilities
  • Some encoding support
  • Automation tools
  • Cloud streaming
  • Monitoring tools

Pros:

  • Produces high-quality streams
  • Wide range of functionality
  • Highly reliable product
  • Great customer support
  • Solutions for multiple use cases and industries

Cons:

  • Can only use it with Resi software

Pricing:

Resi offers several hardware encoders for broadcasters with different needs and budgets. Here are the options that are available:

  • RAY E1210 – $1,299.99
  • PRISM SINGLE E1200 – $2,999.99
  • PRISM DUAL E2211 – $3,999.99
  • PRISM DUAL+ E2221- $4,499.99

Compatibility:

When it comes to live streaming software compatibility, the Resi hardware encoders are quite limited. The encoders only work with their own software. There is not much other information available on compatibility with these tools.

How to Choose the Best Encoder for Streaming

The live streaming encoder software that you should choose greatly depends on the features that you need to help you reach your goals. That being said, no single live streaming encoder will be the perfect match for every broadcaster.

In order to identify which features are most important to you, take some time to think about the following questions:

  • Is the encoder compatible with your streaming platform?
  • What features does the encoder provide? Is it the best option for your broadcasting needs?
  • What’s your budget?
  • How big is your target audience?
  • How many camera feeds do you need to incorporate into your videos and which camera will you use?
  • What kind of computer will you use, and with what kind of operating system?
  • How much will you need to do in the way of studio effects or video editing?
  • What are the top requirements of your live streaming platform service?
  • How much money do you want to spend? Is this a flexible or fixed price-point for you or your business?

If you’re new to live streaming video, we recommend that you start with OBS Studio to become familiar with how to stream live video on your website. After you get down the basics, you can upgrade later to a more powerful program if you like.

Overall, it’s important to ensure that any encoder streaming software you choose helps you to meet all of your goals for producing and broadcasting your video content.

Conclusion

The encoder that you choose plays a huge role in the quality of your live stream. There are many options and configurations to consider when choosing one to operate your live stream. While hardware encoders tend to produce better quality streams, software encoders are easier to use and more cost-effective.

If you’re new to live streaming video, we recommend Dacast’s custom version of OBS since it is free for our users and allows anyone to become familiar with how to stream live video on your website. After you get down to the basics, you can upgrade to a more powerful tool if necessary.

Overall, it’s important to ensure that any live stream encoder software you choose, as with your hardware, your cameras, and your live streaming platform, allows you to meet all of your goals for producing and broadcasting your video content.

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