Once upon a time, live streaming was a complicated mess that took IT-level skills just to get up and running. But all that has changed in recent years, and it’s pretty easy nowadays. That’s because capture cards and the best live streaming software solve most of the tricky problems right out of the box.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. You don’t even need to spend any money to get started. There are tons of excellent free and open-source options available for beginner and intermediate streamers. That said, if you’re planning to go all the way and become a hardcore streamer, we’ve also curated some paid options with more lavish feature sets.

We selected the 7 best live streaming software options to easily stream your gameplay on Twitch, Mixer, Youtube, and more. So what are you waiting for? Let’s show the world what you can do.

Zoom In: 7 Best Streaming Software Options of 2020

Let’s jump right into the list with a look at our favorite streaming software overall.

1. Streamlabs

Streamlabs

The best streaming software overall

What piece of streaming software is deployed by over half of Twitch users? Streamlabs, of course! Streamlabs, also known as Streamlabs OBS, is a free streaming app built atop the Open Broadcaster Software platform. It’s an all-in-one solution for beginners and experts alike. 

Sync the software with any platform (Twitch, Mixer, Youtube, Facebook), and the software automatically adjusts your settings for optimal output. Personalize the look and feel of your stream (aka your brand), then go live and start raking in the views. Streamlabs handles everything for you, and includes custom themes, widgets, and alerts. It even Tweets when you go live!

As for the backend? Don’t worry about it. With game-aware video encoding and media file caching, technical know-how is unnecessary. Streamlabs is a top-tier solution, and we highly recommend checking it out.

Streamlabs Screenshot
  • USERS LIKE
  • Professional-looking streams
  • Easy to set up and free to use
  • Massive library of addons w/ tons of functionality
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Occasional lag
  • Favors NVIDIA graphics cards
  • Addons & Prime membership cost money

2. XSplit

XSplit Logo

The best paid streaming software

Everyone has heard of XSplit. It was the first major player on the scene, after all, and it continues to innovate. The main selling point? XSplit makes streaming simple. That, combined with all-in-one native support, means there’s no fishing for plugins or extensions — everything is right there. And you don’t have to shell out a ton of money, either. There’s the free version, which does have its limitations. And then there’s a long-term premium license that starts at just $25.

What do you get with the premium version? It features a drag and drop UI that allows you to create up to 12 scenes per project. And that’s not all. You can smoothly switch between all these scenes while broadcasting live, which provides a ton of versatility for streamers.

A license includes both the Broadcaster and Gamecaster products from XSplit. Keeno3, an XSplit representative summarizes the two:

XSplit Broadcaster is aimed at the professional or advanced multimedia broadcaster. Live stream and record in ultra-high quality using endless features and flexible plugins. XSplit Broadcaster is the most reliable tool you’ll find for live streaming and is used by a long list of professional casters and content producers.

XSplit Screenshot
  • USERS LIKE
  • Reliable usage
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Broadcasts professional image
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Free version has ads
  • Poor customer support
  • Subscription-based business model

3. Lightstream

Lightstream Logo

The best streaming service for beginners

There are a few options on our list that are easy to learn and quick to setup. But no streaming service is as simple as Lightstream. That’s because Lightstream works directly from your browser, with no strings attached.

Seriously — there’s nothing to install. Simply head to the Lightstream website, connect the service to your streaming platform of choice (it works with all the major brands), personalize your look, and you’re good to game! Lightstream automatically detects the best settings, monitors your internet connection for hiccups, and outputs HD video for your viewers — all using Lightstream’s backend. You don’t need a high-end gaming PC or any newfangled technical wizardry to get started.

With such ease of use comes limited customization options. But that’s a small price to pay for this exceptional (and free) piece of software.

Lightstream Screenshot
  • USERS LIKE
  • Works from your browser
  • No downloads or high-end PC needed
  • Syncs with all the primary streaming services
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Support is lacking
  • Limited customization options
  • New, relatively unknown company

4. OBS

OBS Logo

The best free streaming software

OBS, aka Open Broadcaster Software, is our top free live streaming software pick. That’s because it’s open-source and supported by a large community. It enables the user to live stream to Twitch, Hitbox, DailyMotion, YouTube, and many more.

What sources can you capture with OBS? Sources include screen regions, whole screen, webcams, windows, and direct game capture for compatible games. Moreover, you can capture multiple sources and arrange them to your liking. You can even make your own overlays and buttons with Photoshop, and add those to the mix!

Open Broadcaster Software dually serves as recording software. You can choose to stream and record at the same time, or just record. This feature is excellent, particularly if your game doesn’t have a built-in replay feature. You can go back and analyze your gameplay as well as share it with others in a broadly recognized file format. Pretty cool, huh?

Overall, OBS offers a ton of flexibility at a price that can’t be beat.

OBS Screenshot
  • USERS LIKE
  • Free & open-source
  • Lightweight, low CPU usage
  • Easy to use with plenty of online guides
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Small learning curve
  • No dedicated customer support
  • Requires plugins & addons for superior functionality

5. vMix

vMix

The most versatile streaming service

Another top-tier streaming product designed for the power user, vMix offers potential customers a friendly tiered pricing system. The basic 1080p starts at $60 and goes up to $700 for 4K UHD. You can also choose the most advanced package with all the bells and whistles (instant replay, PTZ camera control, scripting controls, virtual scoreboard, etc.) for $1,200 smackeroos.

vMix’s interface is super slick, but it does come with a learning curve and can agitate first time users. Fortunately, once you buy into their system, you get access to fantastic technical support. Furthermore, there’s a wealth of YouTube videos out there with instructions and how-to’s on the various features of vMix.

vMix Screenshot
  • USERS LIKE
  • Free ‘Lite’ version
  • Loads of features
  • High-quality output (up to 4K)
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Relatively expensive
  • Documentation is lacking
  • GUI could be more intuitive

6. Shadowplay

Shadowplay Logo

The best built-in streaming service

Instead of putting the load on your computer processor, it uses your graphics card as the encoder. This is great if your graphics card isn’t being pushed to its limit, but if its already maxed out, your games graphics performance will take a hit. Many gamers praise Shadowplay for its minimal performance impact, but where it really shines is as a recording solution.

One of Shadowplay’s greatest features is its quick record option, dubbed Shadow Mode. Hit a hotkey, and up to the last 20 minutes of your gameplay is saved to disk. Of course, you can record video for as long as you want in manual mode. The System Requirements and qualifying Nvidia graphics cards are listed here. For streaming, your overlay options are going to be limited. One trick to overcome this is setting Shadowplay to “Allow Desktop Capture” and use an overlay like Overwolf to display chat while in-game.

Shadowplay
  • USERS LIKE
  • Free to use
  • Works with your existing GPU
  • Shadow Mode is excellent for capturing epic moments
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Limited functionality
  • Supports NVIDIA GPUs only
  • Better for recording, not streaming

7. Wirecast

Wirecast Logo

The best pro streaming service

The last on our list is by far the priciest option. For $655, you can be the proud owner of Wirecast’s live webcasting software. To upgrade to the Pro version, you’ll be looking at $995 at the time of this writing. It is an all-in-one live streaming platform that, in essence, mimics television studio production software. Wirecast can handle streaming just about any event from live concerts to giant tournaments that demand seamless transitions and sharp looking graphics.

It allows unlimited encoding, streaming to multiple servers and platforms simultaneously, guest features when you happen to have Drake for a visit, and loads of other specs. It may be a little overkill for a solo streamer, but if you’re already making a steady income from streaming, $650 may be well worth the investment. If you want the best, this is it.

Wirecast
  • USERS LIKE
  • Perfect for beginners to professional
  • Stunning graphics, audio, and stock media
  • Stream and/or record to multiple destinations
  • USERS DISLIKE
  • Extremely expensive
  • Uses a lot of resources
  • Requires powerful streaming rig

What is Streaming Software, Anyway?

Game Streaming Software

Live streaming software is a type of encoding program that converts raw video input into a digital format for over-the-air viewing, in real-time. 

Sounds like a simple enough task, right? Just getting your video ready for broadcasting? So why are there so many live streaming programs out there, ranging from free and open-source, to over $1,000? 

First, it’s not as easy as you’d think. Live streaming is a resource-heavy task, and streaming softwares use a lot of your CPU’s resources as they continuously convert your live video for broadcasting. 

Moreover, live streaming software typically handles much more than just video conversion. Consider the other things that go along with streaming. Things like uploading the newly converted video to a broadcasting platform, adding extra effects and ‘overlays’ before they’re sent over the air, and other under-the-hood tasks.

Video Editing

More expensive software is (usually) better at the video conversion process, given the money larger companies set aside for R&D. Not only that, but paid solutions often feature extra perks, as requested by top streamers. This includes things like multiple source inputs (webcam, and two desktops, for example), more effects, and higher resolutions.

But more expensive doesn’t always mean better. As more competition emerges, new solutions follow suit, bringing down overall costs. Not only that, but open-source software has made a re-emergence lately, and today’s most popular solution, Streamlabs, is built atop OBS. These community-driven projects provide exceptional value and are often nearly as good as more expensive solutions.

All the options on our list are great for specific purposes, which we’ve outlined in their descriptions. If you’re just getting started, we highly recommend Streamlabs and/or Livestream. Download the programs, mess around a bit, and visit Youtube for in-depth tutorials on your favorite picks.

Who knows? You may very well be the next Ninja.

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