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OBS Studio is an open-source and well-maintained broadcasting software for streamers and YouTubers. Simply put, it is the best streaming software.
Open Broadcaster Software Studio offers an array of tools to a content creator that is invaluable, such as the advanced audio properties that can give you immeasurable control over your audio. These tools, when used effectively, can drastically improve the quality of your production, and the best part? It’s 100% free.
While there are other options for streaming software solutions, such as Streamlabs OBS, XSplit, NVIDIA ShadowPlay, Wirecast, vMix, Lightstream & AMD Relive, OBS Studio remains at the top. And for good reason.
We will mention that in certain specific cases, there are other solutions that do beat out OBS.
The features that make OBS Studio the best streaming software
First of all, and most important of all, OBS is 100% free.
With that in mind, we need to take a look into what it is this program offers. You can:
- Create unlimited numbers of scenes & sources within those scenes
- Create scene collections to stay organized for different streams.
- Manage your audio in a software mixer on a per scene basis(if set up correctly)
- Studio transition window
- Multiple source types to cover all forms of media to be streamed
- Advanced Encoding capabilities using X264, NVENC & AMD Advanced Media Framework.
- Widely supported by streaming gear like the Elgato stream deck.
- and more, all for free.
Download OBS Studio
The Faults of OBS
Like all things, nothing in life is perfect. We’ll quickly mention that, despite these flaws, OBS Studio remains as our pick for the best streaming software.
- Complex User Interface
- Anything with a lot of powerful features is bound to be confusing.
- Don’t worry too much about this; We’ll cover those features in detail in our OBS Feature Highlight series.
- Non-descript in nature
- Several features have no reference to how they affect your stream.
- You are required to be handy with google or experiment with it to find anything out.
- Very Inefficient
- OBS has a huge overhead in comparison to other options available. This has to do with how OBS was designed.
- This effect is mitigated by very high-end hardware or negated completely with a dedicated Streaming pc.
Other streaming software solutions – Why they didn’t take the top
Streamlabs OBS features a complete UI overhaul of OBS Studio but lacks some functionality.
Streamlabs OBS is a Fork of the official OBS master branch on GitHub. It is designed with user ease-of-use in mind to make starting to stream as easy as possible. It hosts many of the features of OBS and a few additions of third-party integrations for things like Streamlabs Alerts. (Things like follows, Subs, Merch store purchases, bits, etc.)
It also has integration with popular hardware designed for streamers, such as the GoXLR and Elgato Streamdeck. Built off the strong foundation that OBS Studio created, it does a lot right. However, it is not perfect.
Within Streamlabs OBS, there lies a few flaws that have cropped up over time, and those issues are what bumps Streamlabs OBS to the #2 slot of the best streaming software solutions.
For instance, the Incompatibility of certain VST plugins, like our Favorite suite of Free FX by Melda Productions. Some of you may not even use VST plugins, however, we strongly recommend you get familiar with them.
It is for this strange limitation alone that we chose OBS Studio as the best streaming software, and not Streamlabs OBS.
XSplit streaming software restricts a lot of functionality & imposes a commercial use restriction on the free version.
Where Xsplit limits your total scenes to 4 for its free version and charges a monthly subscription of $5 a month in a year-long license, OBS has no such limit.
As you take a look closer, these limits begin to add up. The scene limits, a forced watermark if you stream greater than 720p, FPS limit of 30…The list is simply too big.
The only real benefit that it offers you is professional customer support. For a new streamer just starting out and learning the ropes, this can be something you are considering. We recommend against that.
The professional-grade software and hardware encoding options are available to OBS for free. Then there is the Commercial Use restriction on the free version of XSplit. That is a big one. In essence, you cannot legally make any money off the free version of XSplit. That means bits, embers & subs, too. Fun fact.
There is one other benefit that XSplit has over OBS: Lower performance overhead. With a slimmer feature set, XSplit can offer a lower performance impact from 3% to 7% less than OBS. If you are struggling to get decent performance with OBS, Try XSplit. It is #3.
The GPU Vendor solutions: AMD’s Relive & NVIDIA’s ShadowPlay
The last options that PC streamers have as far as streaming solutions are concerned are AMD’s Relive & NVIDIA’s ShadowPlay solutions. These programs are designed to leverage the GPU’s internal encoder solutions set up out of the box. For the most part, they do that job pretty well while remaining incredibly lightweight.
AMD’s ReLive – bogged down by bugs and lacking some functional control over streaming elements like a webcam.
EposVox did an excellent job with this subject, we recommend to watch this video.
A quick synopsis is that ReLive is just another OBS, but is riddled with functional bugs that make it a poor choice. It is limited to people who have AMD GPU’s as well but lacks some level of control over things like your webcam’s resolution.
These bugs have been mitigated quite a bit in recent times, but it is still riddled with strange issues regarding the AMD’s Overlay to not display over a fullscreen application, regardless of whether or not it was run as Admin, or UAC was outright disabled. We can confirm EposVox’s findings with our own XFX AMD RX480 8GB card with Driver versions 19.5.2 & 19.8.2.
If the bugs get squashed & it matures a bit more, It could very well overtake Streamlabs OBS at #2. As it stands, it is our #4.
What of NVIDIA ShadowPlay? Not as a full streaming suite, but it has its uses…
Simplicity is sometimes the best. If all you need to do is record short clips to be used in a video montage, ShadowPlay for NVIDIA cards can make this process nearly painless.
ShadowPlay leverages the NVENC encoding chip that is embedded in their GTX and RTX lineup of cards, with some of their more recent entries upgrading that chip to perform even better. If recording at particularly high bitrates, the quality from NVENC is second to none.
The lightweight nature of the program means that it has a lower impact on your performance than OBS, so if your system is a bit on the older side of things, you may have better results using ShadowPlay over OBS.
It is, however skeletal in nature. It supports a basic webcam overlay, and an application capture…and that’s about it. Again, fantastic for clips. But please, don’t use it as your primary means of streaming to Twitch or Mixer unless you’ve no other choice.
What makes ShadowPlay not ideal?
The main disadvantage of Shadowplay is a complete lack of overlay customization. While covering the basics, such as a webcam(what corner it appears in & size) & chat overlays are available, it lacks a Source & Scene manager.
This means no AFK scene with automatically muted mics, No Alerts, and no multi-cam/perspective setups.
Now, if you are a fan of the minimalistic interface that it gives you, then yeah, it could be sufficient. Personally though, why settle for less when there is a clearly superior solution available as an alternative.
ShadowPlay is a dabbler’s toy. It is designed to be incredibly simple & easy to use. It certainly does do that well, but it is too lightweight for any streamer who is at least semi-serious about streaming.
Console Streamers: Lightstream or use a capture card
The story changes a bit if your budget is super tight or you only have a Console to be able to stream content. Most modern consoles support streaming by the use of store-approved apps, such as Mixer for XboxOne or Twitch for XboxOne.
However, adding a capture card setup into a dedicated streaming pc to do the encoding will allow the use of Open Broadcaster Software Studio and all of the features it has to offer.
Additionally, offloading the stream to a PC can drastically improve the quality of the video feed being sent to stream, as the CPU or GPU encoder can focus entirely on the job of encoding well, vs trying to run a game in the background. If you are curious about this, we recommend taking a look at our dedicated streaming pc article to decide if this is right for you.
That said, this is a premium solution with the best possible result, but not the only one! Enter Lightstream.
What LightStream has to offer a console streamer
LightStream is primarily focused on the Console Mixer Streamer. It sort of acts like Restream in that you stream to the LightStream servers, to which it then forwards that stream to your Mixer account. Only this time, it has overlays & more. This is a great stand-in if you want to have overlays + a Face Cam on a Console stream.
With each added hop, you do add a fair amount of latency though. This latency will Hinder the benefits of FTL and near real-time interaction with your audience. That said, using FTL becomes even more important in this case, because it minimizes the delay that your audience will experience.
Still, it is awesome that this is an option. LightStream is the best option for Console Streamers on a budget that does not allow the purchase of a Dedicated Streaming pc or Capture Card.
For Console streamers without access to a Capture card, LightStream is #1. If you have access to a Capture card & a PC capable of encoding well, OBS on that PC is the best choice.
Older Generation – Capture Cards & Emulators are the only options
Unfortunately, if you are an avid retro game streamer, Your only options to capture gameplay for use in a livestream environment is a capture card or Emulator. Due to the legal grey area of Emulators, and their imperfect reproduction of the games they emulate lead us to recommend against their use in Livestreaming.
Using a capture card will keep it authentic, and yield the best possible results, as the original hardware is what the game was designed to run on, to begin with.
Final Word –
Streamers have a lot of options available to get their broadcast live. What is best for you will depend on what hardware platform you stream on.
PC Streamers, OBS Studio is the way to go. If you experience issues getting good, fluid video on stream, try Streamlabs OBS. Then XSplit. If all three don’t function well, there is another underlying issue you’ll need to pinpoint.
IRL/Mobile Streamers. StreamLabs OBS has you covered with a good, and functional app.
Console Streamers will find LightStream or their native Streaming software to be the most functional. An addition of a High-end capture card & a dedicated streaming PC for the pinnacle of potential streaming quality.