Live streaming isn’t just for a select few anymore. Streaming platforms and app developers have made it easy for any of us to put out live broadcasts from most internet-enabled devices. Phones and tablets offer convenience and cost-efficiency. But if you’re serious about producing high-quality live-streamed content, you’re going to need a more robust setup.
Very few compare to what live broadcasting from a proper PC can do. But hardware is just half of the story. You’d need the appropriate software or encoder to bring all your broadcasting elements together. With tens of highly-regarded streaming software options available right now, how would you know which one is the best fit for you?
If your content tends more toward the formal side, you might be tempted to opt for free and or cheap options but end up not getting the functionalities that you need. If you’re more of a casual video content creator who has decided to get hyper-premium software, you’d probably be paying for features that you’ll never use.
This is where we come in. In this post, we’ll give you a rundown of the ten best live streaming encoders for the Windows operating system. Our list of live streaming software will include both paid and free offerings as well as recommendations on which type of live streamer they’re best suited for. Let’s get to it.
The 10 Best Streaming Software for PC
Price: from US$7/month (Gamer plan); from US$20/month (Creator plan)
LightStream is a cloud-based application, which offers two plan types: Gamer and Creator.
The Gamer plan boasts an incredible feature—capturing feed from your console or mobile device without a capture card! How does it work? Instead of sending video to your streaming platform of choice from your gaming device, you broadcast live video to LightStream’s servers. You customize your game capture using the app through a browser then send your modified feed to the streaming service. The feature works for Xbox One X/S, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4 and 5, Android, and iOS. It’s console streaming that’s mostly cable-free.
The Creator suite has tools for inviting up to seven remote guests for interviews and podcasts. Its RTMP source feature allows you to link LightStream to other streaming tools and use all of their unique perks in a single broadcast. Gamer plan features are also bundled with the Creator pack.
The scene editor is very beginner-friendly. You simply drag and drop your scene elements into place. A companion app serves as a remote control for starting and stopping your stream and other basic features, such as switching between scenes.
If you’re more of the compact and on-the-go live content creator, you’ll get a lot of use of what LightStream Studios have to offer.
- Reasonable prices
- 7-day free trial
- Cloud-based streaming software; no download and installation
- Capture card-free console streaming
- Intuitive scene editor
- 1080p/30fps cap even on the most expensive tier
- Sporadic delay when transitioning between scenes
- No multi-streaming capabilities
MacOS computers bounce between different graphics card manufacturers for their pre-built systems. You’re pretty much stuck with that card for the rest of your Mac’s natural lifespan. The great thing about having Windows as your operating system is that you have the freedom to use any brand of GPU for your rig. For most users, Nvidia is the gold standard in high-quality graphics cards.
Naturally, the manufacturer has its own live streaming application called Nvidia ShadowPlay. It offers the basics, such as camera and mic input and overlays. But what sets Shadowplay apart from other software encoders is its quick-share feature.
You can share the last 30 seconds of video content to your social media platforms instantly through Geforce Experience—Nvidia’s main companion application. You can also create GIFs of your notable gaming moments right in Shadowplay and share them on Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets.
Suffice to say, Shadowplay is very gamer-centric. It seems like a light program at first glance. But being an Nvidia software, it puts heavy emphasis on ultra-high-quality videos. You can record and share video clips in resolutions of up to 8K HDR at 30fps for RTX Series 30 cards or 4K HDR at 60fps for older models.
Gaming live-streamers who are also very active on social media will love that they can share highlights to various outlets without leaving their broadcast.
- High-quality video streaming and recording
- Instant content sharing to social media
- Limited customization
- Exclusive to Nvidia GPU users
Price: US$599 (Studio); US$799 (Pro)
Wirecast is a prime example of a “hyper premium” advanced live production studio. Just look at those prices. It is also a good case of, “You get what you pay for.”
Wirecast is geared toward broadcasting large-scale live events, which may require a good number of audiovisual inputs. We’re talking about multi-camera and microphone setups, such as worship services, live sporting events, and so on.
This live streaming software prides itself on being an all-in-one application. On-board features include a web browser, a sophisticated audio processing system, and a conferencing client for remote interview participants, to name a few. It also has first-party plugins, like live polls, scoreboards, and instant replay.
Both plans also grant you access to Wirecast’s extensive stock media library, which is populated by over half a million images, music, video clips, backgrounds, and more. There’s no need to scour the internet for copyright-free media resources.
Another great thing about Wirecast is you can stream to multiple platforms simultaneously. This is especially useful if your viewer base is spread out across the different video-sharing destinations, such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. You can reach them all in a single broadcast.
Wirecast’s tagline is “Stream like a pro.” And we think it encapsulates what the software is capable of accurately.
- All-in-one streaming solution
- Large media library
- Free trial
- Lifetime license
- Large one-time payment
- Steep learning curve
- May require multiple operators
Open Broadcaster Software Studio or OBS Studio has become synonymous with live streaming because it’s one of, if not the most widely used, broadcasting programs today. Being an open-source software, the community behind OBS, which includes experts and amateurs alike, is incredibly active.
This free live streaming software doubles as a recording tool. It may look underwhelming at first because of how simple its dashboard looks compared to other open broadcaster software. But we think it’s where its strength lies. OBS Studio is a sandbox. You can customize it and add more features by installing user-created plugins that are available online. You essentially create a build of OBS that fits your exact needs. If you have a knack for tinkering with software settings and customization, you’ll get a lot of mileage from OBS Studio.
There are very few things this free software can’t do that paid ones can. You can add overlays, backgrounds, use a green screen, alerts, and many more. It even has a studio mode, which allows you to modify your video scenes and sources in the background before letting the changes become visible on your live feed. OBS Studio also works as a virtual webcam, so you can use it as a camera source for chat clients, such as Zoom and Facebook Rooms.
As integration goes, you can connect your Twitch and YouTube accounts to OBS to take advantage of additional features unique to the live streaming platforms. It’s a great YouTube live streaming software as you can adjust the bitrate freely for 4K video broadcasts.
OBS offers little by way of onboard tutorials but you do get a setup wizard when you first fire up the program. But, as mentioned, there’s more than enough help online from other users. Opinions on OBS’s accessibility are split. Some people say it’s for more advanced users, while others claim it’s easy to use. For our money, we say that if you can use Google, then you can use OBS.
Open Broadcaster Software Studio is so well-respected that tech giants, such as YouTube, Logitech, and Nvidia, have pledged financial support to keep the lights on.
- Free streaming software
- Massively customizable
- Active online community
- Streaming service integration
- Requires self-teaching
- Lacks an official helpdesk
- No simultaneous streaming to other platforms
Price: from US$60 (lifetime license); US$50/month
Like Wirecast, vMix is a high-end, professional-grade software for streaming that offers a wide range of advanced features. It works well for both casual operations and TV-level productions.
Depending on the license level, you can record your videos to up to two storage destinations from up to a thousand video cameras, NDI inputs, and multiple audio sources. You can also send video content to up to three streaming platforms simultaneously.
The color correction feature allows you to apply custom color adjustments to each video source. If you’re feeling lazy, there’s also the auto color correction option. Those skilled in graphic design can create bespoke graphics, like lower-thirds and borders, on the fly right in vMix.
Through vMix Social, you can aggregate feeds from your social media platforms and display them live. It supports Twitter and Facebook profile photos as well. Doing an interview or podcast? Use vMix Call and get up to eight guests in a single session. Each caller’s audio has its own mixer, so you can adjust it if someone’s mic volume is too loud or quiet.
vMix supports both budget and pro-grade hardware. You can use pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) cameras as well as external controllers from various manufacturers, which include Elgato, KORG, etc.
We like vMix’s wide range of lifetime packages. And if you’re keen, there’s the option for a subscription plan that nets you all the perks of the pro license, which costs US$1200 a pop.
If the scale of your content varies from time to time, you’ll find that vMix’s versatility will do you a lot of good. You can give it a spin for 60 days free of charge.
- Multi-purpose live streaming software
- Wide range of license packages
- Generous free trial period
- Supports streaming in 4K
- Pricey monthly subscription fee
- Limited functionalities on the lowest tier
- Can be overwhelming for beginners
Price: Free; from US$19/month (Prime)
Streamlabs OBS or SLOBS comes a close second to OBS Studio in popularity. The two are always getting compared to each other because they have a lot in common. The reason behind this is Streamlabs is built on OBS Studio’s framework. Yes, this popular software has good bones, so to speak.
Many users like Streamlabs OBS because it’s accessible. It brings forward features that you’d have to dig deep for if you’re using OBS Studio. The dashboard is intuitive and approachable. There are presets for pretty much every live stream element you can think of, such as scene layouts, on-stream alerts, and overlays. You can also edit video scenes on the fly mid-broadcast and apply the changes when you want.
Signing up to Streamlabs OBS grants you access to their Creator Sites, which lets you build a website for your live streaming channel. On top of that, you can also put up a merch store. Just submit your designs and Streamlabs will handle production and order processing.
If you want more meat in your stew, you can upgrade your membership to Prime. This unlocks exclusive customization content, like themes, apps, and transitions, as well as more features for your creator website and merch store. More monetization opportunities also await you on Prime. It’s your VIP pass to possible sponsorships from notable brands. You can also broadcast to multiple streaming destinations all at once with a Prime upgrade.
At the risk of sounding like old geezers, Streamlabs OBS is, by all accounts, “hip”. It’s the Instagram influencer of streaming programs. It tries its best to make live streaming a lot less technically jarring while giving you the tools to improve your channel’s popularity.
Streamlabs is the best OBS for Windows for people set on growing their brand and making a serious living off of live streaming.
- Easy to use
- Great marketing and monetization tools
- Has a free version
- Occasional bugs and crashes
- Has a lot bloat of features (Free and Prime)
Price: Free; from US$15/month; US$200 (lifetime license)
XSplit Broadcaster is a bit of a cocktail. At face value, it seems like a good fit for casual users, and it is. But dig deeper and you’ll find features that will turn an otherwise vanilla live stream into a broadcast-quality production.
Broadcaster is pumped full of functionalities for any broadcast type. When you run for the first time, you’ll be asked what sort of live stream you’re going for. Your settings will be optimized for your selection. So whether you’re streaming games, a podcast, or producing a full-blown news show, your stream’s technical bits are well-appointed and up to the task.
The app comes preloaded with a plugin library. You don’t have to download each one separately. Selecting just the features you need makes for a cleaner and lighter operation.
If you want to view each visual source more closely and you have spare monitors lying around, you can use the projector mode to output it to larger displays. Likewise, you can live stream videos out to devices within a closed network. It’s internet-free live streaming .
XSplit Broadcaster is custom scripts-enabled, which means you can create your own features. It’s not for everyone but a welcome addition nonetheless, especially for more advanced users. An OBS Studio user? The importer feature allows you to migrate profiles to Broadcaster, so you have a headstart when transitioning to the new software.
- On-board optional plugins
- Projector and private network streaming modes
- Reasonable prices
- Rare lagging issues when live streaming and recording
- Watermarked if streaming above 720p on the free version
- Numerous features locked behind paywalls
Price: Free; from US$39/year
ManyCam might seem like the odd one out of the rest of our selections. After all, older residents of the internet might remember it as a simple app that added fun effects to your webcam for video conferencing programs. But ManyCam has since upgraded itself to a full-featured live streaming application that can keep up with the best of them.
The present iteration of ManyCam allows you to broadcast simultaneously to multiple platforms. It has a user-friendly interface that employs a drag-and-drop system. You have a whole host of filters, effects, and backgrounds at your disposal.
The main draw of ManyCam is its instructional features. The whiteboard function is exactly what it sounds like. Scribble notes and draw illustrations for your viewers in real-time for improved engagement. You can share your screen or use the picture-in-picture function to layer multiple video sources in a single scene. If you have pre-recorded videos on standby, you can broadcast them as well. ManyCam supports playing and streaming video files already on your computer as sources.
ManyCam’s Software Developer Kit integrates your live stream with a good number of online teaching platforms. It may have a seemingly fun and simplistic dashboard but it’s one of the best streaming tools for businesses, education, and telehealth.
And yes, you can still use ManyCam as a virtual camera.
- Great online teaching and learning tools
- 4K streaming
- No watermark on the free version
- No monthly plan
- Limited camera quality settings
- Device number limit per plan
With a name like Gamecaster, this software sets out to make your gaming live streaming experience as smooth and productive as possible. This Windows-only (for now) program is an offshoot of XSplit but has since become an entirely separate entity.
Gamecaster is a free streaming software that offers watermark-free live streaming in full HD (1080p) video quality. You get a ton of pre-loaded overlays and widgets, many of which center around viewer engagement. Quality-of-life features include the ability to turn your mobile device into a remote control for your broadcast. This will work well for you if keyboard hotkeys aren’t your thing.
You get access to their Grooves library of copyright-free music. These tunes are available for download. So they’re not necessarily just for live streaming. Using Gamecaster earns you gold, which you can trade in for prizes, such as premium alerts, emotes, and stingers. Adding to its “for gaming” reputation is Gamescaster’s optimization for Nvidia and AMD graphics cards.
If you want to give Gamecaster a go, then you best do it now. There are plans of rolling out a Pro license, which will put free features behind a paywall but premium ones will enter the fray, of course. The dev team ensures that the free version will persist but they might put an always-on watermark on it.
- Free video streaming software
- GPU optimization
- Rewards and engagement-centered features
- No multi-streaming
- Not very versatile
Price: Free; from US$16/month
Restream is a web-based broadcasting solution that offers a lot of what non-web apps do. You can stream directly from a browser or integrate it to other applications, such as the other streaming software on this list. It’s the go-to multi-streaming solution for users who use broadcasting software that doesn’t allow it.
The free plan gets you cross-platform chat and analytics, up to six guests, preset overlays, and more. Mid-tier plans allow you to upload videos that you can schedule to go live, custom overlays, and split recording for individual guest audio.
The most expensive plans net you the streaming amplification feature, which optimizes the quality of your feed in case of connection problems. The failsafe stream backup lets you switch between two streams if for whatever reason your main broadcast fails. A multi-camera input feature is in the works for the premium and corporate plans.
Starting from their professional plan, you can stream pre-recorded videos. There’s a one-hour per file limit but you can upload up to 10 video files at a time.
Restream makes it incredibly easy for your PC since most of the work happens on their servers. You get a summary of your most recently concluded stream through email. Many users also report top-shelf support even for free users.
Since it’s browser-based, Restream is largely portable. Digital nomads can simply go on their laptops and start a live stream anywhere there’s a good internet connection.
- Doesn’t require a powerful PC setup
- Good customer service
- Dependent on very stable internet connection
- Server-side delays
- Pricey premium plans
The best live stream software for Windows is the one that gives you what you need at a price that you’re willing to pay. And since there are a few free streaming solutions available right now, you may even be inclined to stick to more than one application. Don’t hesitate to dip your toes into other streaming apps if a certain broadcasting software no longer works for you.
We hope this list has given you an idea of what the most well-reviewed live streaming programs have to offer. A successful live stream doesn’t just bank on a good live broadcasting software. If you want to up your facecam game, check out our recommendations for the best webcam software you can use today.