Live streaming video generally requires either a dedicated hardware encoder or a computer that runs a software encoding program. But my guess is that you’re considering live streaming software for one primary reason: You need mobility!
Consider, for example, that you’re live streaming a tournament. In this case, you’d be inhibited by a hardware solution. Such a setup might require multiple monitors, a lot of wiring, and a big hardware encoding unit to lug around. But if you’re streaming via encoding software—which generally assumes that you’ll be using a laptop—your setup and tear-down are going to be as simple as opening and shutting your MacBook Pro (and packing and unpacking a minimal amount of cabling and a camera).
Now, before you run out and select the first live streaming software option you find, keep in mind where you hope to get to in the next 6-12 months with your live streaming capability. If your goal is to get to a multi-source, sophisticated live stream once you get the hang of things, we strongly suggest selecting a live streaming software option that isn’t limited. You may be wary of buying the Mercedes right when you turn 16 (so to speak), but there are some big advantages to planning ahead! Not the least of which are having the option to grow in your live streaming capabilities as you are comfortable with them and not having to purchase and learn a new system at that time. Case in point, we highly suggest you make an investment where your software encoder is concerned.
“OK, I understand! But… how do I pick the right one?”
Good question! We’re glad you asked. While many live streaming software solutions have hundreds of features, there are a few features that you’re definitely going to want—and a few more features that would be ideal to have but aren’t completely necessary (depending on your situation). We’ve listed these eight features out below.
Check out these lists of must-have equipment for live streaming and steps you need to take before, during, and after your event.
8 Live Streaming Software Features You Should Consider
The Critical Features
1. The ability to stream and record simultaneously.
You’ll want to be sure to have a system that allows you to make a local copy of the recording while you’re live streaming. Your service provider may also be recording, but as you’ve probably learned, things can go wrong. (Not all the time, of course—but enough that you should always be prepared!) We recommend playing it safe and ensuring your live video streaming software has this feature.
2. The ability to switch between video sources.
A built-in switcher allows you to shift between, say, a live-recorded program and a pre-recorded commercial or between multiple camera feeds. This is an important feature to have if you want to eventually add more bells and whistles to your broadcast.
3. The ability to send to multiple destinations.
If you want to send your live stream to multiple platforms at one time, this is a critical feature. For example, some of our clients use us as a live streaming platform and simultaneously send their stream to SnappyTV. This platform is used for social sharing and allows their highlights to be playable on a Twitter timeline.
4. A built-in graphics editing system.
Many competitive live streaming software options offer the ability to add lower-third graphics or scrolling messages at the bottom of the live stream. Even if the graphic options are as basic as can be, this is still a nice feature and a time-saver if you don’t have the time (or ability) to create the graphics in Photoshop.
The Ideal-But-Not-Necessary Features
5. A built-in audio mixer.
A built-in audio mixer allows you to adjust the volume on each source individually as they’re brought into your live stream. This is great if the feed that should be at 25% volume is at 80% and vice versa with its counterpart.
6. Social media integration.
Imagine you’re live streaming a baseball game and you have an athletics account on Twitter you’d like to tap into. If your encoder offers social media integration, you could display certain tweets on the air with the click of a button—or instruct fans to submit questions to the halftime show using a particular hashtag. You can see how this feature could make the live stream a lot of fun for viewers! vMix (a software encoding option we’ll discuss below) also offers the ability to integrate with Instagram—so if you wanted to display 15 fan pictures in real time, you could.
7. The ability to replay in real time.
Of course, not everyone needs the ability to do instant replay. For example, you probably don’t need to replay a portion of your live-streamed church service. (If you do, please send us a link. That sounds like fun!) But in the sports realm, this is a handy feature.
Keep in mind that any replay function in live streaming software is going to be very simplistic and not incredibly “instant.” This is not a dedicated replay system. But it’s nice to have regardless, in case something major happens and you want to quickly relive the moment in real time.
8. The ability to color correct your video sources.
If you don’t have time to white balance your video sources together perfectly before you go live, a color correction functionality would allow you to adjust the feeds so they look similar in the color space.
A Quick Word Of Advice
While searching for good video streaming software, you may come across some new cutting-edge features—like the ability to stream in 4K. But keep in mind that right now, only about 5% of your audience is going to be able to see (and thus appreciate) a 4,096-by-2,160-pixel display. So just remember that until certain features become standardized, you probably shouldn’t plan on purchasing them.
Video Streaming Software Options You Might Consider
- Wirecast: This software allows you to add production-quality effects to your broadcast, like lower-third graphics, multiple camera shots, and more. The price for Wirecast starts at $495 for the studio version and goes up to $995 for the professional version (which we recommend). Depending on the version you select, you’ll gain all of the necessary features or all of the features we’ve discussed in total.
- vMix: This is an alternative to Wirecast with similar features. vMix offers a free version of its encoder and five paid options ranging from $60 to $1,200. The higher the tier, the more features you can expect.
- Production Truck: Created by Blue Frame Technology, Production Truck is a sports-specific live streaming software option. The standard version is $239 per year and the pro version is $479 per year. Again, if you want the features we’ve discussed above, you’ll want the pro version.
FMLE (Flash Media Live Encoder) (a free encoder from Adobe) and Wowza Gocoder (a free encoder created specifically for tablet or smartphone video sources) don’t deliver the features we’ve discussed here, even lacking some of the critical features. These are both for very simple live streams that use one source. If you’re doing something simple, they’re great options—but just be aware that you won’t be able to do much with them in the future.
Research, research, research.
As with any new piece of equipment or software, research is going to be key. Most video streaming software options have free demos available, and we highly recommend using those demos to see if a software encoder really fits the bill for you.
If you have any questions about which software option is best for you, drop us a line! We’d love to see how we can help.