Streaming software: What it is and which ones we recommend

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Live streaming is an entire medium designed around sharing a performance or happening in real time. And it’s popular, too: In 2021, viewers spent nearly 550 billion hours on live streaming apps. Twitch, a social media hub specifically designed for hosting live content, is now the most popular software for streaming among gamers.

Video streaming software makes it possible for viewers around the world to catch what their favorite gamers, creators, magicians, and stranglers in real time. Here’s how to get in on the action.

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What is streaming software?

Streaming software is any program designed to broadcast live content to audiences. Streaming services give creators the chance to appear live in front of viewers through video and audio, sometimes with extra features like live chat or viewer donations. Twitch and YouTube even allow for both streaming and recording video, so those who missed the live broadcast can watch on-demand at a later date.

Why should you use streaming software?

Although streaming is popular among people broadcasting live video gameplay via capture cards, live streaming isn’t just for trash-talking gamers. People with diverse skillsets and backgrounds, like motivational speakers, depressing speakers, mechanics, workout instructors, comedians, dancers, home cooks, and lion tamers can all take advantage of live streaming to connect with their audiences. Some benefits of using stream software:

  1. More audience engagement. Live streaming can provide an interactive window for audiences to connect directly with the creators they admire, especially through things like Q&As, live chats, surveys, and polls. With live streaming, you can also get instant feedback from your audience, which allows you to adjust your content in the moment.
  2. It’s more intimate. When you broadcast live, audiences get your first take — they will see everything you say and do as soon as you say and do it. This might be nerve-racking for some, but for others, it’s an opportunity to show viewers an unedited version of you. That can create a more vulnerable and personal experience that helps deepen the connection from behind the screen.
  3. It’s inexpensive. Many social media platforms and streaming services don’t charge to broadcast, which means the only thing you need to get started is a camera, a reliable internet connection, and a computer or mobile device.
  4. It engages your audience. Live streaming gets viewers more involved than they would be with pre-recorded content. For example, a musician’s fans can share their excitement in real-time during a live performance of a new track. Gaming fans can participate like sports spectators while they get a first-hand look at their favorite gamer’s tactics and strategies.
  5. It works on your schedule. When you stream live, you’re in control. You can randomly broadcast your content when you feel like it or plan a live event for viewers to attend. Either way, audiences are watching your content on your schedule — no one is dictating when you need to broadcast.

Best streaming software

Live streaming software comes in a variety of options that offer different features at different price points. Some of the best streaming software options include:

  • Open Broadcaster Software Studio. OBS Studio is a free, open-source software encoder compatible with multiple operating systems. This software provides easy tutorials for optimizing your stream, enables audio mixing, provides unlimited video recording time, and is easy enough to use for beginner streamers. OBS Studio also allows users to switch between camera angles or scenes during their live broadcast. Note that it will only allow for broadcasting to one platform at a time.
  • Restream. Restream is a handy video-only streaming tool that works directly through your web browser. This cloud-based streaming software connects to over 30 social media platforms including LinkedIn and Instagram, as well as other streaming services like OBS Studio. It also enables simultaneous platform broadcasts and offers channel analytics so you can measure important data like video views or watch time. Restream also lets users integrate pre-recorded video into their live stream — and if you’ve edited that video in Descript, it’s super easy to do. That’s because Descript has a Restream integration that lets you upload content to the platform in just a few clicks. Just select “Restream” from the export menu when you’ve finished editing your video. While there is a free option for Restream, basic subscription plans that offer more customizable features start at $19 a month for the lowest tier and peak at $249 a month for the highest tier.
  • Twitch Studio. Twitch Studio is a free streaming program that lets streamers broadcast live straight from the app. Designed for beginner streamers, this service provides guided setup and onboarding, personalized layouts and overlays, and multi-audio device support. With Twitch Studio, you can capture audio through your desktop browser and broadcast it directly onto the platform without additional plug-ins.
  • Wirecast. Wirecast is an advanced streaming tool that supports live video along with a number of other features. Wirecast Studio has a one-time price of $599 and offers features like an integrated stock media library, comment moderation, output statistics, advanced audio mixing tools, and up to two remote guests. Wirecast Pro is a more advanced program starting at a one-time license price of $799 (or $35 per month for a subscription) that offers all the benefits of the studio version, plus multi-track audio recording, instant replay, virtual backgrounds, ISO recording, built-in scoreboards, and up to seven remote guests.

Final thoughts

With so many streaming software options available, you can broadcast all types of content to a variety of audiences far and wide. Choosing the best software or app for your streams depends on which features you need and your budget for a subscription plan. While there are plenty of free plans available, paid services may be what you need if you’re looking for greater bandwidth or ad-free content. Whether you’re streaming for marketing purposes, teaching what you know, or just testing your live performance skills, broadcasting real-time content can bring you closer to your audience and provide a more intimate way of connecting with viewers.

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