Why use a 3rd Party Software Application?
For all intents and purposes, you could just go jump into Facebook or Youtube or [insert site here], and use what is considered the native user interface, and stream away to your hearts content. The only problem with that IS just that. It can start to get boring. With no branding, lower 3rds, graphics or screen sharing capabilities, the “Plain Jane” look and feel is going to show up to the party just like everyone else. Is that how you want your brand to be remembered?
There is, however, a variety of 3rd party applications available for live streaming to both social media or any other CDN (Content Delivery Network). The purpose behind each app remains the same; deliver an audio/video feed to servers of any platform that are designated to receive a stream. These 3rd party apps give you unlimited control over sending your content to the channel of your choice, without ever having to be on the site to pull it off!
Software encoders apps contain all of the tools necessary to facilitate a professional looking broadcast and usually capable of creating their own High Definition recordings. Most of these software apps have professional features and abilities that are rarely, if ever duplicated on any kind of website that promotes itself as being able to stream live video. But that’s changing quickly.
With cloud-based server processing what it is today, the gap between apps and websites is closing quickly. It won’t be long before websites will be able to compete (as some already are) with the higher priced software in the market.
I’ll admit, it does take a certain bit of technical know-how and type of person to produce a show while it’s playing out LIVE on the air. It’s not for everyone. In fact, many people prefer to be just a talent. Producers work the scene as back-end program directors, able to pull all the strings, ring all the bells and blow all the whistles needed to run the show. This is easily achieved with the right software or SaaS website.
Let’s go check out the Best Live Streaming 3rd Party Apps of 2017!
Beyond the normal Facebook or YouTube/HOA interfaces, I have either beta tested, currently have installed and have tested every application that is listed here. There are a few other applications similar to these, but I wanted to keep it to the top seven so that if you’re new to this, you wouldn’t get caught up in some kind of shiny object syndrome and waste a lot of time trying to find the good ones. I only focus on apps that can at least stream to Facebook. Below, (in order of my preference), is a short list of those software apps. These are what I consider to be the BEST live streaming apps available to the everyday live streamer.
There are other enterprise platforms available, but they are designed and operated by very large content delivery networks such as Ustream, LiveStream and other professional network-level corporations. Our opinions based on wants and needs may vary:
2. OBS – Orig. (End of Life)/Studio – PC/Mac/Linux (http://obsproject.com)
4. XSplit – Broadcaster/Gamecaster – PC/Mac/Linux (http://xsplit.com)
5. VidBlasterX – Home/Studio/Broadcast – PC/Mac (http://vidblasterx.com)
7. Wirecast v. 7.5 – Studio/Pro – PC/Mac (https://www.telestream.net/wirecast)
Follow the above links to the sites themselves, and look for the brief overviews of each app highlighting on the features available.
Winner of Streaming Media’s 2017 “Best of NAB” Award! vMix is where you’ll usually find me! I use this software for 90% of my in-house production work, and it’s surprising how long this powerhouse software remained under my radar.
Once I got my hands on their FREE 60 Day Trial version, I was hooked! No more wondering where I would find this feature or that feature. This software has literally EVERYTHING you would ever need, and then some, too much so!
The software may seem extremely daunting at first, and with a users manual reminiscent of a high school biology coursebook, I can understand why. When you first look inside at the intuitive interface, it’s just a blank palette.
Allowing multiple 4K inputs, overlays, lower 3rds, VLC streaming, chroma key, instant replays, playlists, title editor, separate recordings of video/audio, instant replay, and yes, desktop capture (screen share). In April of 2017, vMix Call brought it to life! vMix users could now invite remote guests through a Chrome Browser via WebRTC! In as little as a month, I was a vMix software reseller.
Keep in mind, this isn’t kid’s stuff. This is a high-end professional live streaming encoder software, Pro Edition that’s FREE for 2 months! After that, the software reverts to a Free Basic Edition for life.
The free download is still capable of high quality 768 x 576p which is far better than SDTV (480p), 4 inputs, 2 cameras, and 1 overlay channel for placing graphics into the stream for things like lower 3rds, screen sharing, branding images, video playback, etc.
The basic setup is simple, add a camera, start the output for the virtual camera, and go! Or if you’d rather, start with one of the preset destinations for creating an RTMP stream (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram).
Once you work your way up the learning curve, there’s probably no other software that is as reliable, less taxing on system resources or more enjoyable to stream with. I have never encountered a system crash attributed to the vMix software.
This ton of video trainings available on the website show just how quick and easy a live broadcast is to setup.
It’s only when you begin getting creative with various input sources, overlays, and virtual sets with multiple guests that things can get a bit tricky for a first-timer.
With an incredible array of input options (right), anyone would be hard-pressed not to feel a little lost inside the interface first starting off. I’ll be first to admit, I sure did!
Remember this, most pay-to-play software will charge extra to access all of the software’s features (# of cams, call-ins, overlay channels, etc.). No one rides for free when you’re talking about professional-grade live production products. Expect to pull out your wallet to get vMix Call, 1080p-4K video, and more than the default number of cameras, inputs and overlays that I mentioned earlier in this overview.
But straight out of the box, for a one time fee, and an entire year’s worth of FREE upgrades, you really can’t go wrong with vMix Live Production and Streaming Software! So if you’re serious, don’t leave this one on the table, there’s no reason not to at least grab your free copy today! If you’d like to purchase a license for vMix, be sure to get in touch. I’d be happy to help!
Both #1 and #2 on my list are what I call a 2-for-1 deal. A pair of FREE, open source software encoders that look and act about the same, both using less of your precious computer’s resources. Therefore, they will work well on older 2 core CPU desktops and nearly all laptops built in the last 5 years.
Quad-core processors are still recommended to stream 720p HD live feeds to social media.
What started as a simple one window application on Sept. 1, 2012, OBS has evolved into what is now known as OBS Studio. Having a robust UI has caused the development team to set aside it’s one track minded predecessor. OBS not only streams to the web via RTMP, but also works for in-house recordings to .flv, .mov, or .mp4 formats. Perfect for making quick, HQ videos using pre-built scenes, multiple local and remote devices, graphic overlays, lower 3rds, and screen sharing to name a few.
This software looks simple, but it has nearly every feature you’d need except for one thing, a virtual camera device. OBS doesn’t currently work with WebRTC protocols in use on most of the new streaming platforms like Smiletime, BeLive, Firetalk and others listed here. Yes, you can stream to Facebook, YouTube, Periscope and all the rest, but you must do it the old-fashioned way.
Instead, OBS sends signals via RTMP that connect to a remote location (URL). A user-generated Stream Key is created to “unlock” this resource. The key is a string of numbers and letters that act as a password to connect your stream to the servers. Never let anyone see your streaming key, (ie. Facebook/YouTube), or s could stream to your channel whenever they want. There could always be someone watching that may try to hijack your channel. Protect keys!
3. FFSplit – by Vincent Luong – FREE
Here is the other FREE, open source software program, but I noticed there hasn’t been any action on the website since early 2015.
The interface looks and plays much the same as the original OBS product, so most OBS users should feel right at home here.
It’s not that hard to explain why I really like these little one-off software apps, they serve a simple purpose, provide the tools to get the job done right with little concern over much other than production.
Put the scenes together and go, no overhead, not huge time suck, no real learning curve holding you back. Sure, there is some technical know-how attached to this whole process, but since you’ve come this far all you have left is to take the time to study some terminology (as in our glossary from Chapter 1), and learn the basic steps to open a stream, which are similar in every case.
Like OBS, I mention this small, outdated, but useful app, for three (3) reasons:
1. It’s Free (you know I like free)
2. There are Quick to Action functions that makes adding text overlays, other inputs and objects in real-time very simple -and-
3. The software includes a switcher (that connects sources with actions)
These are not the only reasons I keep it in my toolbox. FFSplit is pretty lean and mean (more so than OBS) when it comes to normal operations plus it’s full HD.
FFSplit also records the video output to a file on your PC for quick and clean professional looking video productions. If you like OBS, you’ll probably like FFSplit, too! Grab them both!
4. VidBlasterX – by CombiTech – $9-$99-$999/year
VidBlasterX is Mike Versteeg’s latest edition and is no longer the free product it used to be. VidBlaster is now a subscription based local software installation that provides live streaming and recording up to 4K/UHD. Send streams to Facebook, YouTube and other CDNs using RTMP or the virtual camera driver.
VidBlaster is a studio quality modular component software system with a built-in audio mixer and switcher. The user can combine any number of floating input or output modules (based on purchase) that can literally be placed anywhere within the user interface, or the modules can be docked to other modules to selectively create the studio layout of your choice, giving it a big plus for having the most customization of all the 3rd party encoder apps available on the market today.
The software comes in three (3) flavors: Home, Studio & Broadcast. The main difference between these editions is in the number of modules allowed in a single profile: Home edition supports up to 7 modules, the Studio edition up to 25, and the Broadcast edition up to 50.
The Broadcast edition also comes with several advanced features: UDP streaming, multiple recorder & streamer modules in a single profile.
Another difference is the level of support: the Home & Studio editions come with community support, the Broadcast edition comes with both community and priority support. The VidBlasterX Trial Edition is equal to the Studio Edition, with a watermark added to all output channels. The cost of Home is incredibly $9/yr!
The website says: “VidBlasterX is a versatile and powerful ultra-low latency cascading vision mixer and video router with built-in scalers, time base correctors, frame synchronisers, IP video encoders and decoders, video players, recorders, keyers, effects and much more.” Basically, anything that has a WebRTC or RTMP heartbeat can receive a signal pumped in by VidBlasterX.
5. XSplit | Broadcaster – by SplitmediaLabs – $15 for 3 mos.
XSplit has two offerings on their website. One is Broadcaster and the other is Gamecaster. With over 8 million registered players, and 200k joining every month, you’ll find XSplit is geared specifically toward the video gaming industry. If you’re just planning to deliver a message with video, download Broadcaster.
This was my go-to software during the Blab Days, until I won a copy of Wirecast Pro 6 in a live video contest! Looking like another OBS clone, XSplit is capable of desktop sharing, video playback, graphic overlays, multiple inputs and streaming via RTMP(Flash), RTSP(IP), and NDI (beta). This app will also record locally, but it trumps OBS and FFSplit thanks to it’s virtual camera driver.
And that’s just the FREE version…
It can be used for Skype, Hangouts or Facebook, and any other site that grants access via WebRTC in the browser, but a virtual camera is not the only selling point..
The array of other unique paid features available inside of XSplit include: .mov stingers, widgets for whiteboards, image slideshows, 8 addt’l scenes, local streaming. There’s even a built-in video editor! (WHAT?!) Setting up streams to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Mixer via RTMP are pretty straight-forward, but the controls are scattered about. The account and basic version are free, and you must be logged in first in order to use the software, which I suspect helps them with their user analytics. Full access requires a very inexpensive upgrade to the paid version for three months of use. They do have a Lifetime Plan for $199… software good until you die!
Previous versions included a software chromakey plugin, that seems to have been discontinued and is now handled natively. A substantial number of new features have been added to their latest 3.0 version. One clever concept that I haven’t seen in any other app besides this one is the ability to bring in remote guests using Skype.
Two years back, one of my biggest hangups with XSplit was it’s sluggishness. But then again, game aficionados tend to have the biggest, baddest machines on the planet. They care very little about processing overhead, because their machines are built to the nines. Hard-core gaming machines typically don’t have a problem with lag like your average business machine do. At the time, I was running an older 4 core AMD unit with 8 GB of DDR2 that could barely keep up.
Their website does admit that the system requirements are a little higher than your average box will bear.
Oddly, it states XSplit MIN spec is Windows 8.1 (?), a 2nd Gen. I5 CPU or higher, and 8 GB of RAM. Unheard of…
The only downfalls to the free version of XSplit is the constant reminding you to upgrade to Premium and the fact you’re restricted from using it for commercial use. So if this software suits your fancy, be sure to upgrade first.
About ½ of the highly sought after broadcast features including, get this… a fully incorporated video editor, cause an annoying pop-up to engage that asks you for your money. The image above shows which of those features will trigger such an event. Pay the man already, and lose that annoying delayed “Continue” button they installed on the front end upon entering if you don’t.
If your machine isn’t built for speed or at least able to match the required specs, then XSplit might not be something you should even consider, but if your newly built equipment is up-to-snuff, then this would be a fantastic alternative to some of the other higher priced software out there, at a way more reasonable price!
XSplit does have some known issues and some other limitations, but overall I have no problem at all giving it a “thumbs up” recommendation to not only my gaming friends, but to anyone new to broadcasting as a first step to going pro.
If you’re reading this in hard copy, you may want to browse to the site to check on the known issues in relation to your hardware to make sure your system would be compatible with the software as it runs currently. Most bugs are sure to be worked out over time.
6. ManyCam – by Visicom Media, Inc. – Free-$49/mo
No matter who you ask, they’ve seen the bugs. As of late, Visicom has made a lot of improvements, and added many long awaited features directed more toward live streamers rather than just Skype callers, but this doesn’t change my love-hate relationship with this software. It has been around many years, has garnished many followers and I expect it to be around for many years to come. Did you see what I did there?
ManyCam is software I would classify as wonderfully fun and socially engaging. It’s really of no less professional quality than the rest of the bunch, but there always seems to be a few bugs under the hood. The new beta interface was recently deployed, so we’ll have to do some more testing to see if this one can hold it’s position like it has for the many years it’s has already. Puns you say? Why yes, yes they are…
ManyCam’s latest software offering broadcasts to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Ustream, Livestream, and a host of others. Multiple video sources, green screen, IP cameras, multiple channel broadcasting, PnP, fun effects and a mobile app, so you won’t be lacking in any department if you make this your software of choice. The free version output is watermarked and lacks .
The company recently changed its pricing structure from a one-time fee over to a subscription plan. Many are OK with it, and Many others are NOT. It’s my honest opinion that software of this nature should be licensed for use indefinitely, and not over-capitalized upon as a pay-as-you-go-kinda-service-thing.
If it’s highly scale-able, has certain aspects that no other vendor can offer, or is updated with new features so incredibly often that you would suffer from a terrible and agonizing sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) if you didn’t, that’s different. But, rarely do you ever find such a software (except maybe Autocad)!
If you’re a ManyCam user at heart, please stop by this book’s Facebook page (yes, this book has its own page!), and let me know what you love best about it!
7. WireCast v.7 Studio/Pro by Telestream $499-$999
I was using Wirecast v. 6 Pro, before I came across vMix, and there were several reasons why I made the switch. I was excited when I first sampled the power behind the Wirecast interface, but that excitement quickly faded by the time v.7 came out, if only for the fact that within a few months, they were asking me to contribute another $299 to the developer’s kitty to upgrade the software.
I wasn’t thrilled, and I didn’t upgrade. Kinda lost me as a customer right there...
The high priced upgrade, along with discovering how clunky it was to use, kept me from being able to recommend it to my fellow live streamers.
Don’t get me wrong, there are several nice features found inside Wirecast, and there are many hard-core fans behind it, I’m just not one of them. The word on the street from users is that v. 7 has made some respectable improvements over previous versions of the interface and did reduce the CPU usage and overhead that bogged it down.
Wirecast fully supports NDI (Network Device Interface) protocols developed by NewTek, but from what I’ve gathered, they removed the virtual camera drivers entirely, making it useless with WebRTC, which put it at the bottom of my 2017 Best of List. This leaves support for only RTMP, MMS HTTP streaming, but I think I understand why they did it.
As for me, I haven’t seen enough added value to justify a $299 upgrade from v.6 to v.7.5 at this time to find out. They’d do well to mirror vMix’s 12-month upgrade policy.
Wirecast also has a free iOS app, to use any iPhone or iPad as an input device. Many software apps should consider these mobile options as incidental also.
Plan on digging deep inside the $$$ bucket to play in the Wirecast sandbox.
(Wirecast comparison: https://www.telestream.net/wirecast/compare.htm)