The 8 Best Live Streaming Encoder Solutions for 2023

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise - the quality of your live stream matters. No one wants to sit through a laggy stream!

Whether you’re a professional broadcaster or an amateur streamer, we’re sure you want to provide the best, high quality audio and video experiences to your viewers. Here’s where a live streaming encoder will help you.

Conversations about live streaming encoders can get pretty technical, so this article will tone down the tech jargon, explain the key terms, and leave you feeling confident about what to look out for when choosing the encoder for your beginner or professional live streaming.

What is a live streaming encoder?

A live streaming encoder refers to hardware or software that converts your raw video content into a digital format so you can stream it on your favorite platforms. The purpose of encoding a video is simply to allow it to be transmitted over the Internet.

If you’re using anything other than a webcam or a mobile phone to capture your video stream, you’ll need a streaming encoder. Converting your video into a digital format makes it readable for different types of devices, such as Android or iOS smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

Whether you choose a hardware or a software encoder is entirely up to you and your budget. They both take raw video files and convert them into digital formats, but hardware encoders tend to be much more expensive.

That’s because hardware encoding devices are solely made for the purpose of video encoding. Whereas software encoders often have other functionalities besides encoding.

So, if you’re an experienced, professional broadcaster, it’s worth investing in a hardware encoder. But if you’re a beginner, put away the extra pennies and opt for a live streaming encoder software instead.

What is a transcoder?

A lot of people think an encoder and transcoder are the same thing, but it’s a common misconception.

A video transcoder is a tool which allows you to convert your video file into a smaller size. Transcoding lets your viewers enjoy your video content no matter how good or bad their internet connection is.

For example, if your viewer has super-fast internet connection, they’d watch a video in high resolution. But if low latency isn’t possible, they’d watch it in lower resolution to minimize buffering.

There are tools out there that have both encoding and transcoding capabilities. There are also cloud video transcoders, which unlike the hardware ones, convert and broadcast each live video version that is created, rather than storing multiple versions of the same video.

Let’s throw another term into the mix - codecs.

What is a codec?

When talking about streaming videos, encoding and transcoding, you might come across the term ‘codec’.

A codec is a device or a computer program that both encodes and decodes your digital video. It’s short for ‘coder-decoder’. The encoder compresses a media file and the decoder decompresses it.

Codecs serve one important purpose, as without them, your video or audio files would take up too much storage space. If media files weren’t compressed, you would also find it difficult to send them over the internet.

There are hundreds of codecs, but the most popular include HEVC (high efficiency video coding), H.264 (for live streaming, Blue-ray and cable TVs) and MP3.

What is video bitrate?

When we’re talking about upload and download speeds, we’re talking about bitrate.

Bitrate is the amount of video data transferred in a certain period.

Bitrate is measured in number of bits per second and often abbreviated to bps. Video files tend to be quite large so you’ll probably come across them being measured in megabits per second (Mbps).

Note: Mbps is different than MBps. Mbps stands for megabits per second and refers to upload and download speeds. MBps stands for megabytes per second and refers to the unit of measurement for file sizes.

How to pick the best live streaming encoder?

Before we dive into our recommendations for the best live streaming encoders, there are a few elements you need to keep in mind that will help you choose the best one for your needs.

  • Budget - Decide how much you’re willing to spend on your encoder. If your budget is big, you might want to go for a hardware encoder. But if you’re looking for something more affordable, a software encoder will do just fine.

  • Experience - If you’re at the beginning of your broadcasting or live streaming journey, software encoders are not only less expensive, but also easier to use for basic streaming setups. If, however, you’re an experienced broadcaster, hardware encoders will be the best fit for your advanced streaming setups.

  • Video quality - The maximum video quality you aim for will influence your live streaming encoder choice. When doing your research, check if your encoder will let you stream in HD or 4K UHD.

  • Compatibility - If you’re going for a software encoder, make sure that it’ll work with your Mac or Windows operating system. Also, check if it’s compatible with your codec and your streaming platform.

The 8 best live streaming video encoder solutions for 2023

Now that you know the key terms associated with encoding, we’re going to dive into and compare eight of the best live streaming video encoder solutions to help you create high quality live video streams for your audiences.

1. VidBlasterX

VidBlasterX is a software encoder with a variety of mixing, editing, and video production features. It’s one of the most professional encoding software out there.

It’s got modular based user interface so you can arrange and chain individuals modules together and create your own ideal workflow. The software encoder offers a wide range of features, all of which are customizable.

VidBlasterX supports overlays and lower thirds, 4K resolutions, and it’s got a handy chroma key (green screen) support.

  • Price: $9/year for Home edition, $99/year for Studio edition, £999/year for Broadcast edition

  • OS Compatibility: Windows 7 or higher

  • Platform Compatibility: Popular social media platforms including YouTube and Facebook

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264, AAC, MP3, AC3, PCM

  • Bitrate: Default video bitrate is 200kbps

  • Level: Professional

Pros: It’s a high-performing software encoder which supports 4K video resolution for the best quality videos. It’s got plenty of features and different pricing plans to suit any budget.

Cons: Not compatible with macOS. Might be too complex for beginner live streamers.

2. OBS Studio

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) Studio is a free and open source software for video recording and live streaming. It’s equipped with a powerful API, enabling community-generated plugins and scripts for customization and specific functionality to suit your needs.

It enables real-time video/audio capturing and mixing and has unlimited number of scenes and custom transitions. It’s got HLS live streaming, plugins to add NDI functionality, and support for hotkeys.

  • Price: Free

  • OS Compatibility: macOS, Windows, Ubuntu

  • Platform Compatibility: YouTube, Twitch, Facebook Live, and more

  • Codec Compatibility: AAC, MP3 and H.264

  • Bitrate: Up to 9000kbps 

  • Level: Entry-level

Pros: It’s free and easy to use. There are detailed wiki and tutorial guides to help you get started, and a large active community that can answer all your questions. It updates frequently.

Cons: OBS Studio doesn’t support multi-bitrate streaming, so your users won’t be given the option to manually select the best video quality to suit their internet network conditions (like 144p, 240p, 480p, 720p, etc.). Looking at the latest TechRadar review, there are also some ‘annoying glitches’.

3. TriCaster

TriCaster is a premium real-time encoding hardware for advanced live streaming.

There are several products in the TriCaster line, including TriCaster Mini 4K NDI, TriCaster 2 Elite, TriCaster 1 Pro, and more, all of which are useful for broadcasters looking for additional video production support. Deciding which one to pick from the TriCaster family will largely depend on your needs and budget.

  • Price: $5,000 - $18,000

  • Connectivity: HD-SDI inputs

  • OS Compatibility: Windows and MacOs

  • Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, Microsoft Azure, Periscope, Twitch, Ustream, YouTube, and more

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264

  • Level: Professional

Pros: Auto-archiving for on-demand playback. Good editing tools and real-time graphic processing.

Cons: With price tags between $5,000 and $18,000, TriCaster isn’t the most budget-friendly option. The devices can also be quite bulky.

4. Wirecast

Wirecast professional live video streaming and production studio software lets you create high-quality live-streaming video in minutes, which is great for YouTube live streaming, live sports streaming, Facebook live streaming, and more.

Wirecast offers unlimited multi-streaming and recording, integrated social media comment moderation, built-in animated lower thirds title library, and advanced shot composition with up to 250 overlay layers.

  • Price: $599 for Wirecast Studio, $35/month for Wirecast Pro

  • OS Compatibility: Windows 10 or higher and macOS Monterey 12 or higher

  • Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo via RTMP or SRT

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264, H.265, MP3, AAC, and more

  • Bitrate: Recommended that an upload speed rate of at least double the selected video bitrate be available, especially for a total target bit-rate of 10Mbps or less, or when there are multiple outgoing streams

  • Level: Professional

Pros: According to GetApp reviews, it’s great value for money, easy to use, full of useful features and there’s great customer support.

Cons: Takes up a lot of computer memory and requires stable internet connection.

5. Teradek’s Vidiu Go

Another high-end live streaming encoder from Teradek is Vidiu Go. With Vidiu Go you can stream over the combined bandwidth from Ethernet, WiFi, and up to two 3G / 4G / LTE modems, or use several iPhone and Android smartphones as hotspots for more bandwidth redundancy.

Vidiu Go was created for broadcasters on-the-go and is ready to stream in under 10 seconds.

  • Price: $990

  • Connectivity: SDI and HDMI

  • OS Compatibility: Windows and macOs

  • Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch, Vimeo

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264 and H.265

  • Bitrate: 500kbps to 12Mbps

  • Level: Professional

Pros: Low-latency streaming, remote setup, great for broadcasting on-the-go.

Cons: VidiU Go has limited access to Core's suite of features and can only stream with RTMP/S.

6. Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

ATEM Mini switchers by Blackmagic Design have built-in live streaming encoders.

Its most popular model - ATEM Mini Pro - has a hardware streaming engine for live streaming via ethernet, or via the USB which also works like a webcam. It has four HDMI video inputs, two video outputs, recording to USB disks, 2D DVE, and green screen chroma key support.

  • Price: $295 for ATEM Mini Pro

  • Connectivity: HDMI and USB 3.0

  • OS Compatibility: Mac and Windows computers

  • Platform Compatibility: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, YouTube, Facebook Live, Skype, Twitch

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264

  • Bitrate: Up to 70Mbps

  • Level: Mid-level

Pros: 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon for ease of use and value for money. Portable and sleek design.

Cons: It’s a switcher with a built-in hardware encoder which might be overwhelming for beginners.

7. LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo hardware video encoders offer one-touch, wireless live streaming, directly from your camera to popular social media platforms and any web destination. LiveU Solo offers superior live video quality and reliability with up to 4K resolution and bonded 4G/5G streaming.

LiveU Solo uses the same bonding technology deployed by global broadcasters (think World Cup and the Olympics!) which allows you to combine multiple IP connections (cellular, WiFi and Ethernet), ensuring bandwidth consistency across the most challenging cellular networks.

  • Price: Starting at $995

  • Connectivity: HDMI/SDI inputs

  • OS Compatibility: Windows and macOS

  • Platform Compatibility: Any leading social media platform and webpage, including Ustream.tv, Amazon Live, Twitch, Facebook Live, and more

  • Codec Compatibility: H.264, HEVC

  • Bitrate: Up to 20Mbps

  • Level: Professional

Pros: Robust remote streaming and compatibility with all major platforms and websites. Great for teams and individuals.

Cons: Lack of customization. Some features require hardware upgrades.

8. vMix

vMix

vMix is an all-in-one live video production software solution with features including live mixing, switching, recording and live streaming of SD, full HD and 4K video sources including cameras, video files, DVDs, images, and PowerPoint.

vMix can be used in large scale multi-camera events or simple one person webcam productions.

It’s got full NDI capabilities, chroma key support, 13 transition effects, and 100+ built-in animated titles, scoreboards and tickers.

  • Price: $60 for Basic HD, $350 for HD, $700 for 4K, $1200 for PRO. Subscription licence MAX for $50/month. There is a free 60-day fully functional trial.

  • OS Compatibility: Windows 10 or higher

  • Platform Compatibility: Facebook Live, YouTube, Twitch, Twitter, Ustream.tv and many more

  • Codec Compatibility: AVI, MP4, H264, MPEG-2, WMV, MOV and MXF

  • Bitrate: Default bitrate is 128kbps

  • Level: Professional

Pros: vMix has got a wide range of features and plans to suit any budget. Supports multi-bitrate streaming. Easy to connect to streaming setups.

Cons: Not compatible with mac or Ubuntu.

Get ready to live stream!

Let’s be honest, live streaming encoders are essential to help you deal with frustrating issues like lagging, never-ending buffering and poor video/audio quality.

As you can see, there are many software and hardware encoders out there. Keep in mind your unique requirements, including budget and compatibility with your preferred streaming platform when choosing the right live streaming encoder for you.

Feel free to get in touch with one of our team to chat through how we can help you improve your live streaming workflows.

Now... lights, camera, and action!