What’s a live-streaming encoder and which one should I use?

In Tips & Tricks, Virtual Events by Kat Rembacki1 Comment

As we discussed in our previous blog, “which live-streaming platform should I use?”, there are three things you’ll need in order to “go live” with your first virtual event:

  1. A Camera, 
  2. An Encoder, and 
  3. A Live-streaming platform

For those who are new to live-streamed events, the encoder is often the piece of the puzzle that’s most confusing. In fact, you may never even have heard of an encoder until now. That’s because as social media users we are only exposed to live-streaming platforms that come with built-in encoders, such as YouTube and Facebook Live. 

What does an encoder do?

The encoder is the software or hardware which receives the video from your camera and sends it to your live-stream. As we mentioned, some live-streaming platforms have simple built-in encoders while others allow you to plug in your own encoder for a higher quality production. 

Why would I used a separate encoder?

The advantage of using a separate encoder is that extra production value. If you’ve ever gone-live on Facebook, you already know that there aren’t a lot of options for adding professional graphics or layering in pre-recorded and live video onto your broadcast. This is typical of live-streaming platforms with built-in encoders. They’re made to be simple for consumers to use, but don’t really give you the power to produce high-quality, live-streamed events online. For more information about that, check out our guide to live-streaming platforms. 

What are the options?

There are tons of encoders out there, all with different capabilities and price points. Some are much easier to use than others, offering pared-down features that simplify the interface so it’s more user-friendly for all levels of experience. Others give you maximum capability to customize every inch of your live-stream but require more advanced knowledge to work with. 

So, which encoder should you choose? Read on for our recommendations. 

Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)

  • Experience level: Expert
  • Cost: Free

OBS is a free and open source software for video recording and live streaming. It allows you to professionally produce a live-stream, mixing live and recorded video, text and audio then stream to Twitch, YouTube and many other providers (including Passage Virtual Events). There’s a learning curve to get started, but once you’ve taken the time to learn the system the possibilities are endless.

StreamYard

  • Experience level: Moderate
  • Cost: $0-49/month

StreamYard is a great option for events that want more customization in their live-stream without needing to get an advanced degree in computer science. It works in your browser and gives you the ability to display guest comments as a screen overlay or type in a call to action which displays on screen. You can have up to 10 people in your stream, so it’s a good option for events with multiple participants or entertainment. Plus, you can stream to multiple sites at the same time, either through their custom RTMP output or one of their direct integrations. 

The platform has both free and paid versions of the product. The free plan includes 20 hours of live streaming per month with StreamYard’s logo.

Need help setting up your live-streamed event? Chat with one of our event experts. We’ll set everything up for you!

Streamlabs

  • Experience level: Moderate
  • Cost: Free

Streamlabs integrates Open Broadcaster Software with viewer interactions, chat management, and tip donations. The platforms distributes your event stream over platforms such as Twitch, YouTube Live, and Facebook Live. If you want a lot of the customizability that comes with OBS but don’t quite feel comfortable building everything yourself, Streamlabs is a good in-between option. Some of the features and plug-ins require payment, while others are free. 

Wirecast

  • Experience level: Expert
  • Cost: $599+

Wirecast is a live video streaming production tool by Telestream. It allows users to create live or on-demand broadcasts for the web. Live-stream hosts can switch between multiple live video cameras and in other source media, such as pre-recorded movies, music, audio, and slides to create professional broadcast productions for live or on-demand distribution. It’s a great system, but it’s one of the more expensive options on the market.

Which encoders work with Passage?

Passage is a platform agnostic solution, meaning you can actually plug in ANY encoder when using our live-streaming service. In fact, even if you don’t use us as your live-streaming platform, you can still secure access to your stream and use other features like Instant Donations during your event. Chat with one of our event experts about which encoder and live-streaming platform is right for you, or schedule a demo to see how our system works!