The ultimate live streaming software guide for beginners

Jun 29, 2021 • 7 min read
A guide to help you discover which live streaming software is right for you.

    Live streaming is becoming increasingly popular with each passing day, whether it be a new job opportunity or just for fun. As a result, more and more people are getting into this trend every day, setting up their rigs for live streaming. However, for someone new to all of this, setting up the perfect live streaming setup can be quite complicated, especially when it comes to choosing the right software. This guide will provide you with a brief summary of the best and most popular options on the market right now so that you can make the right choice as you start your live streaming career.

    Here is the list of the top live streaming software options as of 2021:

    • OBS Studio
    • Streamlabs OBS
    • XSplit
    • vMix
    • Nvidia ShadowPlay

    What is Needed for Live Streaming

    Before we begin describing the pros and cons of the different streaming apps out there, let’s briefly go over everything you need to set up a live streaming rig. Although every streaming setup is different, there are some core elements that are important. These include:

    • A modern computer
    • An audio source (microphone)
    • A video source (camera or screen capture)
    • A stable high-speed internet connection
    • Streaming software

    These are the core elements needed to start live streaming. You may eventually want other components to make your stream more personalized, such as a stream deck, a gaming rig, a second camera, etc. So, with this information out of the way, let's now get to the juicy portion of the article: Which live streaming software is best?

    Types of Live Streaming Software

    Here is a list of the best and most popular live streaming software options available today:

    OBS Studio

    Open Broadcaster Software Studio (OBS Studio) is considered to be a staple of streaming software because it’s free-to-use and compatible with most operating systems, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. Because of these features, many newcomers use OBS Studio as their first choice when it comes to live streaming. However, there is more to this software than its zero-price tag.

    Users can use OBS Studio to stream directly to Twitch, YouTube, Utreon, and other live streaming platforms, reducing the hassle of setting up the stream. You also get tons of options for configuring your stream, although this can get quite complex. The main disadvantage to using OBS Studio is that it’s an open-source project, which means there is no official support. However, there is still a large community of users that can help with any questions you might have. 

    Streamlabs OBS

    Streamlabs OBS is based on the OBS Studio but with a few key changes. The entire UI has been revamped to make OBS feel much easier to use, and it offers improved performance. Not only is Streamlabs OBS absolutely free, but it also comes with support from Streamlabs - unlike OBS Studio.

    One downside to Streamlabs OBS is that it's only compatible with Windows. If you are using a different operating system, such as macOS or Linux, you will need to select another option such as OBS Studio. It should also be noted that Streamlabs OBS is technically still in beta, so you may come across some minor bugs and glitches along the way. However, the Streamlabs team releases updates very frequently so this shouldn’t be a major problem.


    XSplit Gamecaster is another option that you can use to live stream for free. It's only available for Windows at the moment but it is compatible with most streaming platforms. It's very user-friendly and easy to set up quickly.

    However, there are some drawbacks to using XSplit. Many premium features are locked behind a paywall, which means you'll have to throw some cash around if you want the best possible live streaming experience. For example, the free version will display an XSplit watermark on all streams at 720p or higher. Needless to say, this isn’t ideal if you are trying to give that professional feel to your stream. XSplit is currently available for US$15 per month or US$200 for a lifetime license. 


    vMix is the least commonly used software on this list - mostly because it's designed for professional-grade streaming. It offers plenty of advanced features and allows you to stream in 4k. That being said, vMix does offer a more basic plan for free. The free plan offers everything you need as a beginner, and you can always choose to upgrade later - albeit at a hefty price.

    The main disadvantage of vMix is that it’s only available for Windows. So, if you prefer streaming from a Mac or Linux, you're out of luck. vMix is also more resource-intensive than other live streaming apps, so you may want to use something else if your streaming setup is already suffering from performance bottlenecks.

    Nvidia ShadowPlay

    ShadowPlay is a live streaming software created by Nvidia - the company that makes most of the world's graphics cards. Though it's made more for recording and capturing gameplay footage, you can use it for live streaming as well. One of the major perks of ShadowPlay is that it supports GPU encoding - a feature that normally requires a separate hardware encoder. This shifts some of the load off of your CPU and onto your GPU, which is especially useful if your computer is experiencing some hiccups in performance.

    However, there are a few cons associated with Nvidia ShadowPlay. First of all, to use ShadowPlay, you will need an Nvidia graphics card. This is a must. Without it, you can't use the software or any of its features. Secondly, it's not as flexible as other streaming software, especially if you want to stream something other than gameplay.


    Now that we’ve gone over the best and most popular options for live streaming software, it’s time to decide which one is best for you. Although no particular option is best for everyone, we would recommend Streamlabs OBS for the vast majority of new live streamers. It’s free, offers plenty of great features, and is easier to set up than some of the other options.

    However, if you are only looking to live stream video game footage and have an Nvidia graphics card, then Nvidia ShadowPlay is also a pretty decent pick. 

    Once you’ve made a selection from the list above and completed the setup process, you will need to choose which platform(s) to broadcast on. You can stream on any of the major platforms, or try a new platform that is less saturated like Utreon. The final step will be to connect your live streaming software to the platform of your choice. Once this is done, you will be ready to kick off your brand new live streaming career!


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