Whether you’re an existing streamer looking for a new piece of streaming software, or a brand new streamer about to embark on their Twitch journey, you’re probably asking yourself: What’s the best Twitch streaming software?
There are so many options available, and making that choice can seem daunting.
Streaming software is the key to getting your content live on Twitch, and in the highest quality possible. Each streaming software has generally the same list of basic features, including stream encoding, local recording, webcam support, and multiple sources for capturing what you want to stream.
However, every piece of software will have pros and cons, and some will be pretty much ready to go as soon as you install them, whilst others will need a little bit of tweaking to get right. Which streaming software you choose to use will depend on your preferences and technical ability.
We’ve made a list of some of the best streaming software for Twitch, and everything you need to know before you decide which one to use.
Best for: brand new streamers, people who want a guided setup experience.
Twitch Studio is Twitch’s answer to new streamers’ needs.
Currently in beta, Twitch Studio is designed to be easy to set up, with guided customization and automated detection of all the things you’d normally have to set up for yourself.
One of the hardest things to get right when setting up your streaming software is deciding what bitrate to use, as this will depend on your resolution, framerate, and the speed and stability of your internet connection (specifically your upload speed).
Twitch Studio simplifies this process by automatically detecting the best bitrate for you.
Twitch Studio’s guided setup helps newer streamers add each of the different sources they’ll be using during their stream, including their webcam, microphone, and video sources.
It automatically detects your webcam and microphone, though if you have multiple peripherals you may have to scroll through and select the correct one.
If you want to use alerts like many streamers do, for followers, subscribers etc, Twitch Studio has its own built-in alert system ready to go right out of the box.
You will have less customization options than with other streaming software, but if you want to get set up and started quickly, Twitch Studio could be the one for you.
Best for: more advanced users looking for a free solution, who want more customizability and don’t mind getting their hands dirty setting everything up from scratch.
OBS Studio, or Open Broadcaster Software Studio, is one of the most commonly used pieces of streaming software.
It’s open source, which means its design is publicly accessible and anyone can identify and highlight security flaws or issues.
All changes to the code are reviewed by other OBS contributors, so you can rest assured that nothing malicious will be added. This is a great benefit for more security conscious streamers.
However, as OBS Studio is developed by a group of volunteer contributors, it does mean that there’s no centralized team to go to if you have any issues. There are many resources available though, as well as a community that is eager to help on their Discord and forum.
OBS Studio has a robust feature list, with not only all the basics that you need to get started, but a lot of customization options built in. You can easily add multiple scenes, with each scene containing any number of sources including your game, browser capture, webcam, and anything else you’d like to add.
Streamers have a lot of freedom when configuring OBS Studio, though this also adds a little extra complexity, so it might be overwhelming if you’re new to streaming.
One interesting feature is the Multiview, which allows you to have a high-level view of your entire stream layout. With this, you could prepare your stream ahead of time, with well-designed scenes for each segment, and easily switch between them at the click of a button. This also allows you to preview and edit scenes on the fly before anyone on the other end can see them using Studio Mode. You can also save different profiles with various settings if a stream calls for a unique configuration.
All in all, OBS Studio is a great option for streamers who are comfortable setting things up manually without much guidance, or who don’t mind doing a bit of external research when they get stuck. It provides a lot of options for customization, and much more freedom than other some other streaming software mentioned here.
Best for: Streamers who want a dedicated support team available to them in case they run into any issues with their setup, and don‘t mind paying for advanced settings.
Price: Freemium, free version with premium from $5 per month, or a one-time lifetime fee of $199
XSplit is another one of the big names in streaming software. XSplit Broadcaster uses a “freemium” model, meaning there is a free version of the software but some advanced features are locked behind a monthly subscription (or a one-time lifetime fee of $199).
The free version has all the basic features you’d need for streaming, however you’re only allowed a maximum of four scenes.
This likely won’t impact most streamers who are just getting started, particularly if you only stream one or two games, but variety streamers and anyone who wants a more customized set up may find the four scenes limiting.
XSplit Broadcaster also adds a watermark to your stream if you plan on streaming above 720p resolution or 30 FPS, or even when recording, which could be annoying for some.
You also can’t use the free version for commercial streaming, which is worth keeping in mind if you plan to make any money from streaming, or are streaming on behalf of an organization.
However, one huge benefit XSplit has over other streaming software is its dedicated development and support team. The website has a lot of resources and information available, and they offer 24/7 support with priority support for premium members.
This could be invaluable if you run into any issues when setting up your stream.
While we’re speaking specifically about XSplit Broadcaster here, they’ve also added a piece of software called XSplit Gamecaster, which much like Twitch Studio is geared towards being easy to set up and customize for getting started streaming quickly.
Best for: Streamers interested in OBS but with additional bonus features and interactions (for a small fee).
Price: Freemium, all streaming features available for free with a Prime subscription (from $12 per month) to access advanced bonus features such as a custom named chat bot and additional stream apps
Streamlabs OBS, affectionately known as SLOBS, is a branch of OBS Studio made by Streamlabs. It functions mostly the same as OBS Studio, but with a few added quality of life features.
For example, if you use Streamlabs for your alerts and to receive tips, SLOBS allows one-click integration of your entire suite of alerts.
One big benefit of Streamlabs OBS is its robust dashboard, allowing you to monitor not only your stream events such as follows and subscriptions, but also read your chat and switch between overlay designs quickly.
You can set up your SLOBS window anyway you like, allowing you to keep the most important things on screen and hide anything you don’t need to see. All of your settings are stored on the cloud, meaning you just need to log into your account to access everything you’ve painstakingly set up.
Using SLOBS also means having access to some of Streamlabs’ more exclusive features, such as their Face Masks which allow viewers to add goofy modifications to your webcam when they tip you.
Some minor features differ from OBS Studio, which can be off-putting for some.
For example, streamers won’t be able to boost their audio above 100%, which is possible in OBS Studio and may be necessary in some situations.
You also won’t have access to Studio Mode, meaning you can’t edit a scene on the fly before showing it to your audience.
However, almost all basic features are there. SLOBS also introduces application-specific settings, which allows streamers to streamline their encoding depending on what game they’re streaming. This can reduce strain on your hardware.
Another feature worth mentioning here is the Streamlabs OBS chat bot, which comes built in to the software, meaning you don’t have to add any additional bots to your stream.
You can also optionally purchase their Prime subscription and add a custom name to your bot, along with access to a huge library of convenient streaming apps such as stream countdowns and sleek scene transitions.
Streamlabs OBS is a great option for streamers who want the freedom and customization of OBS Studio, but with a more user-friendly interface. It lacks a few of the more advanced OBS Studio features, but these aren’t necessarily required by all streamers.
Best for: As with SLOBS, streamers looking for OBS but with extra (free) features. Especially good if you’re already familiar with OBS Studio, as OBS.Live piggybacks the original OBS Studio interface.
OBS.Live is another fork of OBS Studio, this time by StreamElements. Like Streamlabs OBS, it has all the basic features of OBS Studio plus more.
The main draw to these forks is that they essentially become a one-stop shop for all your streaming needs.
Normally, you’d need to have multiple windows open for your chat, and your stream events such as follows and subs, on top of your streaming software. Using either OBS.Live or SLOBS allows you to keep all of those things in the same window and rearrange them as you see fit.
OBS.Live is a great bridge between the simpler types of streaming software we’ve seen here, and something more customizable like OBS Studio.
It has excellent guided setup to help you get the most out of it, and also helpfully looks identical to OBS Studio, meaning anyone making the switch will feel right at home. All they have to do is follow the guided setup to get all of the additional features added to their stream.
Unlike Streamlabs OBS, OBS.Live is completely free, without premium features.
It doesn’t have a library of apps and modifications similar to those available in SLOBS, but one nice benefit is being able to have a custom-named bot in your chat without paying an additional fee.
OBS.Live also comes with custom overlays and “SuperThemes” which are overlays and graphics specifically geared towards individual games.
Best for: Gamers that are scared away by the complexity of other streaming apps. A completely noob-friendly experience with advanced customization as you get more familiar with streaming.
Gamecaster is a new & completely free streaming and recording software that comes with hundreds of free overlays and alerts for Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.
Gamecaster’s initial tutorial sets up your stream automatically with the best optimized settings according to your PC hardware. It also provides you with overlay themes with pre-built alerts so you can have a professional looking stream within minutes without prior experience.
All themes come with a Starting Soon, In-Game, and Intermission design that work straight out of the box with endless customization possibilities. Tweak your stream designs to your liking with custom alerts, transitions and all the bells and whistles.
Gamecaster is also the pioneer of the in-game stream overlay. See your chat messages, monitor your stream events, and control your live stream all from within your game. No more alt tabbing required!
Best for: Capturing short clips and highlights of gameplay and sharing them directly to your social channels, rather than live streaming.
NVIDIA ShadowPlay is a part of the GeForce Experience, and it comes with all modern NVIDIA graphics cards.
It’s a built-in software that allows gamers to record and stream their gameplay directly from the GPU. For that reason, it’s obvious that NVIDIA ShadowPlay is only going to be suitable for gamers, and not for any other types of streaming.
You will also notice that even with ShadowPlay you will experience a game performance hit: NVIDIA themselves estimate about a 5% drop in game performance, though this can vary depending on the intensity of the game.
One great feature that NVIDIA ShadowPlay has is the Instant Replay, allowing you to capture short moments of gameplay to review later.
Much like Twitch Clips, you can hit a hotkey and the last 30 seconds of gameplay will be recorded and stored. It also boasts the ability to automatically capture key moments in-game, and allow you to instantly upload them to your social media channels.
The broadcasting side of NVIDIA ShadowPlay is a little lacking, however they have added the ability to add a webcam and graphics overlays. There is a lot less customization available than with other types of streaming software, though.
ShadowPlay also uses the NVENC encoder, which means it uses the GPU to encode your stream rather than the CPU. This can be really great for performance, however generally speaking NVENC requires a higher bitrate in order to be comparable to CPU encoding.
This could be problematic if you’re running an older GPU or have a lower upload speed. Even so, NVIDIA has committed to improving NVENC, and newer RTX video cards have a much more efficient GPU encoder that is comparable and in some cases better than the CPU equivalent.
It’s also worth noting that NVIDIA ShadowPlay is only available for NVIDIA graphics cards, so if you’re using an AMD card you’re out of luck here. NVIDIA ShadowPlay is a nice side tool for gamers, but is a bit lacking for live streaming.
Best for: Podcast and talk show streams, especially if you’re likely to be traveling and need access to your suite of scenes whilst on the road.
Price: Freemium, limited free version with incredibly expensive premium version removing limitations (from $89 per month)
Lightstream is a unique streaming solution as it uses cloud-based technology to handle a large amount of your stream encoding, which reduces the strain on your own hardware.
In fact, you don’t even have to download a piece of software, as everything is done directly in your browser.
Lightstream features guided setup, and has integration with external streaming tools like Streamlabs for your alerts.
Though it meets most of the basic needs for gaming streams, where Lightstream has the potential to really shine is talkshows or podcasts.
One great feature is being able to instantly showcase a guest by sending them a link, and Lightstream will pull their video feed and audio directly into your stream without any fiddling around.
One major downside is that there are some limits on features in the free version. Like XSplit Broadcaster, free Lightstream users are limited to 720p and 30 FPS.
Streams are also limited to a maximum of three hours in length.
In order to upgrade the cost is breathtakingly high, ringing in at a sweet $89 per month if you pay annually.
Premium (or “IRL”) comes with some interesting features such as headless mode, allowing you to go live without Lightstream running, and it will automatically add your “layers” (which includes your camera feed, overlays, etc) for you.
There’s also a lot more automation, however it is likely to be prohibitively expensive for the average streamer to upgrade.
Lightstream has an interesting remote control feature that allows streamers to completely control their stream from their mobile. Think of it like having a mini Elgato Streamdeck (or DIY alternative) in order to start and stop your stream, or change scenes.
Everything is stored on the cloud, meaning you could use Lightstream if you’re traveling and have all of your settings still available.
Lightstream is definitely an interesting option, with great potential applications for podcasts in particular, but it does feel like it’s lacking in other areas.
Lots of limitations, plus a steep cost to remove them, means most other streaming software would likely be more suitable, but it’s definitely one to watch for the future.
So after all of this, how do you decide which streaming software to use for streaming?
There are many options out there, and as we’ve shown, each piece of streaming software has its own pros and cons.
Below are a few considerations when deciding which one is right for you.
If the answer is yes, you’ll likely want to avoid the freemium options listed here, including XSplit Broadcaster. Their free versions are a little lacking compared to other options out there.
Brand new streamers may find guided setup with Twitch Studio and Player.me much more user friendly. If you’re feeling brave, though, OBS.Live isn’t bad at walking you through setting up your stream as well, and has a lot more depth and customization available.
This is where XSplit Broadcaster shines. If you would feel more comfortable knowing you’ll have a dedicated team ready to help you fix any issues, their 24/7 support is very appealing. Keep in mind that unlocking some of the more advanced features will come with a fee attached, but XSplit’s premium is reasonably priced and comes with priority support.
Lightstream may be the perfect option for you, particularly if your PC isn’t up to scratch as a lot of the encoding is done on the cloud. The easy-to-use guest mode makes it ideal for talk shows, podcasts, or interviews, and the fact that all your settings and overlays are saved to the cloud means you can use it on-the-go.
The former is the base software, and the other two have almost all the same streaming features as they are just forks off OBS Studio. How do you know which of the three to use? This one really does come down to personal preference. Consider what bonus features are important to you. If you use Streamlabs or StreamElements for your alert package, maybe give their OBS fork a try. Keep in mind that both Streamlabs OBS and OBS.Live are Windows only, and SLOBS has some paid features, whereas OBS Studio is on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is always completely free.
Choosing the right streaming software for you can be a bit of an overwhelming experience, but there are plenty of options available and luckily many of them are free or have free versions. Which is the best Twitch streaming software? There’s no one right answer, and every piece of streaming software mostly has the same list of basic features, with some quality of life improvements or bonus features here and there.
We hope that we’ve been able to give you a good overview of the different streaming software that is most commonly used at the moment, and that this helps you make your decision. Don’t be afraid to try each one out and compare them with one another before you settle on the one for you.