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Best Live Streaming Encoders – How to Find an Ideal One

Everything’s sailing fine, you have your content and strategy ready, and broadcasting to your audience is all that remains. But before you hit the road, you come across it for the first time, “live streaming encoder.” Most answers about what it is are usually vague, but here you’ll find the most straightforward and comprehensive explanations.

A live-streaming encoder is at the core of any streaming event, whether on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook live. Unfortunately, it’s made to seem more complex than it is, thanks to unhelpful technical jargon.

In simple terms, a live streaming encoder is a component that converts media into a transmissible format. In this case, it converts live media feed into a file format that you can send to your audience.

But that’s half of it. Dive in and discover all there is to live streaming encoders and how you can easily enhance your audience experience.

What Is a Live Streaming Encoder?

A live streaming encoder is a tool that converts media into a digital format that can be broadcasted to a broader audience, usually via a video-sharing platform like YouTube. You must have a live streaming encoder to, well, live stream any content.

Naturally, you might ask yourself why it’s necessary, considering anyone can still upload content on a video-sharing platform, and anyone will access it.

However, the dynamics are different between media hosted on a platform and one that’s being streamed live. For obvious reasons, time is a sensitive aspect with live-streamed content, the internet connection may not be the same for everyone in your audience, and end users expect the best viewing experience.

Also, since the content is still being recorded, uploading it at once is impossible, hence the need for a live-streaming encoder.

Finally, it’s improbable that your audience will access your live stream from the same type of device.

File conversion into digital format isn’t new, and it happens all the time when you add any data to a computer or digital device. Essentially with live streaming encoders, a computer transforms the raw data, say, a video file, into a series of ones and zeros.

The ones and zeros are referred to as binary format, and it’s one of the ways computers make sense of what we perceive with our senses.

Media in this digital format is then broken down into what are known as packets for transmission over the internet, and they’re later reassembled on the receiving device into what your audience can understand.

Therefore, a live streaming encoder achieves three things: compressing raw media footage into a format that can be broadcasted over the internet, ensuring the media can be accessed from multiple devices, and all this is done in real time without compromising the data’s integrity.

Encoders vs. Codecs vs. Transcoding

Although they might seem completely unrelated, these three work together to facilitate live streaming.

As discussed above, encoders convert raw data or media into a digital format that can be transmitted across a network and accessed from different devices.

To achieve this, encoders use codecs; a set of precise rules to compress the raw data without damaging important qualities. Ideally, any compression requires the removal of certain parts of the file, and these precise rules, also called algorithms, ensure only unnecessary parts (i.e., those whose deletion won’t have a significant effect on the viewers’ experience) are removed.

The term codec is an abbreviation for compressor-decompressor or coder-decoder. This makes perfect logic since it would only be sensible that the same rules used to compress a media file are followed to decompress or decode it. Otherwise, the integrity of the data may not be assured, and in the worst case, it could be corrupted.

Have you ever downloaded a video and got an error message asking you to download a particular codec when you tried to play it? If you have, then this should be easy to grasp.

Transcoding works to optimize or adapt digital media files to work best on different devices.

What happens with transcoding is that the digital file is uncompressed or decoded, modified to suit the target end user’s device, compressed again, and later transmitted. All this happens in less than a second so that you can watch a stream shot by high-powered cameras on a smartphone.

Hardware vs. Software Encoders

Hardware and software encoders are one and the same, although they achieve results differently.

Hardware encoders are standalone devices that primarily transform raw media into a transmissible format. They’re also more powerful and versatile and, in most cases, cost more. Hardware encoders do not tap into your computer’s processing resources at any point when they’re in use.

In contrast, software encoders tap into a computer’s processing power to achieve encoding. They’re also relatively less potent than hardware encoders, cost a bit less, and are free to use.

If you’re starting out or low on budget, a software encoder will do the job. However, a hardware encoder would be most suitable if the budget is a non-issue or you need top-tier performance for live streaming.

How Do You Choose the Ideal Encoder

Live streaming encoding is essential for any streaming platform, but choosing the suitable encoder for your needs can be tricky. Here are five key attributes to keep in mind when choosing an encoder:

Use these guidelines if you’re ever in doubt:

1. What’s your budget like?

If you’re working with a limited budget, an encoder at an affordable price point and with the necessary basic features should work. Alternatively, go all out if your primary concern is functionality and general end-user experience rather than cost.

You might also want to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine if the purchase makes sense considering your objectives.

Also, as you look into the cost, avoid falling for cheap but ineffective streaming encoders. If you can’t afford it, free, open-source alternatives can provide as much functionality, but you have to commit to learning the ropes.

2. Features

When choosing the best encoder, you should consider a few features. These include HD or 4K streaming, codecs and bitrates suitable for your needs, and easy-to-use functionality.

Additionally, test the encoder in a live environment before making a purchase – this will help ensure that it meets your requirements.

3. Ease of use

Any user – from beginner to expert – should be able to operate the encoder with little or no trouble. Your job as a creator is to meet your audience’s expectations, and you can only do this when you’re entirely focused on the task at hand rather than trying to learn how to operate the encoder.

It will also save you time and prevent frustration which may negate any progress you’ve made with your work.

4. Feature update frequency

Before you settle on one, ask around or read about the encoder’s support community. Open-source tools take the lead on this one, as they have vibrant support communities that ensure features never go stale.

Given the dynamic nature of technology, it’s only a matter of time before any encoder becomes obsolete without constant updates. A good history of frequent upgrades is usually a good sign, whether proprietary or open-source software.

5. Live streaming platform compatibility

Remember, your audience can be pretty diverse, and they’ll occasionally access your content from different devices and streaming platforms.

Streaming using an encoder that supports multiple platforms ensures every audience member can access your content from wherever.

Since it’s not practical for some tools to support all platforms, determine the platforms from which your audience streams your content the most. A simple analysis should suffice.

Once you’ve done this, use a live-streaming encoder that mainly supports your audience’s platforms.

6. Codec compatibility

An ideal live-streaming encoder should work seamlessly with the live-streaming platforms you use to engage with your audience. This is why test runs are critical since you can test how the encoder behaves under different conditions and with various codecs.

Additionally, its codec should best match the content you intend to encode and stream.

7. Video quality and resolution

With many creators and streamers joining, it’s clear that viewers have unlimited options. Subpar quality can prompt some of your loyal viewers to abandon ship. Unfortunately, you may not be aware of this.

Some live-streaming encoders promise premium video quality and resolution for content delivered to viewers but do the opposite. Also, some of the advertised video quality and resolutions are meant for ideal conditions, which is not always the case.

To avoid all this, stress-test all the options you have to see how each encoder performs under pressure and ensure you only have the best video stream quality and the highest resolution.

8. Latency

Everyone hates videos with high latency. Usually, once a video lags, most people would load another video or exit the platform immediately. This can severely damage your stream’s rankings on whichever platform you’re on.

As you choose encoders, try them out and note any latency instances. Minor ones are acceptable, but they shouldn’t be frequent.

With that, you should be better of with your choice of live-streaming encoders. Still, remember to make tradeoffs if it makes sense. You might never find the perfect live-streaming encoder, but you’ll always fare better with one that has the most desirable qualities you seek despite one or two shortcomings.

Best Live Streaming Software Encoders

Given their relative ease of use and affordability, live-streaming software encoders are perfect for beginners to intermediate users. Here’s a look at some of the best in this category:


Live streaming is a great way to share your content with the world. But encoding your live stream can be a challenging task. That’s where OBS comes in. It’s a popular live-streaming software encoder that’s easy to use and can be tailored to fit any need.

It’s also free and open-source; if you spend a bit of time learning how to use it, you’ll have a very powerful live-streaming encoder.


  • Multiple encoding options, including MP4, HLS, WebM/VP9, and AVI
  • Real-time transcoding
  • Dynamic resolution switching to ensure high-quality output
Pros Cons
-Free to use -A less graphical interface which may dissuade some users
-Community support ensures the tool receives constant updates and superior functionalities -Steep learning curve for beginners
-Extremely powerful for a free tool

AWS Elemental MediaLive

If you’re looking for a live-streaming software encoder that is cloud-based and perfect for streaming events or concerts, look no further than AWS Elemental Media Live.


  • Video and audio encoding in real time
  • Customizable security settings to make sure your content is protected from piracy.
  • Easy-to-use interface
Pros Cons
-Web-based and no need to install anything -Hour-based pricing may be unfavorable for beginners
-Extremely powerful and versatile


Wirecast is a powerful live-streaming software encoder that’s perfect for small businesses and individuals who want to broadcast online; with minimal investment or time.


  • Simple, easy-to-use controls
  • Customizable broadcast settings
  • Professional audio
  • Unlimited input sources
  • Camera control
  • Integrated stock media library
Pros Cons
-Affordable pricing structure -Video encoders can be tough to work with
-Easy to set up
-Excellent customer service
-Great value for money


This powerful live-streaming software encoder is easy to use and has many features that will help you stream smoothly and without lag.

Not to mention, VidBlasterX also includes a powerful video editor that lets you tweak your streams for maximum impact.


  • Extremely low latency
  • Chroma key
  • Numerous advanced commands
  • Character generator
  • Overlays functionality
  • Supports multiple resolutions
Pros Cons
-Powerful and versatile – Unstable
-Easy to use – Too taxing on computer resources
-Options for each budget



vMix is an all-in-one vision mixer supported only on Windows. It’s one of the affordable live streaming encoders and also easy to use, generating professional quality outputs.


  • Multiple camera sources
  • Stream presentations
  • Activity dashboard
  • Stream recording
Pros Cons
-Great animation -Takes a toll on a computer’s processing resources
-Excellent support and training -Limited to Windows
-Affordable and great value for money


Self-described as the “Swiss-army” knife for your webcam, users primarily utilize the tool in capturing gameplay scenes or recording videos.

xSplit has a live streaming feature and recording studio, which is perfect for non-creatives who want the capabilities of a live streaming encoder like OBS but one that’s simpler to operate.


  • Supports encoding in multiple resolutions
  • Inbuilt photo and video editor
  • Device pairing to substitute webcam
Pros Cons
-Offers free licenses to non-profits -Costly license
-Reliable as it’s used by many broadcasts and streams -Limited free plan

Best Hardware Encoders

Hardware encoders pack quite the punch relative to their software counterparts. Still, they may be costly, and the learning curve steeper in a few cases. Here’s a look at some of the best in this category:

LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo is a portable hardware encoder that can be used for live streaming. It has a built-in battery, so you don’t have to worry about finding an outlet to plug it in when you want to use it.

The internal battery has enough juice to last three hours of continuous shooting in the Solo PRO versions. It also has an external battery plugged in via barrel connectors or USB-C cables.


  • Supports a maximum of 20Mbps bitrate
  • Multiple IP connection banding up to four
  • HDMI and SDI support
  • Encodes up to 4K footage
  • Supports 5G internet
  • Multiple stream destination support
Pros Cons
-Unmatched streaming quality -Can be costly
-Multiple configuration options


This brand hits a different spot with gamers and graphic designers. Nvidia is like the holy grail of graphic card manufacturers. Thanks to their ingenuity, they’ve come up with the Nvidia Encoder. Anyone who’s tried any of their products can attest to their efficiency and ability to get the job done.


  • AI-enhanced visual and audio effects
  • Relatively small in size compared to others
  • Next-generation hardware encoding
  • CUDA-accelerated quality options
Pros Cons
-Powerful and easy to deploy -Limited to PCs and Macs
-Customizable options -Setup may be complex for beginners


Often known for its impressive screen mirroring capabilities, AirServer also has an advanced live streaming tool.


  • Simultaneous connections
  • Secure system
  • Wireless connection
Pros Cons
-Affordable since one license is enough -Limited to close interactions like in classrooms or boardrooms
-Supports multiple devices


An excellent product from Epiphan Systems, the Pearl-2 can be used to encode video and audio. It’s portable, so you can carry it wherever you go. This device can also be used as an internet-based solution, which makes it ideal for streaming live events online.

The Pearl-2 is designed with a small form factor in mind; this makes it easy to carry around without taking up too much space in your backpack or messenger bag


  • End-to-end security encryption
  • Role-based access control of the system
  • Deinterlacing function
  • Remote control of USB-connected cameras
  • Customizable loss of signal image
  • On-air notification light signal
Pros Cons
-Extremely versatile and powerful -Numerous functionalities may overwhelm beginners.
-Customizable functionalities -Pricy even for intermediate streamers
-Secure platform


This hardware encoder is the antithesis of what hardware encoders are expected to look like. Sleek in design, light, and wireless makes it a one-of-a-kind. However, this simple and modern design doesn’t mean it’s any less capable.


  • Multiple input sources
  • Records in 4K and streams a maximum of 1080p HD
  • Analog audio input
Pros Cons
-Truly wireless -High price point
-Multiple platforms and device support


If you want a hardware encoder that gets the job done with fewer gimmicks, Teradek is for you. It’s designed to deliver exceptionally well, even under challenging conditions. On top of this, It’s simple to operate, and the endless customization options will impress even the harshest critics.


  • Multiple networks bonding enabled
  • Remote configuration
  • Supports multiple video-sharing platforms
  • Comes broadcast quality modems and data-ready sim cards
Pros Cons
-Fast plug-and-play operation -Quite costly
-Simple but powerful -Reports of random network disconnects
-Supports multiple IP network bonding

How to live stream with

By now, you should have settled on a live-streaming encoder. However, don’t fret if you haven’t already.

It can be a tough call to make. With live streaming encoders, you either pay a “heavy ransom” to enjoy cutting-edge capabilities or pay less and make do with basic functionalities. But that’s not debatable. You and your audience deserve the best.

What if you could have the best of both worlds? A powerful live streaming encoder at a lower, affordable price point. What if you got that, minus the trouble of installing additional software or carrying extra gadgets just to live stream?

If you’ve nodded yes to any or all of the above, is your answer.

As a web-based live streaming encoder software, you don’t need to install anything on your device to access advanced features; and it certainly won’t strain your computer’s processing power.

As an all-in-one solution, this tool is the closest you can get to plug-and-play. Its intuitive and simplistic design shortens the learning curve drastically so you can get right to creating the perfect live stream.

Top dollar features like live stream chat, complete streaming studio, thumbnail maker, or stream overlays maker are available on, but at a fraction of the price asked in the market.

All you need to do is sign up for a free account and start working on your live stream. Even if you’re an intermediate or experienced user, has several tricks that’ll astound you given the almost too-good-to-be-true value proposition.


Can I Livestream without an encoder?

No. There isn’t a way around this. Any encoder, whether a software or hardware encoder, is necessary to convert your live feed/ media into a digital format which can then be transmitted over the internet to your viewers.

Currently, there isn’t a way to stream raw footage without an encoder.

Do I need a separate encoder when streaming with

No. is the ultimate plug-and-play live streaming encoder. Still, this might seem confusing since you don’t have to install anything to get started.

The thing is when you use live streaming encoder, your raw media is immediately converted on’s advanced servers and transmitted immediately to your audience; so, no need for an extra encoder.

Are there mobile encoders?

Yes. Already the concept is applied to most smartphones; however, the functionality is limited to native features. Separate, more powerful encoders may be necessary to achieve maximum performance, and there are viable options in the market.

Currently, there isn’t a mobile encoder but development is in its final stages.

Final Thoughts

A live-streaming encoder is central to any live-stream event. Unfortunately, it’s been layered with too much technical jargon, effectively locking out many individuals. However, once you learn the basics of it, everything falls into place.

Additionally, live-streaming encoders aren’t all the same. They’re designed with different target audiences in mind. If you’re a beginner or intermediate streamer, free, open-source live-streaming encoder software should get you up and running without any significant obstacles.

Once you’ve built some experience or want more performance and functionality with encoders, you can move to live-streaming encoder hardware. Regardless, ensure you always choose an encoder that factors in your needs and those of your audience.

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