Twitch is steadily gaining foothold in the race for clicks and viewers. Recent rumors about Google purchasing the entire Twitch brand for one million dollars and integrating it with its Youtube infrastructure have certainly raised a few eyebrows in anticipation of what might happen next. Google’s interest is understandable, since the proliferation of hand-held devices that have the computing power that can rival the desktop computers has now made it possible to watch live content in high resolution anywhere at any time. This is exactly the niche Twitch wants to dominate and, if you’re aiming to become a full-time streamer, you absolutely must be present on Twitch.
However, to ensure constant growth in the mobile market while retaining maximum compatibility with the desktop audience, Twitch has introduced several guidelines which you should follow to get the highest streaming quality possible. Here is a list of 7 software solutions for recording and streaming to Twitch, along with how well each of them performs in those areas.
The game used for testing is the original Far Cry, with all graphics settings set to maximum.
Commonly known as OBS and although still in the beta phase, it is widely recognized as superior to all other free recording and streaming software. The very first look at its options corroborates this sentiment, since OBS is chock full of various ways to tweak the resulting video. For example, there are presets for different streaming websites including Twitch and with one click on the “Optimize” button you can get the recommended settings applied right away.
You start streaming by right-clicking the empty box titled “Sources” and clicking “Add”. Sources can also be grouped into so-called “Scenes” and switched at a moment’s notice. OBS supports 3rd party plugins, which add extra functionality and are installed by a simple drag & drop action into the folder. When it comes to recording, OBS performed beautifully. Within minutes of installation and on default encoder options, it produced silky smooth video that had no issues whatsoever. OBS represents the golden standard of recording and streaming software. If you’re looking to start recording right away, with minimum hassle, then look no further.
Details: Windows, OS X, Linux; Free, with a donate option
FFsplit is a recording and streaming tool loosely based on the philosophy and code of the FFmpeg project which states that software should not be dependent on other people’s code. In fact, when you first start the installation process of FFsplit, you will be prompted to download the FFmpeg binaries in order to continue. Other than that, FFsplit is neither officially affiliated nor endorsed by the FFmpeg project.
By going to “Output” and changing the output type to Twitch, you will get a handful of special options, the most interesting one being the ability to automatically detect the Twitch server that will provide you with the best streaming performance. There are 3 video recording formats to choose from: .flv, .mkv and .mp4. Sources are called “Layers” and scenes are called “Canvases” but their functionality is the same as in OBS. Unfortunately, FFsplit failed to produce a usable video, even a choppy one. With default encoder options, the best result was a file that had sound correctly captured but a completely black screen instead of the video. Attempts at manual configuration didn’t resolve the matter either. This program has a rather steep learning curve and you should use it only if you have a lot of patience.
Details: For Windows; Free, with a donate option
Adobe Flash Media Live Encoder is a free utility meant to be used with hardware recording devices. This unfortunately means that AFMLE cannot be used for capture of anything unless you have a recording device, such as a webcam. It’s possible to make a workaround to this and force this program to act as recording software by connecting a webcam and pointing it at the screen while you play, but it is completely unnecessary since you have a lot of other, easier options.
The main purpose of AFMLE is to encode the live video as it is being filmed. It is possible to set it up to connect to Twitch, but you will have to manually input all the required parameters. This utility is quite handy in the niche it occupies, but its only downside is that you are very unlikely to ever use it in your normal streaming routine.
Details: Windows, Mac; Free
ShadowPlay is a special feature found only on certain GeForce graphics cards. It works by buffering 1 to 20 minutes of your gameplay and allows you to record it into a file when you press the specified hotkey. This means that, with ShadowPlay, you don’t have to record all the time and then edit the boring moments out. In essence, ShadowPlay is the equivalent of instant replay. The interface is very well designed and very easy to use, without any prior streaming and recording experience.
Local recordings produced by ShadowPlay are much more optimized and smaller in size than the ones produced by rivals, such as Dxtory. To enable streaming to Twitch, click “ShadowPlay” in the top right corner, click on the switch so it becomes green, and then click on “Mode”, The 4th option in the dropdown menu that appears is Twitch streaming configuration dialog. Here, you can input your logon details and start streaming to Twitch right away. Overall, ShadowPlay aims at casuals and doesn’t have the range of encoding options one would expect from a professional recording and streaming tool.
Details: Windows; Free
Wirecast is a professional recording and streaming suite, or at least, that’s what it tries to be. It attempts to be a rounded solution for everything a streamer might need, but doesn’t quite get there. The interface is convoluted, confusing and disregards all established conventions. For example, what OBS calls “Sources” are “Projectors” in Wirecast. This causes a lot of unnecessary frustration. Wirecast produces video files in .mp4, .mov and .wmv formats, which means that you won’t be able to run it if you don’t have QuickTime 7.7 or higher installed.
If you click “Stream” and then select Twitch, then click “Video”, open the “Output settings”, you will be able to input your Twitch login details. After a lot of trial and error, Wirecase managed to produce a usable video, but it had no sound. Overall, Wirecast is an ambitious program with a very fiddly interface that doesn’t have enough utility to justify the price tag.
Details: Windows and Mac; Free trial with audio and video watermark, full version priced from $495 to $995
This is the coolest program on the list. It is extremely intuitive and actually fun to tweak. For example, there are no awkward dialog boxes and prompts for resizing a picture, you simply grab the edge with a cursor and resize it. Xsplit makes the chore of setting up your recording parameters so easy that you won’t even notice that you went through the setup process. There are two programs with similar functionality available: Xsplit Broadcaster and Xsplit Gamecaster. The difference is that the former is for streamers, while the latter is for gaming commentators.
Xsplit produces video in two formats, .flv and .mp4. Purchasing Xsplit is done on a 3-monthly basis, with the annual package giving discount of up to 50%.
Details: Windows; Free trial with a watermark, full version priced from $14.95 to $24.95 for 3 months
This quirky little program isn’t enough to get you streaming to Twitch on its own, rather it requires a string of other programs to process what it outputs. The first problem you will encounter upon launching Dxtory is that there’s seemingly no way to designate what you want it to capture. The answer is simple – you cannot. Dxtory can only record video games, which it detects on its own. If it fails to do so, there is no manual override.
Dxtory does give you an option to capture video in raw format and process it yourself using muxer tools bundled with it, but unless you know exactly what you’re doing, the marginal improvement in quality isn’t enough to offset the headaches it causes. While recording on default encoder options, Dxtory significantly lowered the game’s performance and struggled to produce a usable .avi video, which in the end was extremely choppy and no amount of tweaking the options helped the matter.
Details: Windows; Free with a watermark, $34 for full version