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  • Writer's pictureGlobeStream Media

Hardware vs Software Encoders for Live Streaming

For anyone considering live streaming, there are two generally types of video encoders that one can choose: hardware or software.

Image of the Teradek CUBE-755 HD HEVC Encoder
Teradek CUBE-755 HD HEVC Encoder

While we here at GlobeStream Media primarily rely on hardware encoders from LiveU, Wowza, and Teradek, there are occasions when we use software encoders. Since our production workflow is Mac-based, the software encoders we use most commonly are Wirecast and OBS.

So why chose one over the other? Well, lets take a look at some of the pros and cons of both:

Hardware Pros

  • Purpose-built hardware makes it the most reliable streaming option

  • Typically provides for a high level of stream encoding customization

  • Typically provides for higher stream quality due to application-specific processing capabilities

  • Not susceptible to background applications affecting performance

  • Typically doesn’t require a monthly or annual subscription for operation

Hardware Cons

  • Can be expensive

  • Can’t be used for anything other than video streaming

  • May not be upgradable to support newer codecs

Software Pros

  • Can leverage computers that you already have

  • Can provide a wide range of additional features

  • Typically more cost effective than hardware encoders

Software Cons

  • Susceptible to the same crashing issues as any computer software application

  • Background computer processes can impact stream performance

  • Multi-purpose computer may not be powerful enough to stream at the bit rate and resolution desired

  • Latest model computers may be required to support modern video codecs

  • Typically not an option when bonded-cellular streaming is required

  • May require a monthly or annual subscription cost

Here at GlobeStream Media, we primarily use hardware encoders for the vast majority of our live streaming productions. Our LiveU units are ideal for remote productions which require bonded cellular connectivity, while our Teradek Cube 755's are ideal for mobile use and SRT and H.265 stream transport and encoding. Lastly, we're currently using Wowza's 1u rack-mount ClearCaster encoders in our IP broadcast facility.

When it comes to live stream encoding, reliability is our highest concern. Our clients depend on us to deliver content to their viewers without interruption. That's how come we've made such a significant investment in purpose-built, best-of-breed hardware encoders so we can provide not only highly reliable stream delivery, but also the highest quality live streaming as well.

While probably 95% of the content we live stream is streamed out via hardware encoders, there are some use case where software encoders make sense. These are typically small, very low budget productions where a laptop or small computer setup running OBS or Wirecast makes the most sense based on the scale of the production and the client's budget. Additionally, in scenarios where we have multiple single-camera feeds that all need integrated graphics, having those camera feeds ingested via LiveU or TVU, routed into OBS where graphics are added, and then streamed out to RTMPS servers for distribution, can be a cost effective solution for clients.

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