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.
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:
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
Can be expensive
Can’t be used for anything other than video streaming
May not be upgradable to support newer codecs
Can leverage computers that you already have
Can provide a wide range of additional features
Typically more cost effective than hardware encoders
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.