MixerSource: Windows Central

Best Software for Game Streaming Windows Central 2020

Streaming continues to grow in popularity, helped along by the biggest names in the business, making big money deals moving to new platforms. Now more than ever, gamers are looking at streaming their experiences with the world. If you're looking to get going, then it's hard not to choose OBS Studio as your broadcast software of choice.

Best Overall: OBS Studio

OBS StudioSource: Windows Central

One of the things that initially draws people to OBS is that it's free. And not just a free trial, it's completely free and open-source. And if you enjoy using it, which you likely will, you really should toss a donation to the dev team to reward them, and help them continue doing their incredible work.

OBS Studio is incredibly powerful, supporting plugins galore, just about every capture card and webcam setup imaginable as well as being able to broadcast to essentially any service on the web. All you need are your credentials, to set up some basic output settings, where your game video is coming from, and you're good to go. OBS also fully supports the latest NVENC encoders from NVIDIA if you're using an RTX GPU for your stream.

Of course, the beauty is that there's an immense level of control over all aspects of your stream. There's also a healthy community of plugin developers on hand to make OBS even better, and the community really is one of the standout aspects. For help getting started be sure to check out our beginner's guide.

Pros:

  • Free and open source
  • Lots of control
  • Massive community
  • Tons of plugins

Cons:

  • UI can be intimidating to beginners
  • No built-in cloud backup

Best Overall

OBS Studio

A truly staggering piece of software

OBS has grown tremendously over the years, and it's now a powerful way to broadcast your stream without any financial commitments.

Runner-up: XSplit Broadcaster

XSplit BroadcasterSource: Windows Central

XSplit is an incredibly close runner-up, as overall, there's very little to call between it and OBS. The most significant difference is that XSplit Broadcaster is a paid product with a premium subscription model. Whether that puts you off only you can decide, but it doesn't change the quality of the product behind it.

The UI is fairly clean and simple and not at all intimidating, and it supports all the various game capture modes, including for DX12 games, capture cards, microphones, webcams, and so on that you'd hope for. XSplit isn't open-source, so the plugins are limited, but equally, there are a bunch built in to make your life better across all the major streaming platforms.

XSplit is the sort of software you can just set up once and leave it alone. The company has other pretty nifty apps that you can access with the subscription, including VCam, which adds a virtual green screen or background blur to your webcam, and Express Video Editor, which is a quick and easy way to edit your clips to upload somewhere like YouTube.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Integration with other XSplit apps
  • Built-in plugins
  • Powerful

Cons:

  • Paid subscription to get all features
  • Less plugins overall

Runner-up

XSplit Broadcaster

Great software and easy to use

Don't let the price put you off because XSplit is a superb piece of streaming software that's easy to use and packed with features.

Best for Beginners: Streamlabs OBS

SLOBSSource: Windows Central

Streamlabs OBS is based on OBS Studio at its core and is offered free of charge with its integration with the Streamlabs platform its key differentiator. For beginners, Streamlabs is an excellent platform to use to set up various aspects of your stream, and all of it can be done from within Streamlabs OBS.

Streamlabs is popular not least for its overlays and on-screen alerts, allowing streamers to add customizations to their streams with easy, good looking graphics. All from a single tab now in Streamlabs OBS, you can choose your themes, tweak them up, and then integrate them. The focus on Streamlabs OBS has made it much less frustrating to use Streamlabs with your stream.

Streamlabs also offers a reliable, trustworthy system to handle donations, and when you go live, it'll put your stream chat up without the need for any other plugins. Streamlabs OBS offers similar functionality to OBS Studio when it comes to control over your stream settings, but the slight UI changes make it feel a little less intimidating. It's a great one-stop-shop for beginners to build a great looking stream.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Integration with Streamlabs themes and alerts
  • Manage all stream aspects
  • Based on OBS Studio

Cons:

  • Not much use for non-Streamlabs users
  • Some messy UI elements

Best for Beginners

Streamlabs OBS

A great solution for beginners

Thanks to the seamless integration of OBS and the Streamlabs platform, this is a perfect piece of software for beginners to use.

Dark Horse: StreamElements OBS.Live

OBS.LiveSource: StreamElements

Most of OBS.Live is the same as OBS Studio, because, in fact, at its heart, that's what it is, a full version of OBS Studio. OBS.Live is the StreamElements plugin that's layered on top, and for users of the platform, it's well worth having.

It allows not only easy access to some of StreamElements most important features, like setting up and managing tipping, but it adds a cloud backup feature not found in OBS Studio by default, puts your stream activity and chat at the side of your main window and even integrates a YouTube powered music and video player that your viewers can interact with.

StreamElements as a platform is also very user-friendly. It allows you to create rich, beautiful overlays packed with alerts and custom graphics, but wraps all of these into a single URL to add to OBS. As such, you end up with a much easier to manage system and fewer elements that need tinkering with from OBS.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Integration with StreamElements themes and alerts
  • Cloud backup feature
  • Based on OBS Studio

Cons:

  • StreamElements theme selection light right now
  • Non-StreamElements users should just use OBS Studio

Dark Horse

StreamElements OBS.Live

Adds some StreamElements flare to OBS Studio

OBS.Live is essentially a plugin on top of OBS Studio, but the platform offers some real value and features on top of the basic software.

Bottom line

The most important part of any stream is you, not your gear, but getting your content to the world needs some help, and that's where the software is important. There's plenty of good choices out there, but there's a reason so many keep settling with OBS Studio.

Sure, for a lot of people, the fact it's completely free to use is a big draw, but being open-source is arguably a bigger deal. It has a massive community, a ton of third-party plugins to add even more features to an already packed list, and once you get comfortable using it, you'll probably never want to switch.

And if you do enjoy using it, toss a few bucks as a donation to the dev team. It's worth it, and they're worth supporting.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Richard Devine Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming.

Jez Corden is a full-time writer for Windows Central, focusing on Xbox, Surface, and Windows PC. He spends the vast majority of his time gaming, or writing about gaming, with a mission to provide gamers in the Microsoft ecosystem the best and most up-to-date info possible.