Wallpaper Engine has been the de facto 'best' live wallpaper application available for a while. It allows deep customization, and the library of user-generated content keeps it relevant. It has best-in-class performance optimization, allowing the user to set frame rates and the quality of animations or videos. It will also pause the wallpaper when running something full screen, to not impact performance. However, some consumers don't want to pay for something when there is a free alternative.
- Most performance-centric live wallpaper app on the market
- Allows for deep customization and creative designs
- Community creations available through Steam Workshop
- Discover tab makes finding wallpapers easy
- It has a one-time purchase fee of $3.99
Lively Wallpaper was awarded in 2023 for the best in the Microsoft Store Personalization Category. It has 4.4. stars out of 5 with over 13,000 reviews. It seems to do everything that Wallpaper Engine does but for free. It also promises to pause wallpapers when an application is opened in full screen and is open source so community-made content will continue to drive its evolution. For me, I'll choose the open-source option over the paid option most of the time.
- Free and open-source
- Has most of the bells and whistles that Wallpaper Engine has.
- 0% resource usage when using an application in full-screen
- Awesome community-made content.
- Slightly fewer performance options
- no centralized market for communicaty-made content
I don't think I'm alone in my desire to spruce up my Windows 11 desktop. Live wallpapers are the Ritz of customization options. Nothing is worse than having a perfectly cable-managed PC setup with matching accessories, lighting, and room accents, only to have a boring default Windows wallpaper.
If you're looking for the crème de la crème of wallpaper options on the market, these are the two applications worth checking out. But do you really need to shell out $4 for Wallpaper Engine, or is Lively Wallpaper punching above its weight class? Let's take a look.
Wallpaper Engine vs Lively Wallpaper: Features
Before you drop down the $4 for Wallpaper Engine on Steam, let's take a look at the features available with Lively Wallpaper compared to Wallpaper Engine.
|Header Cell - Column 0
|Will pause during games
|0% resource usage when running games/work
|Multiple displays and 16:9, 21:9, 16:10, 4:3 aspect ratios
|Supports multiple displays and aspect ratios
|Supported Wallpaper inputs
|Create your own animated wallpapers
|Hardware Accelerated Video Playback, any video can be a wallpaper
|Steam Workshop wallpapers for free
|Set any website as a wallpaper
|Row 4 - Cell 0
|Supports interactive wallpapers
|Lively Audio API to have wallpaper react to audio
|Row 5 - Cell 0
|Supports HTML, images, or video files
|Lively System API to show system information
|$3.99 on Steam
|Open Source and free
Wallpaper Engine vs Lively Wallpaper: Using the apps
It's pretty hard to judge the difference between the usability of the apps and the overall GUI experience. I prefer the simplicity and layout of LIvely Wallpaper more. Still, Wallpaper Engine has many more options to help you find exactly what you're looking for, and the 'Discover' tab in Wallpaper Engine is a huge bonus.
Besides a few basic pre-loaded wallpapers that come with Lively Wallpaper, any other wallpapers you want to use must come from outside the app. This is a bit of a bummer compared to Wallpaper Engine and does require a bit more work, but in the long run, it means it supports a vast range of different inputs, such as websites, YouTube videos, and nearly all video files. If you're looking for ideas or help with Lively Wallpaper, they have an active subreddit with users uploading new wallpaper creations and offering assistance in true open-source fashion.
If you're looking for convenience and ease of use, Wallpaper Engine's Discover tab does all the work for you, showcasing awesome wallpapers from different categories. It's almost impossible not to find a great-looking Wallpaper for any taste. Of course, the Workshop tab also allows you to search for anything you are dying to place from and center on your PC setup.
- TL;DR app usability: While Lively Wallpaper has an overall cleaner aesthetic, in my opinion, and is very easy to drive and move around, the actual act of finding, downloading, and 'installing' wallpapers is much easier on Wallpaper Engine due to the Discover and Workshop tabs that feed community-created content directly into the app and offer 'one-click shopping' for the avid wallpaper connoisseur.
Wallpaper Engine vs Lively Wallpaper: Performance
I was surprised to see how much running a live wallpaper affected my GPU. I purchased the recently reviewed NVIDIA RTX 4070 Super, and I thought I would have a ton of overhead running these live wallpapers. That doesn't seem to be the case, though. Any live wallpaper I tried had my GPU utilization showing between 15% and 30%, but it was over 20% most of the time. This was the same across both Wallpaper Engine and Lively Wallpaper.
Lively Wallpaper also uses a lot of GPU when running a live wallpaper. It is important to say that I have no reason to doubt either of these apps' claims that they will reduce utilization to 0% during gaming. I didn't notice any slowdown or drop in frames while gaming with live wallpapers enabled from either of these applications.
That being said, I have a hard time wanting to run a live wallpaper 24/7 on a brand new GPU that is just going to be adding cycles and wear and tear to my GPU. The real use case here will be if I'm recording videos of my desktop setup or showing people around my office, I can have one up and running. If you're somebody who usually puts your PC to sleep when you aren't using it, GPU wear and tear won't be as big of an issue.
- TL;DR performance: Both Wallpaper Engine and Lively Wallpaper will substantially utilize your GPU. If you're running integrated graphics it could end up in a scenario where your browsers don't have enough GPU overhead to load YouTube videos or other basic tasks. That being said, I didn't notice any impact on my gaming with either wallpaper app enabled. Wallpaper Engine seemed to have a slightly lower average utilization than Lively Wallpaper, so it gets a slight edge in performance.
Wallpaper Engine vs Lively Walllpaper: Which should you install?
Honestly, I'm torn. Before starting this, I thought that Lively Wallpaper, undoubtedly the best free alternative to Wallpaper Engine on the market, would be able to win. Still, after using both, I think the most significant deciding factor is the Workshop and Discover tabs in Wallpaper Engine. This might not be the case for everybody, but for me, $4 is not worth the extra time it would take to scour Bing trying to find the perfect video, GIF, or other media to make a wallpaper through Lively Wallpapers.
But if you're looking for a free solution and want to get involved in making and creating custom wallpapers, the Lively Wallpaper community is active and alive and always looking for more users to jump in and assist in improving it.
I understand if $4 is too much for you to spend on a wallpaper app, and Lively Wallpaper is an excellent option for anybody who wants to use it. Still, if you just want to download an app, find a gorgeous wallpaper, and enjoy Geralt of Rivia bobbing up and down on your desktop, Wallpaper Engine is easily worth the $3.99.
Wallpaper Engine is still likely the King of live wallpaper applications. It has everything you could want and is easy for beginners just wanting a sweet wallpaper and experts who want to animate an entire game and play it on their desktop.
Lively Wallpaper is a great free option and does everything I could need it to. There will be more of an investment into going out and searching for exactly the wallpaper you want due to it not having a centralized market for community-made wallpapers, but that could be half of the fun.
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Colton is a seasoned cybersecurity professional that wants to share his love of technology with the Windows Central audience. When he isn’t assisting in defending companies from the newest zero-days or sharing his thoughts through his articles, he loves to spend time with his family and play video games on PC and Xbox. Colton focuses on buying guides, PCs, and devices and is always happy to have a conversation about emerging tech and gaming news.