The best free streaming software 2021: stream games like the pros

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The right free streaming software will give your videos a professional edge with custom logos, well-mixed audio, high resolution – everything that sets pros from amateurs. Fortunately, the software you need to create a great flow doesn’t have to be expensive – and some of the best are free.

It can be difficult to choose the right free streaming software for you. Streaming is a growing market, and developers are fighting to grab your attention by claiming better performance, ease of use, and quick setup. So how do you choose?

Some of the key features to look out for are supported platforms, choice of input sources, user support, and supported games (some streaming apps let you choose from a list of titles, while some streaming apps let you choose from a list of titles, while some streaming apps let you choose from a list of titles). ‘others allow you to record anything). With that in mind, here’s our pick of the best free streaming software you can download today. Along with one of the best routers or best Wi-Fi extender, you’ll be rolling out pro-level videos in no time.

If you’re not interested in live streaming, check out our guide to the best free screen recorders.

The best free streaming software at a glance

  1. OBS Studio
  2. Streamlabs OBS
  3. Nvidia Shadowplay
  4. Xsplit Gamecaster

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OBS Studio

(Image credit: contributors Jim / OBS Studio)

1. OBS Studio

You won’t find a more powerful free streaming tool

Characteristics

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Reasons to buy

+Completely free+Twitch, YouTube, Mixer and more

Reasons to avoid

Steep learning curve

Open source, powerful and flexible, OBS Studio is easily our first choice for free streaming software. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux and receives regular updates from an enthusiastic team of contributors.

It sort of has a reputation for being complicated to set up, but if you’re only interested in simple streaming, there’s no need to dive into the more sophisticated capture settings.

If you want more granular control, it’s all here. You can create scenes from multiple sources (windows, images, text, webcams, capture cards – the list goes on), mix audio, and adjust just about every aspect of your streams. The options are extensive, but clearly presented and explained.

OBS Studio can stream directly to Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Facebook, and many other platforms – a much wider range than you’ll find in other streaming software. It is even possible to broadcast on multiple platforms at once.

OBS Studio is also our first choice if you are looking for a premium free screen recorder. Other tools can be simpler, but whether you want to capture games or something else on your desktop, you won’t find a more flexible tool for the job.

Read our full OBS Studio Reviews

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Streamlabs OBS

(Image credit: Streamlabs)

2. Streamlabs OBS

A nicer face for the superb OBS Studio

Characteristics

Operating system: the Windows

Reasons to buy

+Automatic optimization+Easy to use

Reasons to avoid

No studio mode

As the name suggests, Streamlabs OBS is built on the same foundation as OBS Studio, giving the powerful streaming software a more user-friendly face. Streamlabs claims to offer improved performance through automatic optimization, although the difference in our tests is negligible.

Its cleaner interface makes Streamlabs a reasonable choice for novice streamers, but if you’re already happy with using OBS Studio, there’s little to change. It’s currently in beta, so it will be interesting to see if it diverges more from OBS Studio in the future, but at the moment there is little difference between the two.

It should be noted that Streamlabs currently does not have a studio mode – a feature that came to OBS Studio two years ago. It is an advanced tool that many users will not miss, but worth considering.

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Nvidia Shadowplay

(Image credit: Nvidia)

3. Nvidia Shadowplay

The game, the whole game and nothing but the game

Characteristics

Operating system: the Windows

Reasons to buy

+Little impact on game performance

Reasons to avoid

Better for recording than streamingNo picture in picture

If you have a GeForce graphics card, Nvidia Shadowplay comes with the drivers. It has a major advantage over most streaming software: it encodes in the GPU rather than the CPU, which means it has negligible impact on performance, but it is much less flexible than OBS Studio. . There are no overlays or multi-source scenes – just the game itself.

If you’re only interested in gameplay streaming, Nvidia Shadowplay will do the job, but if you want to create something more sophisticated you’ll be better off with OBS – especially since you can configure OBS to use encoding. NVENC by Nvidia.

Shadowplay’s video recording and screenshot tools are great, but streaming isn’t its strong suit.

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Xsplit Gamecaster

(Image credit: SplitmediaLabs Ltd)

4. Xsplit Gamecaster

Great software, but premium features come at a steep price

Characteristics

Operating system: the Windows

Reasons to buy

+Facebook, Twitch, Mixer and YouTube

Reasons to avoid

Higher resolutions are watermarkedThe chromakeying is a chargeable supplement

Unlike most of the free streaming software in this roundup, Xsplit Gamecaster is a free, scaled-down version of a premium app. As such, it looks sleeker and has premium online support, but several features are locked behind a paywall.

Gamecaster is a game-specific version of Xsplit Broadcaster, with a more streamlined interface. It supports streaming to Twitch, Mixer, YouTube, and Facebook, and is incredibly easy to use – just start your game and press a hotkey to view the overlay and start streaming.

The biggest downside is that streams at 720p or higher will carry an Xsplit watermark – which isn’t ideal if you want your stream to look professional. You’ll also need to open your wallet if you want chromakeying (green screen), in-game Twitch chat, console support via capture card, and custom logos. Commercial use also requires a license.

Prices start at US $ 4.17 (approx £ 3 / AU $ 5) per month for a 36 month license, up to US $ 199 (approx £ 150 / AU $ 250) for a lifetime license.

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