Stream Hardware and Software Checklist
Live streaming has become one of the many new mediums for providing and sharing content in the 21st century, offering people a way to meet new people and engage in video games and other activities. On top of this, streaming has also emerged as a rather lucrative business for some individuals, highlighting itself as both a casual and potentially professional activity.
One thing that isn’t often talked about is the fact that to become a streamer you will need to invest in a significant amount of equipment. This is often a big hurdle for newbies, as it is not only a monetary commitment but also a time commitment. As a result, this can often put newcomers off of streaming due to the confusion it can cause.
In this guide, however, we aim to quell that confusion by giving you a checklist of exactly what you will need to begin streaming. The list is a long one, but if you are serious about streaming and want some answers about where to start, this guide should provide you with the answers you are looking for.
Streaming equipment can be broken down into two distinct categories, hardware, and software. The hardware is all of the physical equipment you need, such as a computer, camera, microphone, etc. The hardware will be responsible for the majority of your investment. However, it also covers the majority of what you need, with each item very much a necessity in the streamers toolkit.
The first piece of hardware you are going to want to think about is your PC or laptop. This device will not only serve as a hub for your other equipment but it may also be the provider of your content depending on the type of streaming you are looking to do.
When looking for a PC, there are a number of different factors to consider. However, the two most common categories to look at are performance and compatibility.
The performance needs of your PC will be dependent on the type of content you are going to be streaming. For example, if you are going to be gaming on your PC, then it is going to need to be pretty powerful. Otherwise, you run the risk of your games not running smoothly or, in some cases, not running at all.
The minimum specs for a gaming PC are as follows.
Processor: Intel Core i5 or equivalent
Memory: 8GB RAM
Graphics: Nvidia GTX 1060 or equivalent
It is important to remember that these are considered the minimum specs required for gaming, not the optimum ones. With these specs, you should be able to run most games comfortably at 1080p and with decent frames rates. However, if you are streaming, you need to also take into account the other software that will be running on your PC at the same time, as each one will also require resources from the above components.
For this reason, we recommend that you take the above specs with a fair pinch of salt, as you may require more firepower from your PC depending on what you will be using it for. If you are not going to be gaming, however, then these specs should be more than enough, provided you aren’t doing anything too resource-hungry such as 3-D rendering or compiling large programs.
You will also most likely want to use Windows 10 as your operating system due to its superior compatibility with most games compared to the other operating systems out there. Linux and macOS are also options and are compatible with a lot of games. However, Windows still holds the crown in this regard, making it the operating system of choice for most streamers and gamers.
Another staple item in a streamer’s arsenal is a good camera. This is especially important if you wish to show your face while streaming, which we recommend doing if to better connect with your audience.
Streaming cameras come in all shapes and sizes. However, the most common distinction you will have to make is whether you wish to use a high-quality webcam or a regular camera that offers the ability to provide a live video feed.
Of the two, webcams tend to be better value for money. However, they also tend to have less impressive specs. Resolutions and frame rates, in particular, are usually underwhelming compared to what is capable with the likes of a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. Although, webcams make up for this in other areas by providing excellent compatibility and many other useful features when it comes to live streaming.
Many of the popular streaming platforms are also yet to adopt 4K and other high-resolution formats, meaning the extra quality found on a lot of regular cameras is largely redundant. An exception to this, however, is YouTube, which has adopted the likes of 4K and other high-resolution formats. Therefore, if you plan to stream primarily or solely on Youtube, a regular camera offering the ability to stream in 4K might be the better option for you.
The next item on your list should be a decent microphone. While it’s true that many webcams and cameras come with built-in microphones, the reality is that these options simply aren’t able to cut it next to a dedicated high-quality microphone.
When looking for a microphone, there are two main types to consider, USB microphones and XLR microphones. Both of these types have their own pros and cons. However, in terms of quality, XLR microphones are usually the way to go.
Compared to their USB counterparts, XLR microphones tend to offer higher specs and as well as a number of extra features. They also benefit from the use of additional components, meaning that if one component becomes faulty you can simply replace that part, rather than having to invest in a completely new device.
XLR microphones also give you more control over your audio setup. However, this extra versatility requires a more experienced user, meaning XLR microphones might not be the best option if you are just starting out.
This is where USB microphones make their mark. These devices are less impressive than XLR microphones from a technical perspective. However, their usually simple setup processes coupled with their user-friendly designs mean that USB microphones are a great option for both beginners and those who are looking to create a more simple setup.
As a streamer, you will likely be providing audio to your audience from a variety of different sources. For this reason, it is worth considering a mixer, as one of these devices will allow you to adjust the sound levels of your audio sources to suit the needs of the stream at the time.
For streamers, most often a simple USB mixer will be all you need. However, as with most of the equipment on this list, you also have the option of making a more significant investment in a professional-grade mixer if you wish to.
Audio mixers are most commonly used with XLR microphones, as they allow you to connect these devices to your other equipment without compromising on quality. This is something that can be an issue when using an alternative method such as an XLR to USB converter.
USB microphones by comparison tend to use digital mixers instead. Again, for basic setups, these will work fine, but if you are using professional audio equipment, you will most certainly want to invest in a high-quality mixer instead.
The last piece of equipment to consider from a hardware perspective is a solid Ethernet connection. Despite the improvements in WiFi speeds in recent years, a wired connection remains the faster and more reliable option when it comes to producing a decent network connection. Wired connections also offer more bandwidth than their wireless counterparts, making them a faster option as well.
Achieving a wired setup may mean repositioning your desk or router, especially if they are in separate rooms. However, a wired connection can also be achieved by using a powerline adapter, which makes use of the electrical wires in your home to transmit signals.
Now that we have covered the various hardware required for streaming, let’s take a look at the software you need to consider as well. Streaming software can come with a variety of different features. However, generally speaking, most of them offer the same core features, albeit with their own additional extras and quirks.
Streaming software is specifically designed for recording and live streaming, providing source and device capture, as well as scene composition, and encoding. Many streaming software solutions also provide basic tools for editing your content, allowing you to quickly produce a more enjoyable stream for your viewers.
Some streaming software is also open-source, meaning it is completely free to use. This is great news if you are already working with a tight budget, as it means you won’t need to fork out extra money on any special software. Many proprietary software solutions also include a free version. However, these versions are usually limited compared to their open-source counterparts.
OBS Studio is one of the most popular OBS programs available. Offering the ability to screen record, edit videos, and stream content, OBS Studio is a great option to go for when it comes to streaming software, giving you pretty much everything you need in one package, while also being free of charge.
The software also includes a variety of other features such as being able to work with multiple sources. This is important as it allows you to seamlessly mix your content together to create more engaging and interesting material for your viewers.
The user interface for OBS Studio is also pretty good. However, it will take some getting used to initially, especially if you aren’t familiar with this type of software. For this reason, it is best to practice using the software before you begin streaming, so as to avoid any potential mistakes when you are live.
Another solid option when it comes to OBS programs is Streamlabs. This software is not only free but also very easy to use compared to some of the other options on this list, while it also benefits from being highly customizable as well.
Some of its most notable features include a user-friendly interface, seamless integration, and an included Twitch chat pane. One downside, however, is that you can only use one webcam at a time, making it less ideal for more complex setups. IT has also been reported to be somewhat buggy at times. However, this can be improved with updates.
Wirecast is another well-known streaming software focusing primarily on input switching. The software is able to capture signals from a variety of different sources such as cameras, microphones, capture cards, and computer screens. Wirecast is also able to add transitions and other effects into your streams, giving you more versatility over your content.
Unlike the previous options, however, Wirecast isn’t free, meaning you will need to invest in the software to make use of it. The software also lacks the ability to view live comments within the program, which is often a desirable feature among streamers.
Nvidia’s ShadowPlay software is another proprietary option providing a variety of excellent features, as well as a polished, easy-to-use interface. The software also includes useful features such as an instant replay function, a record function, and a screenshot function.
Instant Replay, in particular, is a very useful feature as it allows you to continually record anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes of your gameplay at a time in a temporary location. Any footage you wish to keep can then be saved using a keyboard shortcut. This is great if you are looking to create a highlight reel for example, as you can save only your most important footage, significantly reducing editing time later on.
ShadowPlay does have one potential drawback in the fact that it is only compatible with Nvidia graphics cards. However, other than that, ShadowPlay is a fantastic piece of software to consider.
Lightstream Studio is a streaming software solution designed to be used in a browser, rather than natively on your desktop. The cloud-based software has, therefore, become a popular choice among streamers working with lower spec PC’s, as it allows them to offload some of the software’s processing needs to Lightstream’s servers.
This means that while the video sources are still captured by your PC, the composition and encoding elements will be handled via the cloud. The result is a service that requires much less from your CPU than a native version would, making Lightstream Studio an excellent choice if you are looking to reserve processing power for other tasks.