As content creators pick out the equipment for serious live video streaming there are some big requirements to consider, especially when streaming videos is a part of your job. After having taken care of the most crucial stuff, like cameras or lighting, another equally important consideration is what type of video encoder to choose.
Encoding is the process of compressing large video files for easier uploading to the internet. In the most basic terms, an encoder takes the audio, video or graphics you would like to stream and turns them into data which can be sent across the internet. Broadcasters, who use video cameras in their live streaming setup, need either a hardware or a software encoder for the job.
A hardware encoder takes a feed from your camera and audio sources or your video mixer into a physical box. A hardware encoder connects directly to the internet to send the feed. They typically do not include multiple inputs or switching capabilities – you will need to attach video switching, mixing equipment or software to the encoder if you wish to use multiple cameras, graphics, etc.
They may be the best bet for difficult network situations. Many encoders can communicate on multiple networks like wi-fi, satellite or cellular. They can use all the bandwidth from each network to give you the best possible connection to stream with. Also they handle very high reliability in an incredible way. By doing only one thing, hardware encoders don’t get bogged down with other applications running, such as a computer can. For example, H.264 is the standard for streaming internet sources and also the recommended video compression format for high definition because it can create lossless encoding.
For audio, there are two popular choices: MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer III) and AAC (Advanced Audio Coding).
Hardware encoders aren't always the best solution for every broadcaster. In many situations, your team may benefit from using software. The key difference is that a hardware encoder is a piece of physical equipment you’ll need to hook up, while a software encoder is a program that runs on a computer. We have already explained what a hardware encoder does. A software encoder requires a computer on site. In this setup, video sources send signals to the computer with a video capture device. The software reads the input and pushes the stream to the internet through the computer's internet connection. Hardware encoders are more simple to use, because creating an automated, quickly repeatable workflow with a computer is very hard. Furthermore, using a software encoder on a computer introduces the potential struggles with computer and software updates, CPU usage limits, network connection issues and security problems. By doing so, you open yourself to many more obstacles and difficulties that might prevent a successful broadcast. Unlike computers, hardware encoders are dedicated to one task— encoding your video.
Those devices free you from worrying about other computer-related hassles such as CPU usage, memory and network security issues. Although, software encoders are by far the most common type of encoder in use nowadays. The reason for that is their cost - some of the most popular software encoders are totally free. You won’t find any free hardware encoders, but you can find some for as low as $100. They also can be very expensive for the professional grade ones.
But you can’t forget, that even with free software you need to invest in a powerful computer to run it on. Unlike hardware encoders, these can be easily updated when a new version or upgrade is available. However, they lack the overall latency speed that hardware encoders have because your computer can’t devote all of its resources like hardware encoders. Software encoders can come with a lot of functions useful for producing higher quality content. Multi-camera switching, title insertion, and playback on a disc-based file can be handled with the right software encoder.Hardware encoders can be used for any multiple camera producing content you might want to have. Most live content now has at least two cameras.