The lifelong XSplit license is worth it

The best free streaming software 2018

Transitions, custom logos, well-mixed audio, and high resolution - all of these can make the difference between a clear amateur stream and a professional-quality production. Fortunately, the software you need to create a great looking stream doesn't have to be expensive - and some of the best are free.

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

Some of the key features to look out for are supported platforms, input source selection, user assistance, and supported games (some streaming apps let you choose from a list of tracks while others record everything).

That's why we've selected the best streaming software for you to download today.

1. OBS Studio

You won't find a more powerful free streaming tool for every platform

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

It has a reputation for being complicated to set up, but if you're just interested in basic streaming you don't need to dive into the more complex recording settings.

If you want more precise control, everything is there. You can create scenes from multiple sources (windows, images, text, webcams, capture cards - the list goes on), mix audio, and customize pretty much every aspect of your streams. The possibilities are extensive, but clear and explained.

OBS Studio can be streamed directly to Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Facebook and many other platforms - a far greater choice than other streaming programs. It is even possible to stream to multiple platforms at the same time.

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

2. Streamlabs OBS

A friendlier face for OBS Studio, otherwise there is little to differentiate

As the name suggests, Streamlabs OBS is built on the same foundation as OBS Studio, which gives the powerful streaming software a friendlier face. Streamlabs offers to provide improved performance through automatic optimization, although the difference in our tests was negligible.

The cleaner user interface makes Streamlabs a sensible choice for first-time streamers. However, if you are already satisfied with OBS Studio, there are hardly any advantages to switching. It's currently in beta so it will be interesting to see if it deviates any further from OBS Studio in the future, but for now there isn't much of a difference between the two.

It's worth noting that Streamlabs currently doesn't have a studio mode - a feature that came for OBS Studio two years ago. It's an advanced tool that many users won't miss, but it's worth thinking about.

3. Bebo

Not yet up to OBS standards, but worth a look if you're new to streaming

Bebo is a new kid on the streaming block and is still very much a work in progress. It is a direct competitor to OBS Studio, which is notable for its lower system requirements, which has less of an impact on in-game performance

It has fewer features than OBS, but depending on your needs, this could work in its favor - its user interface is simpler and less intimidating to new users. Bebo also scores for its support. Live chat is available in the app around the clock.

Some users will feel the impact of their streamlined approach more than others. You can only stream to Twitch, not Facebook or YouTube, and you can only choose from a list of supported tracks. The catalog of supported titles is quite extensive, but OBS lets you stream any full screen game you like.

If you are new to streaming, we recommend trying both Bebo and OBS.

4. Nvidia shadow play

The game, the whole game, and nothing but the game

If you have a GeForce graphics card, Nvidia Shadowplay comes with the drivers. It has one big advantage over most streaming software: it encodes in the GPU, not the CPU. This has a negligible impact on performance, but is far less flexible than OBS Studio. There are no overlays or multi-source scenes - just the game itself.

If you're just interested in streaming gameplay, Nvidia Shadowplay will do the job. However, if you want to create something a little more sophisticated, OBS is better - especially since you can set OBS to use Nvidia's NVENC encoding.

Shadowplay's video recording and screen grabbing tools are excellent, but streaming isn't the best choice.

5. Xsplit Gamecaster

Great quality software, but premium features come at a high price

In contrast to most of the free streaming programs in this overview, Xsplit Gamecaster is a free, reduced version of a premium application. As such, it looks slimmer and benefits from Premium online support, but some features are locked behind a paywall.

Gamecaster is a game-specific version of Xsplit Broadcaster with an optimized user interface. It supports streaming to Twitch, YouTube Live, and Facebook Live and is incredibly easy to use. Just launch your game and hit a keyboard shortcut to bring up the overlay and start streaming.

The biggest downside is that 720px or higher streams have an Xsplit watermark - not 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 a capture card, and custom logos. Commercial use also requires a license.

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

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