The Best Live Streaming Encoders (2020)

The Best Live Streaming Encoders (2020)

Updated

This is a list of the best live streaming hardware encoders I recommend and use.

But first...

What Is Encoding?

en┬Ěcode - verb - convert into a coded form

When it comes to live streaming, encoding is the process of converting uncompressed video and audio into a compressed format.

What Is A Hardware Encoder?

Hardware encoders are stand-alone devices that receive an uncompressed video signal (usually HDMI or SDI), encode it, and then upload/transmit that stream, usually to a destination like a streaming platform (also called a CDN).

Why Hardware Instead Of A Software?

Uncompressed video is huge.

For example, uncompressed video with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 60 frames per second requires 2.98 Gbps of bandwidth. That's GIGA-bits, one thousand MEGA-bits, nearly 3 of them, and every second.

Processing that data in real time requires a lot of power to do well consistently and efficiently.

Hardware encoders take the guesswork out of that process.

They are engineered to handle it efficiently, consistently, and reliably.

On top of that, they are usually cheaper when compared to a well-made computer, video capture device, monitor, and other accessories.

Important Note About Using Encoders To Record

Many hardware encoders offer built-in recording, usually to memory cards and/or USB drives.

However...

Hardware streaming encoders almost always make poor recorders.

The file formats used for streaming are not the same as file formats used for recording to drives, and it is common to see failures and corrupt files with encoders.

Therefore, I recommend recording with these units for backup purposes only and to do your main recording on a separate hardware video studio recorder.

Now, onto the list...

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Living As One Ray Encoder

Living As One Ray Encoder

Top Pick For 2020!

With their patented Resilient Streaming Protocol, Living As One takes streaming quality and reliability to a whole new level.

Subscription plan options include social only (distribution to YouTube or Facebook), web streaming with an embeddable player and variable bitrates, and multisite capability to connect remote physical locations.

While the Ray Encoder is tied only to Living As One's platform and is a minimum requirement, that's a good thing when you want an encoder and platform that just works.

Input: 3G-SDI

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 or H.265/HEVC using Resilient Streaming Protocol

Supported Destinations: Living As One (embeddable player), Facebook, and YouTube

Multiple Destinations: Yes, to any destination supported in subscription plan

Recording: Yes (SD card or USB drive)

My Favorite Feature: The Resilient Streaming Protocol is stellar

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Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

Budget-Friendly Powerhouse

Wait, this is a switcher. Right?

Au contraire...

It is an encoder with a built-in switcher, and I believe this distinction is important.

The ATEM Mini Pro is an amazing feature-rich and budget-friendly encoder.

The ATEM Mini Pro is an inadequate video switcher.

Allow me to explain...

A typical video switcher acts as the hub or core of a video system - inputs come in and outputs are sent out.

In my opinion, inputs and outputs are of equal importance and the lack of either can make or break the versatility and value of a switcher.

Previewing sources passing through the switcher is also very important.

And this is where the ATEM Mini and ATEM Mini Pro fall short.

The ATEM Mini Pro only has one physical HDMI output.

If the HDMI output is used for a preview or multiview monitor (which I highly recommend with any switcher), no other video outputs are available.

No output to a separate recorder, no output to local displays, no IMAG, no output to overflow rooms, nothing.

If the HDMI output is used for any of those things, no preview or multiview output is available.

After many conversations, I have found this important limitation is often misunderstood or even missed completely.

Therefore, it now lives here as an excellent bang for the buck encoder.

Input: 4x HDMI

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 (Maximum 70 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: RTMP, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch

Multiple Destinations: Requires third-party re-streaming service

Recording: Yes (USB-C port)

My Favorite Feature: Switching capability puts this in a previously under-served market

*At the time of this update, the ATEM Mini Pro is still being released in limited quantities. It may take a few weeks, or possibly even months, to receive one or find them in stock.

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Teradek VidiU Go

Teradek VidiU Go

Best Generic Encoder

The best quality bang for the buck encoder I've used.

H.265/HEVC support means better video quality at lower bitrates compared to H.264.

If you're looking for a reliable encoder to stream up to 1080p60 to most destinations, look no further.

Input: HDMI or 3G-SDI

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 or H.265/HEVC up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps (Maximum 12 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: RTMP, RTSP, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, and more

Multiple Destinations: Requires Teradek Core or another third-party re-streaming service

Recording: Yes (32GB or less SD card or USB drive)

My Favorite Feature: H.265/HEVC Support

View HDMI Version on Amazon View SDI Version on Amazon
Magewell Ultra Stream HDMI

Magewell Ultra Stream

Low-Cost Option

While this may be the budget-friendly pick, it doesn't hold back on features.

HEVC support, internal recording, and 4K capable HDMI input - a crazy good deal.

Input: HDMI or 3G-SDI

Input Formats: Up to 4096 x 2160 at 30 fps (4:4:4/4:2:2 HDMI signals), 4096 x 2160 at 60 fps (4:2:0 HDMI signals), or 2048 x 1080 at 60 fps (SDI)

Output Formats: H.264 or H.265/HEVC up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps (Maximum 8 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: RTMP, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitch

Multiple Destinations: Stream to 2 destinations simultaneously, but total maximum bitrate is capped at 8 Mbps

Recording: Yes (32GB internal storage, USB drive, or up to 1280 x 720 at 30 fps to a connected smartphone or tablet)

My Favorite Feature: Price

View HDMI Version on Amazon View SDI Version on Amazon
LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo

Reliable Mobile Streaming

Need a reliable stream but don't have a reliable Internet connection?

LiveU's Reliable Transport (LRT) can work across 4 data connections, including 2 USB cellular modems, to make it happen.

Already a solid encoder for regular RTMP streaming, LRT and bonding are the cherry on top!

*LRT (streaming over multiple bonded data connections) requires a monthly or yearly subscription

Input: HDMI only

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 (Maximum 8 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: LRT, RTMP, RTMPS, Facebook, and YouTube

Multiple Destinations: Requires a third-party re-streaming service

Recording: No

My Favorite Feature: LRT provides reliability and consistency in times and places it otherwise wouldn't be possible

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AJA HELO

AJA HELO

Proven Industry Standard

A reliable and proven option that's been around a few years, it still remains a solid choice.

Built-in scheduler and control API give this tons of flexibility for your workflow.

Input: HDMI or 3G-SDI

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps (Maximum 20 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: RTMP, RTMPS, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, and more

Multiple Destinations: Requires a third-party re-streaming service

Recording: Yes (SD card, USB drive, or a SMB or NFS network destination)

My Favorite Feature: Built-in scheduler

View on Amazon

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