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Hardware Streaming Encoder

The Best Live Streaming Encoders (2022)

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

But first...

Important Information

Protocol

A system of rules governing how data travels between communicating systems.

When it comes to live streaming, protocols define how streaming content is to be packaged, transmitted, received, and unpackaged or delivered.

IP (Internet Protocol)

The main communications protocol for networking.

When it comes to live streaming, IP refers to the processes and infrastructure involved to transmit live stream data from one place to another.

Codec

Short for "coder/decoder", it defines a specific type of compression method and algorithm for audio and video.

When it comes to live streaming, the codec defines the type and amount of compression applied to the video and audio.

Encoding

Converting video and audio into a coded format.

When it comes to live streaming, encoding is the process of converting uncompressed video and audio into a compressed format that can be transmitted over IP infrastructure for decoding.

Decoding

Converting encoded video and audio into a viewable format.

When it comes to streaming, is is the process of receiving the transmitted stream over IP and converting it back into either uncompressed video and audio or a viewable playback format.

Transcoding

The process of converting or changing from one encoded format to another.

When it comes to live streaming, transcoding is often done by CDNs to provide viewers different formats or qualities based on specific requirements.

CDN (Content Delivery Network)

A service provider that delivers content via the Internet.

When it comes to live streaming, a CDN receives a live stream and distributes it to viewers over the Internet.

Point-to-Point

In our context, point-to-point refers to the process of streaming from one single destination to another single destination.

Examples of this include streaming from one room to another in the same building or on the same campus, from one building to another building across a dedicated private network circuit, or from one building to another building across public Internet.

Hardware Encoder

A stand-alone device that:

  1. Receives uncompressed video and audio signals (usually through HDMI and/or SDI)
  2. Encodes the signals into a compressed format standardized for IP transmission and live streaming
  3. Transmits the compressed data over IP using standardized protocols

Bitrate

The amount of data (bits) that are allocated to a specific amount of time (rate).

Data rates are usually referred to in bits, whereas storage size is usually referred to in bytes.

When it comes to live streaming, bitrate refers to the amount of compression applied to the video and audio, defined in kilobits per second (kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps).

Basically, the lower the bitrate the more compression is applied (or the more original information is discarded). The higher the bitrate the less compression is applied, but also more throughput/bandwidth is required to transmit the data in real-time.

In our context, here are some helpful bitrates for live streaming:

IMPORTANT: I recommend a minimum consistent Internet upload bandwidth at least 2X your streaming bitrate. So, for example, a streaming bitrate of 4 Mbps / 4,000 kbps should have at least 8 Mbps / 8,000 kbps upload bandwidth available at all times.

What Are All Those Acronyms?

You will see a lot of acronyms when researching live streaming, so here many of the common ones and what they mean.

Transport Protocols

These protocols define how the stream is transmitted and received across IP infrastructure.

Codecs

These codecs define how the video and audio are packaged for streaming.

Why Hardware Instead Of A Software?

Live streaming requires a lot of information to be converted and transmitted in real-time.

That requires a lot of processing power to do consistently and efficiently.

Hardware encoders are engineered specifically to handle that task efficiently, consistently, and reliably. They essentially take most, or all, of the guesswork out of the process.

On top of that, they are often much cheaper than a computer with enough power to handle encoding properly.

Important Note About Using Encoders To Record

Many hardware encoders also 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 only suggest recording with encoders for backup purposes.

I recommend recording on a separate dedicated hardware video studio recorder whenever possible.

Do I Need HEVC / H.265?

"Need" is a tricky word, so let me put it this way...

In general, HEVC makes a lot of sense. When compared to H.264 we get a) better video quality with no increase in bandwidth or b) similar video quality in less bandwidth.

I believe we are close to reaching a critical mass of HEVC adoption and support, too. Many manufacturers and CDNs support it, and more are supporting it every day.

The biggest hurdle now is the major players like YouTube and Facebook Live opening support for it. Once they do, I believe HEVC will be a no-brainer.

So, as of now, I recommend using HEVC when possible. I also recommend getting a hardware encoder that supports HEVC if your budget allows.

Now, onto the list...


Resi Ray Encoder

Resi Ray

Top Pick For 2022! Learn More

With their Resilient Streaming Protocol, Resi (formerly 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 Resi'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: Resi (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

Blackmagic Design Web Presenter HD

Blackmagic Design Web Presenter HD

Best Bang For The Buck Get Latest Price on Amazon

If you're on a tighter budget and don't need the extra resiliency from Resi then look no further!

Taking everything they have learned and implemented with the ATEM Mini series, Blackmagic has outdone themselves again with a much needed (and well done) refresh of the Web Presenter.

Input SDI formats up to 3840 x 2160 at 60 fps and output streams up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps and up to 70 Mbps.

On top of that, the monitor outputs add a unique and handy information display that gives you all kinds of useful information about your signals and stream all on one screen.

With the ability to power the unit with AC or DC power sources, and the ability to tether to smartphones or other mobile devices, the versatility is nearly endless.

The USB-C connection can also be used as a webcam input into a computer, so you basically have no excuses with this bad boy.

It only has a single SDI input, so that can be a downside for some. But it is 12G-SDI, which makes this a crazy great deal for 4K systems.

Input: 12G-SDI

Input Formats: Up to 3840 x 2160 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps (Maximum 70 Mbps)

Supported Destinations: RTMP, RTMPS, Facebook, YouTube, Wowza, and more

Multiple Destinations: Requires third-party re-streaming service

Recording: No

My Favorite Feature: Hmmm, if I had to choose one I would say the information display on the monitor outputs is super nice to have.

Teradek VidiU X

Teradek VidiU X

Update to a Former Top Pick Get Latest Price on Amazon

Taking the best from the ever popular original VidiU, Teradek has finally filled a large gap in the market for a reliable sub-$1000 encoder.

Formats up to 1080p60, bitrates up to 15 Mbps, network bonding, and designed and manufactured in the USA.

A perfect balance of features, quality, and price.

Input: HDMI

Input Formats: Up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps

Output Formats: H.264 up to 1920 x 1080 at 60 fps (Maximum 15 Mbps)

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

Multiple Destinations: Requires Sharelink subscription

Recording: Yes (SD/SDXC card or USB drive)

My Favorite Feature: H.265/HEVC Support

Magewell Ultra Stream HDMI

Magewell Ultra Stream

Budget-Friendly Pick Get Latest Price on Amazon (HDMI Version) Get Latest Price on Amazon (SDI Version)

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

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro

Budget-Friendly Powerhouse Get Latest Price on Amazon

Wait, this is a switcher. Right?

Au contraire...

I see it as 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, more often than not, 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

Teradek VidiU Go

Teradek VidiU Go

Best Generic Encoder Get Latest Price on Amazon (HDMI Version) Get Latest Price on Amazon (SDI Version)

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

LiveU Solo

LiveU Solo

Reliable Mobile Streaming Get Latest Price on Amazon

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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