Ever wanted to become a streamer but don’t know how to get started? In this article, we have put together a short course for any successful streamer. We lay out on the shelves why Twitch is now the most popular and convenient platform for streaming, what hardware and software will be needed for high-quality broadcasts, and how to set up OBS for minimal performance losses.
This article is sponsored by HP’s OMEN gaming laptop brand – fast, lightweight and powerful devices that can be a great streaming station. More details about the laptop OMEN 15 can be found at the link .
Twitch is the largest video game streaming platform today . In the first quarter of 2021, platform users watched over 6 billion hours of video. This is much more than its closest competitors: YouTube Gaming Live (1.37 billion hours over the same period) and Facebook Gaming (1.06 billion hours).
One of the reasons for this popularity is the high credit of trust. Twitch was at the origins of streaming and has remained its synonym for many years: any gamer who wants to broadcast the passage of anything will go to Amazon first (Jeff Bezos’s company bought the service in 2014). And ordinary viewers are looking for new streaming content mainly on Twitch.
The second plus of the platform is its user-friendly interface. All content is broken down into categories – tabs with specific games or themed content (for example, retro gaming, art or sports), which helps in the search, even if the viewer does not know what he wants to watch. At the end of 2020, the most popular categories were League of Legends , Fortnite , Grand Theft Auto V, and Valorant . But the biggest hit, surprisingly enough, was the Just Chatting tab, with 1.9 billion hours of views over the year.
Since its launch in 2011, Twitch has built a huge community of streamers with a wide variety of interests. Therefore, now, along with the game broadcasts on the site, you can find a real-time assembly of the Lego set , a trip to the mountains, film screenings and even a kind of NSFW content in the form of half-naked streamers in the pools. Sometimes celebrities like to stream too: for example, Snoop Dogg, Drake, Steve Aoki, Brandon Urie from Panic! At the Disco and others.
From a business point of view, Twitch is also growing: the company’s portfolio includes cooperation with the largest esports and sports associations, charity marathons, its own line of merchandise, as well as the TwitchCon festival , where you can chat live with the community, play new releases, watch esports matches and meet your loved ones streamers.
By the way, about streamers: now the most popular are Ninja (16.9 million subscribers, streams Apex Legends , League of Legends and Fortnite), Tfue (10.7 million subscribers, recently playing Call of Duty: Warzone and all that Apex) and auronplay (10.2 million, plays Minecraft and Fall Guys ).
What do we have?
The Russian-speaking community makes up a significant proportion of Twitch users: according to Streams Charts, Russian was in sixth place in the top of Twitch broadcast languages in the first half of 2021. In total, viewers spent more than 623 million hours watching such channels. Our most popular categories over the same period are Dota 2, Communication, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Hearthstone . The three leaders in terms of the number of subscribers among streamers are occupied by s1mple (2.7 million subscribers, a professional esports player in the CS: GO discipline), buster (2.1 million, streaming mostly the same CS: GO) and Evelone192(1.6 million, broadcasts entertainment content and Counter-Strike). However, everyone has a chance to gain a loyal audience. The main thing is to start!
But in order to do this, you must first decide on a number of technical nuances, which we will now plunge into.
First of all, you should pay attention to the sound. Even if you are not yet ready to stream with a webcam, and you can’t wait to tell the world about yourself, you will need a microphone of acceptable quality: one of them is enough for a successful start of conversational broadcasts. You can start with a good PC headset – for example, the HP Omen Mindframe… However, if you are aiming to build a professional-grade streaming studio, then the best choice for such a task would be a condenser microphone, which will give a pleasant “radio” sound of your voice for broadcast. Choose unidirectional microphones or, as they are also called, microphones with a cardioid polar pattern: these focus on what you say and filter out extraneous sounds (for example, keyboard knocking or mouse clicks). And yes, if you are not chasing high accuracy of the subtle nuances of your voice, choose models with a USB connection: you can simply plug them into a PC and everything will be ready to go. XLR mics are better, but more complex: they don’t work without a phantom-powered preamp, so you’ll have to buy a preamp or audio interface.
With the sound sorted out, go to the image. And here you should start with the webcam. Yes, not everyone immediately dares to show the audience a face, but this is useful for the development of the channel: if you are not a pro-gamer with transcendental skills, the viewer comes precisely for your emotions, and not for the game itself.
Which camera should you choose? The recommendation is simple: do not chase performance (ultra-high resolution, megapixels or the coveted 60 fps). It is very possible to mix the video sequence of the game at 60 frames per second with the stream from the webcam at 30 fps: nothing terrible will happen. Streams higher than 1080p, Twitch will still not miss, so a 4K-enabled camera will be simply useless. Well, as for megapixels, for Full HD there are only two of them, and a larger number of them will not affect the video quality in any way.
The light is much more important. Here its placement will have to be thought over properly – at least you need at least one directional source of diffused light. It can be either a diode lamp covered with a matted sheet of transparent plastic, or a lamp on a tripod and a transparent photo umbrella, or a softbox. All these options will cope with their task in almost the same way, so, again, it’s not worth chasing something expensive right away. Pay attention only to the wattage and CRI (Color Rendering Index) of your luminaire. The latter is especially important: the higher it is, the more natural and correct colors your camera will transmit on air. By the way, for the same reason, it is better not to use household incandescent lamps or energy-saving lamps as lighting sources. They have an extremely low CRI:
So, we have decided on the minimum, but how much light is needed ideally? The answer is three sources. Direct or oblique diffused light for your face, “kicker” (a small and low-power light source that will accentuate the texture of your hair; accordingly, it should be installed somewhere above your head), as well as backlighting, that is, the background. A combination of contrasting colors in the frame will look especially good: for example, bluish on you and orange on the background – well, or vice versa. All you need are photo filters. They are quite inexpensive, but they make the picture richer: different shades of light will provide the frame with volume, due to which the picture will have clearly defined foreground and background, just like in a movie.
If your budget is really tight, then you can use a natural light source: just sit in front of the window. The advantages of this approach are that there is a lot of light with a reference CRI, and all this is absolutely free. Well, the disadvantages are obvious: you won’t be able to stream in bad weather or at night.
All ways to capture video
Now for the tricky part: choosing a way to capture video and transferring it to Twitch. If we talk about popular methods, then there are three of them – and all with their pros and cons. Let’s sort each one in order.
So, the first option is streaming using a video card (GPU). Both video cards from AMD ( VCE h264 , VCE h265 ) and from NVIDIA ( NVENC). Rounding up a lot, both solutions allow for streaming. And to be as objective as possible, NVIDIA NVENC produces a picture of much better quality. The point is the unpredictability of the AMD encoder: it will compress one type of content well (the main task of any encoder is to capture the original image and compress it as much as possible for fast transmission to Twitch), and the other will turn into an absolutely unacceptable mess. NVENC is much more reliable in this respect and always gives good results. This is especially true for the updated NVENC, which appeared in the 20th series of RTX cards from NVIDIA. It is by far the best hardware encoder of any GPU solution at the moment.
Option number two – image output by the processor . This can be done in two ways: either using the CPU cores directly and the x264 software codec, or through a hardware encoder. At Intel is QuickSync (available in all CPUs with integrated graphics), in AMD’s – the AMF (only in the AMD APU, that is, again, the CPU with integrated video core). So which is better: encode video with cores or a hardware encoder? The answer is cores, but you need to understand that compressing an image on the fly is an extremely resource-intensive task, so you need a really powerful processor. As for hardware encoding, Intel QuickSync, especially the latest versions, gives a much more pleasant picture in comparison with the solution from AMD.
The third option is broadcasting by means of a separate PC . This is the most difficult and costly path: you build two PCs at once – one for games, and the other for outputting a video stream to Twitch. Next, you connect one of the GPU video outputs of the first computer to a video capture card on the second PC (it will have to be purchased separately), and it completely takes over the signal encoding.
Which one to choose?
Comparison of the transmission quality of the same picture from the Rocket League: x264, NVENC (new), Intel QuickSync
That’s where we come to the main question: which of this list will give the maximum quality? One thing can be said for sure: VCE h264, VCE 265 and AMD AMF are outsiders. They are followed by QuickSync, that is, hardware encoding by the video core built into Intel Core processors . But the best option is difficult to determine.
The screenshots above are examples of how the broadcast will look when encoded using the x264 codec (software encoding by processor cores), NVENC (new) and QuickSync. On the one hand, the NVENC result is visually more pleasant: no compression artifacts in the form of blocks are visible, but the video also looks as if it is out of focus. On the other hand, in the case of software compression, artifacts are already clearly visible, and there are many of them, but if you look closely, you will notice that x264 retains much more image details. The brickwork near the gate, on the gate itself, the ornament on the flags at the top left – NVENC simply “ate” all this. But which is better – compression flaws with preservation of details or a pleasant, but more blurry picture – it’s hard to say, it’s up to you to decide.
But there is another factor that needs to be taken into account: high-quality video encoding methods lead to an inevitable loss of performance. QuickSync and the encoders built into AMD processors do not affect it in any way: your video card and processor are exclusively engaged in the game. The work of NVENC and VCE is already more visible, but the impact is still small. Well, x264 closes the list: incorrectly set broadcast settings can lead to outright “brakes” both for you and for the guests of your Twitch channel. So what should you choose? It all depends on what kind of hardware you have.
Correct selection and use of iron
So, we figured out the coding methods – let’s move on to which of them to choose in a given situation. Since this material was prepared with the support of HP, we will consider streaming options using the example of an HP Omen 15 laptop with an Intel Core i7-10750H and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Max-Q .
We have a six-core processor with 12 threads – this is a rather powerful solution, plus it has built-in graphics, that is, QuickSync can also be used. The video card is installed in the 20th series, which means it supports NVENC (new). As a result, we have before us as many as three options, between which we have to choose. So which one is preferable? In fact, it makes sense to use all three, but based on a specific task.
For example, if we are talking about a conversational stream, where you will be in the spotlight, it makes sense to entrust the stream encoding to processor cores or a video card (x264 and NVENC, respectively). This will give the maximum picture quality, and since the laptop will not perform other tasks in the background, the drop in performance will not affect anything.
If we are talking about a game broadcast, then here you need to look towards QuickSync or, again, a video card. The processor disappears in this situation, since it will be busy processing the logic and the game engine: having given it the processing of the video stream, we will simply overload it. At best, the slowdowns will start for you, and at worst, the audience will also see them. In short, the CPU is best left alone. All that remains is QuickSync and NVENC, and it’s quite easy to decide between these two: just look at the load on the video card. If it is already threshing at full speed, and fps is not transcendental – use QuickSync for streaming. You will only slightly lose in the quality of the picture, but the guests of the broadcast and you yourself will not notice a single hang-up. If the game does not load the GPU too much,
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At this stage, the last thing is left – the broadcast program settings. We will work with OBS , or Open Broadcaster Software, since the software, firstly, is free, and secondly, it is tacitly considered a standard among streamers. Note that within the framework of this article, we will consider only those options that affect specifically the quality of the broadcast. To get acquainted with the basic functionality of the software, it is better to go to the official website of the developer. Let’s also clarify: all the settings that are relevant for OBS are applicable to another popular program: StreamLabs OBS (they are made on one common platform).
So, download OBS and immediately go to the “File” tab at the top. In the drop-down menu, select “Settings”. Here we are interested in four tabs: “Broadcast”, “Output”, “Video” and “Advanced” – let’s start with “Broadcast” . In the “Service” tab, we select the site to which we will broadcast – we are interested in Twitch. The Server option can be useful if you have a bad ping to the default server, so if you have problems sending a stream to Germany, you can try Sweden, for example.
We pass to the next tab – “Output” . It has a lot of everything, and this is the most important point in the OBS settings: this is where you will choose how to encode the stream. You should not rely on automation, it does not provide the necessary flexibility, so in the “Output Mode” field, immediately select “Advanced”. Now we open the “Encoder” menu item and select the stream compression method we are interested in: x264, VCE h264, VCE h265, QuickSync or NVENC or NVENC (new). We have described above what to rely on when choosing, so we will not repeat ourselves.
Output settings from x264, NVENC (new) and QuickSync respectively
Rescale Output is responsible for the original resolution of your broadcast – this option will be useful for those who play in Full HD or, for example, WQHD resolutions. It is not necessary to broadcast such a picture, and sometimes it is fraught with brakes, so you can squeeze it down to 1280×720: this will reduce the load both on your system and on viewers’ Internet channels.
Bitrate Control is always CBR.
“Bitrate” is the transmission rate of the stream from your computer to the Twitch servers, and should be selected based on the speed of your Internet connection. Ideally, it is better to stick to the recommended 6000 Kb / s.
Keyframe Interval – Always choose 2.
“Preset CPU usage” – this option will be active if you are using x264, and here you should focus on the load of your processor. If it is close to 100%, increase the encoding speed (say, choose fast instead of medium). If the download is small, you can try to improve the picture by lowering the speed (choose slow instead of medium). In the same way, this principle works when working with hardware encoding by means of a GPU or an integrated graphics core of the processor, only instead of “Presetting CPU usage” you will see “Presets” in this field. Here again, we proceed from the load on the system: if it is not high, feel free to look towards the Quality or Max Quality presets. If everything is already on fire – Balanced or Performance.
Profile is always high. “Setting” – no. In the case of using NVENC, it makes sense to activate the “Anticipation” and “Psycho-visual adjustment” checkboxes: this will have a positive effect on the quality of the broadcast picture, but it is worth considering that these parameters increase the load on your GPU. The maximum number of B-frames is 2.
Go to the “Video” menu item . Everything is simple here. The base resolution means the resolution of the image that you see on your monitor, and the output resolution means the size to which you want to compress the image. The “Scaling Filter” should be switched to “Lanczos Method”, this will provide the best quality. The “FPS value” will depend on the power of your system, but the gold standard is 60 fps.
Well, the last tab is “Advanced” . The main thing here is not to touch the “Color Range” menu item. By default, it is partial, and this is the correct value: adjusting it will lead to problems for viewers. Also, in no case do not forget to turn on the stream delay – it will help you in the fight against stream snipers (viewers of broadcasts that prevent the streamer from playing normally).
To stream quality, you need a nimble, productive and mobile machine – that’s exactly how OMEN 15 was created. In terms of power, a laptop is not inferior to a gaming PC, and a screen with a frequency of up to 300 Hz makes it possible to enjoy smooth gameplay and a clear picture at maximum settings.