Buyer's Guide: Portable Capture and Transcoding
Choosing a Software Encoder
When choosing a software encoder, there are several objective criteria you should consider first, including operating system, price and the same output format/stream count issues discussed for streaming appliances. If you're not connecting to your computer via FireWire, you should also identify the capture setup you'll use and make sure it's compatible with the software encoders that you're considering.
Note that while these software programs can theoretically output multiple streams, live encoding is CPU intensive, so actual stream output is system dependent. The Adobe Flash Live Media encoder limits you to three streams, but even that requires a robust encoding platform.
Beyond this, decide whether you need a simple encoder or a production system. In this regard, VidBlaster and WireCast Pro offer features like multiple-camera switching with transitions, titles and other graphics support, and the ability to incorporate multiple inputs into the live stream, like disc-based files, graphics, or screen capture. Various versions of their respective products also offer chroma key support and even a scoreboard module for broadcasting athletic events. In comparison, Adobe and Haivision are simple live stream encoders, and though Microsoft Expression Encoder lets you switch cameras and broadcast on-demand files, that's it from a production standpoint.
As with hardware, there's a significant difference in performance that you can only flesh out via testing. In this regard, check out my article Live Streaming from a Notebook, which compares criteria like CPU utilization, output quality and stream consistency. While all products are likely several versions beyond those I tested, you'll get an idea of what to look for and consider if you decide to download and test the programs yourself.
There are many other reviews available online that focus primarily on ease of use and features. Check out as many as possible. Before choosing a streaming software program, you should also check out the trial version offered by most vendors.
If you're using a live streaming service provider, ascertain whether the service provider offers a software encoder. These programs can be quite functional and provide the smoothest link between your encoding station and live streaming output.
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Companies and Suppliers Mentioned