The best setup to live stream your video games

Broadcast your play to Twitch or YouTube.

For serious live streaming, you need the right gear.David Nield/Popular Science

Live video game streams online attract hundreds of thousands of viewers, drawn in by the skill and personality of the presenters, the quality of the games, or both. Anyone can dive in and start hosting their own stream, but if you want to draw a dedicated audience, you'll need to stand out from the competition. For that, you want to choose your streaming setup carefully.

If you've yet to dip your toe into live streaming, you'll need to decide between the two biggest platforms: Twitch and YouTube. As far as the mechanics of uploading goes, you won't find many major differences—both can host your video game stream equally well. On the pro-Twitch side, it gives you a little more control over your stream, including the ability to set moderators for comments, and creators get more options for monetizing content. On the other hand, YouTube lets anyone with more than 10,000 views earn a slice of advertising revenue, while Twitch users can't monetize their streams until they're invited to the Partner Program or Affiliate Program. YouTube obviously has a larger reach in general, but Twitch attracts more eyeballs in terms of gaming streaming—that means Twitch users can potentially get a much bigger following, but the platform's sheer number of streamers can make it harder for those who are just getting started to stand out.

Your choice might come down to the machine you play on—the brand of computer, console, or phone that you use could determine the best platform for you. For example, YouTube Gaming works better on Android devices (probably thanks to Google's involvement), but it isn't natively supported on the Xbox One. It's these sort of caveats that mean what's best for one user won't work as well for another. No matter which platform you land on, whether you prefer to play on a computer, console, or phone, we've selected our favorite live-streaming hardware and software to give you the best setup possible. Here are our recommendations.

Live stream from a computer

Even if you've geared up your computer to play the latest and biggest titles in gaming, streaming the action at a consistent frame rate requires a little more processing power. Twitch recommends you use a machine that has at least:

  • An Intel Core i5-4670 or an AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) processing unit with equivalent ability
  • 8GB of RAM
  • Windows 7 Home Premium or later
  • A graphics card running DirectX 10 or above

Unlike Twitch, YouTube doesn't set minimum requirements, but it can't hurt to aim for the same baseline equipment.

All that streaming also requires an internet connection with a decent upload speed. For the best quality, somewhere in the region of 3 Mbps is really the minimum. If you're not sure of the upload speeds your Internet Service Provider gives you, head to Speedtest to find out.
Make sure you have enough bandwidth.David Nield/Popular Science

In addition to your actual computer, you will also need equipment that lets you broadcast your own face and commentary (if you want to add them to the mix) and encoding software that can capture the action and send it to Twitch or YouTube.

Let's start with the hardware. Your computer's existing webcam may provide a perfectly satisfactory video and audio feed—it really depends on how high-spec your machine already is. So, before in vesting in equipment, you should run a few tests to check the quality of your built-in option. That said, many professional live streamers configure separate webcams and microphones. Read on for our recommendations.

Logitech C922 Pro Stream
The Logitech C922 Pro Stream is one of your best choices for a webcam.Logitech

For webcams, the Logitech C922 Pro Stream ($99 on Amazon) has earned rave gamer reviews, thanks to its sharp video quality and high performance in low-light conditions. The camera can also automatically disguise what's going on in the background, which comes in handy if you'd rather not reveal your messy bedroom to the whole world. The latter trick is also part of the arsenal of the Razer Stargazer ($149.99 on Amazon), another webcam that we recommend.

As for separate microphones, if you want the best crystal-clear audio commentary for your feed, then you should consider the Blue Yeti ($127.95 on Amazon). It offers four modes of operation, including a cardioid mode for gaming that isolates the audio coming from someone directly in front of the mic—i.e. you. For an alternative microphone option, the Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ ($149.99 on Amazon) guarantees excellent clarity and sensitivity.

Blue Yeti
Blue Yeti mics can improve audio commentary.Blue Yeti

Not everyone needs a desk microphone. Depending on how much space and money you've got to spare, a headset might suit you better. Gamers recommend both the Sennheiser Game One ($169.99 on Amazon) and the Logitech G533 Wireless ($99.99 on Amazon) for the quality of the audio they capture and that of the sound they pump through to your ears. With these gaming headsets, not only will your commentary sound great, but you'll also be better able to hear your enemies sneaking up on you.

Once you've made arrangements to put all your gear and games in place, then you need a broadcasting application. This app will handle capturing the gaming stream as it happens on your machine and sending it to Twitch or YouTube. In our opinion, though other decent apps are available, the best and most flexible choice is OBS Studio, which you can install and use for free. Once you start running OBS Studio, you can choose either Twitch or YouTube as your live streaming platform of choice. For full step-by-step guides on connecting to these platforms, click here for Twitch or here for YouTube.

Broadcast tools like XSplit combine gaming and webcam feeds.Logitech

Another program worth mentioning is XSplit Broadcaster, which offers some powerful streaming options. However, it only works on Windows, and while a free version is available, the best features (like video resolutions higher than 720p) require payments of $2.50 or more every month. As with OBS Studio, you can find full guides online to help you connect XSplit with Twitch and YouTube. The process is fairly straightforward—XSplit's ease-of-use is one of its best features.

Both OBS Studio and XSplit Broadcaster let you overlay webcam video and audio on top of the actual game feed itself. You can even add a watermark if you want to stamp your name on your video content. Then, with your broadcasting software set up, you're ready to unleash your live streams on the world.

Live stream from a console

If you're streaming from a console, then you'll have an easier time getting set up: Most of the hardware you're going to need comes built in to the machine, so you won't need to agonize over your choice of webcam or graphics card. Microsoft and Sony both know that many of their users will want to jump on board the live streaming bandwagon, so they've made it simple to connect through their respective interfaces.

However, that doesn't mean upgrade options aren't available. If you want to take more control over the way your stream looks, or nab content from another console (such as the Nintendo Switch) with an HDMI output, then you should invest in a capture card. The excellent Elgato HD 60S ($179.94 from Amazon) sits between your console and your big-screen television, sending a separate feed from the console to your computer. There, OBS Studio or XSplit can process it for your audience. Alternatively, the Razer Ripsaw ($179.99 on Amazon) matches the Elgato box in many areas, including its support of 1080p streaming and USB 3.0.

Elgato HD 60S
The Elgato HD 60S is one of your best options for a capture card.Elgato

To include your own face in the streams you're sending out into the world, you'll need the Xbox Kinect Camera ($44 from Amazon) or the PlayStation 4 Camera ($47.48 from Amazon). Or you could stick to audio-only commentary, in which case the Sennheiser Game One ($169.99 on Amazon) we mentioned earlier or the Logitech G933 Artemis Spectrum ($134.99 on Amazon) should fit the bill nicely. These mics will allow you to talk your way through the action while staying immersed in your game.

Xbox One players, as we mentioned at the beginning, cannot live stream over YouTube—unless they use a capture card to send their stream to a computer first. It's far easier for them to hook up to Twitch, which only takes a few taps. The platform offers offers full instructions for connecting online.

PlayStation 4 gamers can choose either one of the big platforms. Online, you can find official guides on connecting to Twitch and YouTube.

Live stream from a smartphone

YouTube Gaming
You can find Twitch and YouTube Gaming apps for Android and iOS.YouTube

Like with consoles, the hardware you need to stream games from your phone comes attached to the device: The built-in selfie cam will record any reactions and commentary you might want to include. Simply download a free app on your smartphone to perform the video capture and streaming tasks.

All you need is the official Twitch app (for Android or iOS) or YouTube Gaming app (for Android or iOS).

Although you won't go wrong with our recommendations, new products—PC components, consoles, microphones, webcams, and so on—are constantly hitting the market. So if you want to keep upgrading your Twitch or YouTube setup, the opportunity is there. Once you have your devices and apps in place, all you'll need are the gaming skills to set yourself apart from the crowd.