Live streaming gives brands the power to connect with the masses. Studies have shown that more people actively engage with live video than most other content formats.
Image credit: Blackmagic Design
In fact, total viewership for the biggest three live stream gaming platforms – Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook Gaming – grew from 3.89 billion to 7.46 billion from 2019 to 2020. This represents simply one industry, and this number continues to grow across the board.
Although the demand for live streamed content is high, there’s also a lot more option for viewers. Whether you’re streaming a keynote speech, concert, live event, or gaming tournament, you’ll need a professional setup in order to stand out from the crowd and keep your audience’s attention.
One of the best ways to improve the overall quality of your stream is with a video switcher. In this post, we’ll cover the best video switchers for live streaming and reveal why this simple tool is so important for live streaming success.
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What is a Video Switcher for Live Streaming?
A “video switcher” is a device or software application used to switch between multiple cameras and other video sources in real-time.
Think back to that college film studies or cinematography class. You probably learned about wide shots, medium shots, tight shots, and the importance of using different angles to tell a good story.
This is just as applicable in a live stream as it is in a feature-length Hollywood film. Imagine watching a subject onscreen from the same exact angle for a full hour. Now, imagine the exact same production, but with strategic cuts to different angles multiple times per minute – even if nothing else changed, wouldn’t this help keep your interest?
Well, one of the fundamental differences between a professional stream versus an amateur one is the use of camera angles to allow for frequent cuts from different sources. Having a video switcher is like multi-camera editing in real-time. With switching, you can easily make your content a lot more exciting and engaging.
Let’s compare software and hardware switchers so you can get an idea of the features and benefits of each.
Your first decision will be choosing between a software-based switcher or hardware-based switcher, each have their pros and cons
Software Video Switchers
Software production switcher applications offer a number of benefits, but the best thing about software switchers is the price. They’re generally a lot more affordable than hardware options.
For many users, software switchers are also easier to learn and work with, and they come with other useful functions to simplify the streaming process. If your production isn’t overly complex, you can probably get by with a software switcher – at least to start.
Keep in mind that many software options include free trials, so you can make sure it’s a good fit before shelling out a lot of cash.
Here are a few pros and cons of streaming with a software switcher.
- Often inexpensive or even free
- Offers additional functions like video encoding
- Shorter learning curve
- Accessible anywhere you have a computer
- Easy to use
- Less secure and more prone to glitches
- Dependent on the quality of your computer
- Less functionality overall compared to hardware switchers
Hardware Video Switchers
Hardware production switchers are purposely built for video production, so you know exactly what you’re getting with them. The best feature of hardware switchers is their reliability. These devices are built for video switching, and it shows.
Hardware switchers also tend to come with more features, such as 4K streaming, additional inputs, video effects, multiview, and keying, especially as the price tag climbs higher. The rule of thumb is, if your production needs to be versatile or more professional, you should look at hardware switchers over software switchers.
Here are some quick pros and cons we have for hardware switchers.
- Reliable and more secure
- Shoulders the strain on your computer’s resources
- Packed with lots of useful features
- Easy for experienced video techs to use
- An all-in-one solution that minimizes the need for extra gear like capture cards
- Only does one thing
- Can be expensive for what you get
- Tend to grow obsolete faster than software switchers
What to Look for in a Streaming Video Switcher
So, if you know you’ll want to set up a live stream with multiple video sources, the next question is: What should you look for in your video switcher?
It’s important to note that additional camera angles mean more equipment, more data, and more complexity overall, so you need a video switcher and computer that work well together when live streaming. Your different signals will all route through the switcher, so it better be up to the task.
You should also be on the lookout for a switcher option that can add transitions, graphics, and other effects seamlessly from shot to shot.
Ultimately, a switcher is just a tool. You’ll still need an operator with the knowledge and expertise to switch shots at the right time. With that said, the best video switchers for live streaming will make this process as seamless as possible.
7 Best Video Switchers for Live Streaming
Ready to get some video switcher recommendations? Here’s our quick list of the top video switchers (including software and hardware), based on their use case.
Here are the common destinations where you can simulcast to:
A lot of people new to live streaming may not realize that there are software options that are just as good as hardware switchers. We’ll cover both here so you can make the best decision for your production.
1. OBS: Best for Beginners and Budget Users
OBS Studio is a great all-round video switching solution for those on a budget
We love to share Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) Studio with anyone learning about live streaming because its $0 price just can’t be beaten. This free streaming software comes with native support for all kinds of cameras and devices. You can stream from up to 8 sources at one time, which you can monitor and switch between in the Multiview.
The only real negative of OBS is its lack of multi-bitrate streaming. It can also be a drag on your computer’s resources.
Ultimately, compared to the many other options for switchers, OBS has the benefit of being free and still surprisingly full-featured. If you’re a beginner, start with OBS Studio.
2. Wirecast: Best Bang for Your Buck
Wirecast by Telestream is suitable for pro users, or those seeking to take their live video production to the next level
Looking for a professional-grade streaming tool that supports switching? Wirecast is a powerful choice. Designed for professionals, Wirecast is available on both Mac and Windows, and it has built-in support for unlimited input sources. Best of all, it offers extremely good encoding that retains excellent picture quality over live streaming.
There are two main versions of Wirecast: Wirecast Studio ($599) and Wirecast Pro ($799). Both versions are fairly pricey, but provide all of the functionality you need to have an advanced streaming setup with multiple camera angles.
Keep in mind that a fancy setup over Wirecast requires a very powerful computer in order to keep up, so you may quickly reach the point where it’s actually cheaper to get a dedicated hardware switcher instead.
3. vMix: Best for Power Users
vMix is a great all-round package that is a step-up from OBS
If you’re ready for the ultimate in live streaming software, vMix is the way to go.
In a nutshell, it’s because vMix has all of the features you need to make your live video stream a success. It’s a true one-stop-shop to handle your live stream, including video switching.
On the other hand, it’s one of the most complex options, so it’ll take longer to learn. But if you have the patience, you’ll have an unbeatable live stream. We also like the unique pricing model vMix offers, where you can pay one time to own the software, and then pay just a small amount in the future when upgrades are released.
Note that vMix is only available on PC, so if you have your heart set on live streaming from a Mac, you should look at OBS or Wirecast.
4. Blackmagic ATEM Mini: Best all-rounder hardware switcher
The Blackmagic ATEM Mini and Mini Pro are the go-to hardware switchers for many live streamers
The Blackmagic ATEM Mini series has become the go-to for many live streamers. The ATEM Mini makes it easy to create multi-camera live programs with professional broadcast features, including smooth transitions, picture-in-picture and cutaways.
Add up to 8 camera inputs or connect a gaming console, PC or PowerPoint Presentation and with the Pro and Extreme models you can stream directly via the internet to popular social media platforms.
The ATEM series currently has three different models: the ATEM Mini, ATEM Mini Pro and ATEM Mini Extreme, with the ATEM Mini starting at just $295. Which one you choose will depend on your use case, but a full list of features can be found on the Blackmagic Design website.
5. Mevo: Easiest Hardware Switcher to Use
Mevo allows users to easily pan, tilt and cut different shots using a mobile app
The Mevo is a nifty all-in-one gadget that includes a quality built-in camera. At just $399, this is an affordable device that packs all of the features you need to start streaming – including an accompanying app that lets you pan, zoom, and cut in real-time.
At the time of this writing, Mevo doesn’t yet allow for video switching on its own, but a multi-cam Mevo app is in development that will allow you to switch between multiple Mevo cameras live. Or you can also connect the MEVO to a live streaming software package via NDI.
Until then, the Mevo includes the ability to cut, which allows you to move between different shots from the same Mevo camera in real-time. It can also be used in conjunction with other software or hardware to facilitate video switching from multiple angles.
6. Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Studio: Best for 4K Streaming
The Blackmagic Design ATEM Television Production Studio series is for users who need to create professional multi-camera programs
Blackmagic Design’s ATEM television switchers make it easy to create television-ready programs from live events. It’s perfect for anything from sporting events and gaming to speeches and concerts. The hardware comes with free control panel software that works on Mac or Windows.
Another huge perk of the Blackmagic ATEM Television Studio is its size. This device has enough features packed into a small form factor to ensure all-in-one functionality that you can take with you. Unlike other hardware switchers, you don’t need an equipment rack here – it’s possible to use on the desktop.
Last but not least, it’s impressively accessible for a professional piece of video hardware. With buttons all along the front panel, you can quickly get familiar with your options for switching, as well as for audio, fading to black, transitions, and monitoring.
Note that the powerful 4K version of the ATEM Pro costs $2,995, so it’s pricey no matter how you look at it. But the base version in HD is just $995, giving you plenty of options to fit your needs and budget.
7. Livestream Studio HD550: Most Advanced Features
This one-stop shop studio has everything you need to create the perfect live stream
If you’re prepared for the absolute best in video switching technology, you’ll be thrilled with the Livestream Studio HD550 from Vimeo. Debuting at the eye-watering price of $7,999 for HD, the 4K edition of the Livestream HD550 costs a whopping $9,999.
So, what makes it worth the money? It has all the features you can think of, including 5 SDI/HDMI inputs, built-in bonded transmission, the ability to accommodate 20 hours of a broadcast quality recording, a built-in chroma key, and built-in live streaming.
This is professional-grade quality in a compact, portable all-in-one live production switcher. With the Livestream HD550, you’ll know you have the equipment you need to handle a full multi-camera production in any situation.
Conclusion: Which is the Best Switcher?
There are so many different configurations you can use for a live streaming setup, but the good news is, it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive to get started. After a quick purchase, you can be up and running with a quality stream.
All of the switchers we’ve covered are highly reliable. When it comes to choosing the “best,” we urge you compare your switching needs against the features of each.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you settle on a solution that will serve as the best video switcher for live streaming in your business or organization’s production.
Of course, there’s more that goes into live stream success than just this one piece of equipment. Don’t forget to check out our full guide to live streaming production for all the details on bringing your production to life.