A Guide to Streaming (part 1)

This article was originally posted at http://forums.ubi.com/showthread.php/1570820-A-Stream-Guide-to-Become-Internet-Famous-Part-1
A Guide to Streaming: Part 1

Streaming is quickly becoming a huge source of entertainment and a great way to build a community around and with others that share the same passion as you. Twitch boasts an impressive 9.7 million daily active users with over 2 million unique streamers per month and has established itself as a source of income for content creators and personalities. Streaming is home to lets plays, Esports, talk shows, creative streams, and much, much more. I has rapidly become the go to entertainment for many and with large companies such as Amazon and YouTube investing in it, the future is bright.

This stream guide is the first in a two part series that will help you set up your own stream with the correct settings and a basic layout. The streaming software we have chosen to cover in this article is Open Broadcast Software (OBS) Classic, which can be downloaded by following this link, as it is open source and available for free.

There is a range of other options when it comes to streaming, but we have chosen OBS as it is readily available and used by everyone from home-based amateurs to professional production studios.

You can find a recap of our most crucial setting recommendations at the bottom of this guide!

The End User and you

Accessibility. Let this be a mantra remaining at the forefront of your thoughts as you setup your stream. For the end user, this means having the ability to comfortably watch a stream at the quality you want. As the streamer, this means your stream is available to more people and potentially opening the flood gates of viewership numbers! They, your viewers, are the most important factor you need to consider. Putting together a stream that caters to both accessibility and quality is your ultimate goal.

Twitch has 5 different quality settings, starting with Source and followed in order by High, Medium, Low, and Mobile. Until recently, the option for the viewer to change the quality settings was unavailable on unpartnered streams. To improve accessibility site wide, Twitch is rolling out these options out to more and more streamers as they increase their capacity to do so. Twitch’s emphasis on accessibility is great news for smaller streamers that are just getting started!

Our first step towards a highly accessible streaming setup will be going through and (partially) understanding all the various features you’ll find in OBS, starting off with the settings. Everything covered here takes into consideration your viewers in order to provide the best quality to as many people as possible.

There’s going to be a lot of technical jargon going ahead, do not let that scare you away. After you’ve followed this guide and got your stream running you don’t need to worry about most of these things or grasp them at any deeper level.

Settings

General

Not a lot is going on in the General settings, but if you want to run OBS in a different language this is the place to be. You can also create profiles, ensuring that setting management between different users is easy.


Encoding

It’s time to jump into the fun stuff. To start things off we’ll take a look at the Encoding section. Firstly, make sure you have the x264 encoder selected. From here, check the boxes next to “Use CBR” and “Enable CBR padding”.

CBR stands for constant bitrate. By enabling these you are ensuring your stream will go out at the bitrate you specify. This results in a stream that has consistent quality that in many cases, is easier for your viewers to watch.

The other option is going for a variable bit rate by leaving “Use CBR” unchecked and using the “Quality Balance”. While this may be less strain on your bandwidth (the bit rate will drop when there is less movement happening), it can create a lot of bit rate spikes that may negatively impact the viewing experience. We recommend using the CBR options.

With that, it’s time to set your bit rate. Since we are using a CBR, the only value you need to adjust is the Max Bitrate (kb/s). This option is going to be determined by your upload speed. A general rule of thumb is to set this to 75% of your maximum upload speed. If you are unsure of what that is, you can use simple online tools such as http://www.speedtest.net/ to find out. That being said, if you have 100mb/s upload, you don’t want to set your Max Bitrate to 75,000 as there aren’t any platforms out there capable of handling that and very, very few viewers that would be able to watch it. With accessibility and quality for the end user in mind, we recommend you set your Max Bitrate anywhere between 3,000-3,500 kb/s if your upload speed is capable of handling that. Checking your “dropped frames” is usually the quickest way to see if your upload speed could be set to high. Dropped frames occur when your connection to the server you have selected (covered in the broadcast settings below) is unstable and is compensating by skipping video frames. From the viewer’s perspective, dropping frames causes the stream to stutter and freeze as the frames are skipped.

Audio Encoding is fairly straight forward. The only value you will want to adjust is the Bitrate, which recommend leaving on the default 128. All the settings can be found in the screenshot below!

Broadcast Settings

The broadcast settings will depend a lot on the platform you intend to stream on. Make sure your file mode is “Live Stream” and you select your relative streaming service. In most cases, you will need some sort of streaming key/path which you will need to retrieve from the streaming platform’s website.

This key/path is unique to your channel and is what allows you to select which channel you are broadcasting on. Once you have the key, enter it and you may see some warnings in red text at the bottom of the settings. Don’t panic, it’s a normal thing to have happen as different platforms have different requirements. Luckily, OBS has an awesome “Optimize” button that lets you change your settings to the optimal ones at the click of a button. It will even tell you exactly what is being changed just to be sure!

Next is the FMS URL. This is where you are sending your stream to, and in most cases it will be displayed as the physical location. As a general rule, it’s best to select the one closest to you. If you do encounter issues it will normally be either problems connecting all together or dropping frames as a result of the poor connection. If you are certain the connection is fine on your side, simply try the next closest server and so on until you find one that is stable!

There are other settings you can tweak here as well, such as auto-reconnect in case you do get disconnected as well as a local recording option. Make sure you select a file path where you have a good amount of space, your stream recordings can get huge!

Pro tip: you can quickly access your recordings folder by going to “File” on the main OBS window and selecting “Open Recordings Folder”. If you want to enable online archiving, make sure it is active on the streaming platform itself. Note that not all streaming services offer permanent archiving and some will remove them after a period of time.

Replay buffer is a feature similar to Nvidia’s Shadowplay. It allows you to capture a certain portion of recent gameplay, up to the length of time you specify in the “Replay Buffer Length (seconds)” option. This is a great alternative if you want to capture small aspects of your gameplay as it doesn’t save anything locally until you tell it to and has minimal performance impact compared to recording.

Video

Again, we’ll start this part of with a reminder about the end user. Higher numbers may sound nice, but it won’t always be watchable.

The video settings we will cover below, combined with the encoding settings we discussed above are the two areas where any adjustments will have the biggest impact on both the quality of your stream and how accessible it is to a wide range of viewers.

To start we need to look at screen resolutions. You can either enter the custom resolution of your screen or simply select the monitor, but keep in mind that the base resolution value has to match the size of your screen. Without any changes, this is what you will output to the stream, however there is a bit more to the story than that.
We’ve talked a lot about the end users but it’s also important to remember your hardware’s capabilities. Streaming is a CPU intensive process and the higher the resolution and FPS (frames per second) you set it to, the more strenuous it will be. Dedicating more CPU power to streaming can take away what is being used to run the game, causing it to perform worse while playing and as a result, look worse on stream. A 1920×1080 resolution stream will also require a higher bit rate to take advantage of the more crisp video quality. In many cases, a 1280×720 resolution stream running at 60fps will look better than one that runs at 1920×1080 at 30fps.
Therefore we recommend that you set the Resolution Downscale to 1.5 (1280×720) and FPS to 60. This will provide you with a smooth stream that is both more accessible to your viewers and less stressful on your CPU.

Audio

Within the audio settings we need to ensure the correct devices are selected before we adjust any volumes. Start by making sure you know what your default Playback and Recording Devices are.

Once you have identified the correct ones, set your “Desktop Audio Device” to your default playback device. In the same way, make sure your “Microphone/auxiliary Device” is your default recording device. These devices are now what OBS will use to output the sound from your computer and your microphone to the stream.

In most cases you will want to leave the “Force Microphone/Auxiliary to Mono” unchecked as it will force your recording device to only use a single channel.

Push-to-talk-Delay allows you to adjust the length of time after releasing your Push-to-talk that your mic is still active. Setting your Push-to-talk will be covered in Hotkeys below.

Desktop Boost and Mic/Aux Boost allow you to increase your volume further if necessary. It’s essentially a multiple, where 1 = 100%, so moving up to 2 means you are doubling boost volume (200%). Keep in mind that increasing the boost may cause distortion and we recommend you leave the boost value at 1 for the clearest sound. However, if you need to, take advantage of the options OBS has made available!

Hotkeys

Hotkeys are a useful tool for a single PC setup to quickly enable or disable certain aspects of your stream. The options you can hotkey are fairly straight forward.

Within audio you can set a push-to-talk key to make sure that your mic audio will only go through to the stream when it’s pressed. You can also set keys to mute/unmute all audio that comes from your Microphone and desktop (your PC) here in case you have some sudden and very loud background noise for example.

The broadcast area you can set up hotkeys that Start or Stop your stream, Start or Stop local recordings, or Start, Stop, Save, or Record your Replay Buffer. These are great tools so that you don’t have to leave your game, just make sure you they aren’t keys you regularly use in games or you will have an interesting experience to say the least!

In addition to these settings, you can also hotkey each of the “Scenes” you have set up so you can easily swap between them. Simply right click on them and select “Set Hotkey”.

Advanced tab

The advanced tab may look intimidating, but there are only a few key things you need to consider in these settings.

To start with, you want to make sure that “Use Multithreaded Optimizations” is checked and that the “Process Priority Class” is set to Normal. Increasing this will ensure that OBS will receive CPU priority over other programs, which can have negative effects on the games you are running.

The next element and the most important one in the Advanced Tab is the “x264 CPU Preset”. This is the encoding level and can be adjusted to increase/decrease quality without impacting the accessibility of your stream. The slower (lower down) you set it, the more demanding on your CPU streaming will be, however selecting a slower preset is one way of increasing quality if you have low upload speed. Keep in mind that it will drastically increase OBS’s CPU usage and sometimes slower presents can negatively impact your stream’s output.

We recommend using the “veryfast” preset if you have adequate upload speed. If you want to put a bit more stress on your CPU rather than your connection, we recommend not going lower than “fast”.

The majority of the other settings will have already been altered through the “Optimize” button we pressed in the broadcast settings above. You can manually edit them here as an alternative.

Please note that we are skipping Quick Sync Encoder as well as Browser because they are not relevant to this guide.

Microphone Noise Gate

Noise gates allows you to set a threshold for when your microphone is enabled and disabled. This essentially means you can control at what volumes your microphone is broadcasting sounds to the stream. This can be great if you are trying to isolate a few annoying background sounds while not having to fully mute your mic, however it can make your stream sound unnaturally quiet and strange at times as your mic enables and disables itself around your voice.

To set it up, firstly make sure it is enabled by checking the “Enable noise gate” box. Now you will see three time settings. These values by default are acceptable, however if you want to change them, this is what you will be altering:

  • Attack Time: The amount of time it takes for your mic to go from off to on when reaching open threshold.
  • Hold Time: How long the mic will stay open after it falls below the close threshold.
  • Release Time: The amount of time it takes for your mic to go from off to on when going below close threshold.

Now it’s time to setup these actual thresholds. OBS has an awesome build in preview system you can take advantage of and then make adjustments in real time. Whenever your input level is below the Close threshold, it will be muted. You therefore want to adjust the levels to fit your setup. In the exact opposite way, whenever your input level goes over the Open threshold level you set, it will be unmuted. Adjust this accordingly and make sure that you don’t run into any awkward situations where you are talking, but no one can hear you!

Scene Switcher

This was previously a plugin that has now been introduced to the base level of OBS classic. This allows you to set it up so that when you select a certain window title (applications such as the game you are playing, browser, video file, etc) it will automatically swap to the Scene you have setup for an even more “hands free” streaming experience.

To set them up, start by going to the Window Tile drop down and selecting the appropriate window tile you want to setup with the Scene Switcher.

Then select which Scene you want it to automatically swap to in the drop down menu on the right and press Add!

In the area below you can set a hotkey to toggle Scene Switcher. Note that it is not enabled by default and will need to be activated. You also have the option to tick the box that says “Start at launch if possible”, however it’s always good to make sure that it is actually working so you don’t end up showing your browser instead of gameplay!

If you select a window title that is not setup in the Scene Switcher, you can use the “When no window title matches” and select the “switch to:” option to have it automatically swap to a specific Scene in the drop down.

Scenes and Sources

As we move on to the next section, you can go ahead and close the settings tab because we are done with that!

Firstly we want to explain exactly what a Scene and a Source is. A Scene is a collection of “sources” that will have different purposes during the broadcast, for example a gameplay, webcam, or idle scene. Sources are the different aspects you want displayed on the scene, such as the game window, webcam, and overlay. Think of sources like “props” in a theatre stage show, where the scene is – obviously – the scene/stage itself.

Whilst a theatre needs to pull the curtains or cleverly layer their props to switch between scenes, a streamer has the privilege to set them all up in advance and change with a simple button press!

To setup the basics, we will make sure we have a working webcam, idle screen, and a simple overlay.

Webcam

Start by right clicking in the Scenes space and pressing add scene. From there you will be asked to enter a name. We’ll start by setting up a webcam scene, so name it appropriately. Once created it should look like this:

Now you will need to add the source for the webcam to the scene. Similarly, right click in the Source area and add a “Video Capture Device”. You then also have the option to name it something. Once named an options window should now be open. In here you can select the relevant options for your webcam. It’s important to make sure that the “Audio Input Device:” is disabled in the drop down menu. You can also configure your webcam’s resolution either through the Video options on the left side or by pressing configure and changing them in your webcam’s drivers.

To test if everything is working accordingly, you can go back to OBS and press “Preview Stream”.

Since this scene is just a full screen webcam, the most important thing will be to make sure that the webcam is filling the entire window. If it looks like the screenshot above, you can either use the short cut “Ctrl+F” or right click on the Source, then go to Position/Size and from there select Fit to Screen. Should you ever need to change anything with the webcam’s settings, you can right click on the Source you set up and Select Properties.

Idle/afk Scene

Next we’ll setup an Idle/AFK scene in case you need to briefly step away from the PC. In the exact same way we did for the webcam, right click in the Scene area and create a new Scene with an appropriate idle/AFK name.

Once that is done, right click in the Source area and select Image. A new window will pop up and the most important thing on this page is the Browse button. The Design of the Idle/AFK image is up to you, however make sure that it’s the same resolution you are streaming at, which if you followed the above recommendation means 1280 x 720.

Once added, you can again select Preview Stream to see how it looks. If it doesn’t fit the window, press “Ctrl+F” or right click on the Source, then go to Position/Size and from there select Fit to Screen as we did above (this will come up a few more times). Again, if you want to change the image you can right click on the Source and Select Properties.

Gameplay Scene

Finally we will cover the most important Scene of all, the gameplay one. Start by doing the same thing we did above, right click in the Scene area and creating a new one with an appropriate name.

For this we are going to setup a gameplay stream that has an overlay, webcam, and the game. Since we are dealing with multiple Sources now, it’s important to understand that the priority system OBS has. Within Sources, the one that will always be visually on top of everything is the one at the top of the list. This means that generally you will want the gameplay to be at the bottom so that the overlay and webcam will be placed on top of it.

We’ll start with how we will capture the game. There are a two options here, you can either use the Game Capture or Monitor Capture. Game Capture allows you to only capture a specific game, however you will need to add a unique Source for each game that you want OBS to capture. To do so, right click in the Source area and select Game Capture. Once in the settings for it, you can select the specific game you would like to capture. The only option which you should have ticked here is “Capture mouse cursor”.

Alternatively, you can use Monitor Capture. In the same way as the Game Capture, right click the Source area and select Monitor Capture. You can then select which monitor to capture. Keep in mind that if you use Monitor Capture viewers will be able to see exact what is going on within the monitor you selected. Again, make sure that “Capture mouse cursor” is ticked.

Once that is setup, test it out to see if the Scene is working through Preview Stream and if necessary, use “Ctrl+F” or right click on the Source, then go to Position/Size and from there select Fit to Screen.

Next we will setup an overlay image. Make sure that it is above the Monitor/Game Capture in the Source list to start with. The styling of it is again completely up to you, however there are a few important things to remember.

If you are making your own, make sure the background is transparent (save as Transparent PNG in Photoshop) and is made in the resolution you are outputting (1280 x 720 if you are following our recommendation). If the background isn’t transparent or empty, you will end up with an image that covers the gameplay since the overlay image will be above the gameplay in the Source list. Below you will find an example of a very minimalistic overlay. Please note that normally the image is transparent but has been filled in with a black background so the overlay can be clearly seen (white overlay on a white background might be difficult to see).

Make sure that it is fit to the screen (“Ctrl+F” or right click on the Source, then go to Position/Size and from there select Fit to Screen) and use Preview Stream to see how it looks!

Finally, let’s setup the webcam Source. Firstly, make sure that you have it at the top of the Source list. Use the instructions that are described in the Webcam Scene to create a webcam Source within the gameplay Scene. Once in there, you will need to edit the size to fit the area. You can do so by selecting Preview Stream (so you can see what you are changing), highlighting the Source, and then press Edit Scene.

The Source you have selected should now be outlined with a red box which signifies that you can adjust its size. If you want to crop the webcam (or any Source for that matter) to further adjust the size, you can do so by holding alt and adjusting the size as you did before. This will cut off that portion of the webcam source!


A lot of this will come down to personal preference and styling, however we recommend that you try to keep as little on the screen as possible and have the gameplay screen be focused on the game itself!

Volume Adjustments

With a single PC setup, adjusting volumes is fairly straight forward. You can use the red microphone and speaker volume settings on the main page of OBS.

Lowering/increasing these will only change the volume that is output to the stream, so it’s best to adjust the volume you want to hear and then adjust OBS accordingly. For easy testing you can use the Recording Feature to play back how it sounds. Make sure that your voice is never drowned out by the game!

To recap, you’ll find the most crucial setting recommendations below!

Encoding

  • Encoder set to x264
  • “Use CBR” checked
  • “Enabled CBR padding” checked
  • Max Bitrate set between 3,000-3,500 kb/s
  • Audio encoding Bitrate set to default 128

Broadcast Settings

  • Use the optimize button for the platform’s appropriate settings
  • FMS URL set to the nearest physical location

Video

  • Native screen or custom resolution set in the Base Resolution. Use the Resolution Downscale to output the stream at 1280×720
  • 60 fps

Audio

  • Default window capture devices selected
  • Leave “Force Microphone/Auxiliary to mono” unchecked
  • Keep the Mic/Aux Boost at 1 for the clearest sound


Advanced

  • “Use Multithreaded Optimizations” box checked
  • Process Priority Class set to “Normal”
  • x264 CPU preset at “veryfast”

You should be all set to kick off a stream now so we’ll leave you with a few final words. Try to stick to a consistent schedule if you’re looking to acquire a loyal base of followers, and remember to always have fun. A schedule will increase the retention of your viewers as they will know when you are streaming, and well, having fun should be self-explanatory. If you aren’t enjoying it, it will be hard for those watching to do so as well!

In the second part, we’ll cover a few extra tools and addons you may want to include in your stream!

Good luck and happy streaming!

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