Game streaming 101 - Xbox One vs. PS4 vs. capture cards

Thursday, 08 January 2015 11:00 AM Written by 


TwitchSo you want to play video games while dozens, or perhaps hundreds, or perhaps thousands (!) watch you live? I must admit that it’s an attractive proposition. The idea of being on a live stage while introducing video games to the masses is an intriguing one for anyone who wants to be a content creator


But where do you even begin? Maybe you got a new PS4 or Xbox One during the holiday deals. Maybe you’re kicking around the idea of picking up a capture card. There are a lot of different ways to get a polished streaming channel up and running. Some of these avenues are simple, while others are more complex. It all depends on how seriously you want to take the experience. All those avenues begin at Twitch.


If you’re a gamer and you don’t have a Twitch account, that’s basically like being a human being and not having a Google account. In other words, you’ve got to get on that! Twitch is your base of operations for both consuming live streams and broadcasting. The site will be your home during broadcasts.


Log in, check out your account settings and link other services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to your Twitch account. Linking these accounts have benefits like automatically shouting out when your stream starts to your followers.


Next up is crafting your profile. Write something creative that will make you stand out. If people stumble onto your stream, they’re likely to check out your profile. Give them a good reason to click the “follow” button.


Once you get your account, bio and channel looking good, the easy part is over.



Streaming Tech showdown (PS4 vs. Xbox One vs. Capture Device)


In order to stream gameplay, you’ll need a decent internet connection and either a PC, PS4, Xbox One or a separate capture device if you’re planning on streaming on past-gen consoles. Capture devices can be the Elgato Game Capture HD, or a similar PVR made by Roxio or Hauppauge, but more on those later.


Quick note on internet connection: live streaming is all about upload speed. I recommend having a minimum of 10 mb/s. Most guides will say you can get away with less than that, but 10 is a decent speed for a quality stream. Different games will require different amounts of bandwidth. Faster moving games use more bandwidth, and running something at 60 fps will require more compared to 30 fps. The same goes for 480p, 720p and 1080p.


The easiest way to stream a game is through a PS4 or Xbox One. It requires minimal hassle, and is simple to set up in a short amount of time. Both systems have integrated Twitch streaming in their own ways.


Another quick note before I get into the intricacies of this streaming business: Don’t attempt to livestream via wifi. Always hardwire your connection to your internet source. Streaming through wifi will produce a choppy and inconsistent stream.





The PS4 manages to edge out the Xbox One in terms of ease of use. Sony had the foresight to put the “share” button right on the controller. They were smart to anticipate the importance of live streaming well before the console’s launch in 2013. With a tap of that “share” button, the PS4 will ask if you want to stream to Twitch or Ustream. Always pick Twitch. Seriously, never use Ustream.


PS4 share button
(PS4 Share)


The PS4 streaming suite will give you options like stream quality from “low” all the way to “best.” The latter will stream gameplay in 720p 30 fps. If you have that minimum 10 mb/s that I mentioned above, you should be able to get away with the “best” setting.


You can then choose if you want voice audio to be included from a connected microphone. Hooking up the PlayStation Camera enables the ability to include a small live feed of your face on the stream. The PS4 can also display live viewer comments right on the screen. Unfortunately, having comments and a camera on your PS4 stream shrinks the screen in order to make room for that stuff. Your viewers will have to suffer with that smaller viewing window, too.


The recent firmware update included the option to enable party chat within your streams. This is a surprisingly killer app since the competing Xbox One does not have this ability.


You’re a tad limited when it comes to customization on the PS4, but if you want to get a quick and easy stream off the ground and don’t really care about the details, the PS4 is the best route to take.



Xbox One


The Xbox One offers the ability livestream just like the PS4, but it requires the Twitch app. This can be downloaded through Xbox Live. The Xbox One Twitch app was developed by Twitch, which makes it even more surprising that it’s as wonky as it is.


(Xbox One Twitch App)


Like most apps on the Xbox One, it always seems like the system struggles to open the app. After looking at the loading wheel for a few moments, the Twitch app starts up either in full screen or snapped in on the right. From there, you can simply select “broadcast” to go live. Saying "Xbox, Broadcast" if you have Kinect will also open Twitch.


The Twitch app for Xbox One has some advantages over the PS4 streaming capabilities. The Kinect acts as the streaming camera, and you can then choose the corner of the screen where you’d like to display it. That way you can move it to a corner where it won’t cover up an important piece of an in-game HUD. You can also include the camera feed, but not have that feed displayed on your television. It will show up on the stream feed for your viewers, but won’t take up space on your game screen. You also have the option to snap in comments or leave them hidden while unsnapped. Either way they won’t be displayed on the feed for your viewers.


Problems arise in the Twitch app with repeated use. Stopping and restarting a broadcast seems to confuse the app, which then has to be completely relaunched in order to get its bearings. Sometimes it will say that it’s broadcasting, but actually won’t be. A hard console reset is usually the solution to this problem, like most of the Xbox One’s idiosyncrasies.


Like the PS4 streaming capabilities, the Xbox One’s Twitch app lacks the tools to finely tune your stream. It will get the job done, but you won’t be able to go above and beyond the status quo with this functionality.


Both the Xbox One and PS4 streaming functionality is completely controlled by the system. That means that the system can decide if it wants to censor your stream. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to edit you when you swear. It means that it can throw up a screen saver if you’re approaching a game spoiler. The games played on these machines can be programmed to prohibit streaming of specific parts of the game to avoid spoiler spreading. It blur friends’ names or other notifications. This can be a good or bad feature depending on your interests. This experience differs from using a capture card, which will stream exactly what is displayed on your television screen.



The Elgato HD60


The Elgato HD60 is a capture card that has the ability to capture or stream any footage from a source with an HDMI out. This is the go-to product if you’re interested in getting serious about streaming. It’s what you need for a high quality stream, but using one makes streaming games a lot more complicated. That’s the trade off.


elgato hd60
(Elgato HD60)


The biggest difference is that you’ll need a computer that is separate from your gaming machine if that gaming machine is a console. This computer (the Elgato is compatible with PC or Mac) will handle all of the heavy lifting of the stream. That heavy lifting requires a capable processor.


I’m admittedly not an expert on computer processors, but a good i7 can handle your streaming needs. The higher the bandwidth of your stream (60 FPS and 720p will use more bandwidth), the more taxing it will be on processor. I’m aware that there are numerous kinds of i7 processors out there, so I’ll just use my processor as the example. I have an Intel i7 4790k. It can handle everything I throw at it in terms of streaming. It is capable of running a smooth 60 fps/720p stream while using about 30%-40% of its power.


If you do choose to go the route of a capture device, prepare to have a cluttered living room. Here’s a quick bulleted list of must-haves for a complete stream:


  • Console (stream source)

  • TV or monitor for the game

  • capture device

  • PC or Mac

  • keyboard

  • mouse

  • webcam

  • TV or monitor for the stream

  • microphone for PC

  • laptop to monitor Twitch (optional)


Here’s a photo realistic depiction of a living room that has been taken over by game streaming. Of course, if you’re just streaming PC games, all you need is the PC. The equation gets much simpler.





Software to accompany all that hardware


Getting all the hardware right is the tough part, but the software comes with its own learning curve. You’ll need live streaming software. Open Broadcast Software (OBS) is an easy-to-use/difficult to master streaming tool that works very well while not putting too much pressure on your PC or Mac. It’s most attractive offering is the cost. It’s free.


Other options include XSplit or the Elgato Game Capture software. XSplit costs money, but is arguably the most intuitive program on the market for this sort of endeavor. Elgato Game Capture is also user-friendly, but it only works with Elgato devices. It’s free, but isn’t capable of running a stream at 60 fps. This is puzzling when considering the Elgato HD60’s main selling point is that it can stream at 60 fps.


      (OBS screen)




Elgato screen9 
(Elgato Game Capture screen)

Configuring your stream


After entering the necessary information like your Twitch stream key and server location, you’ll have to set up the basics of your stream. The key info you’ll need is bitrate, resolution and fps. A streams bitrate determines how clear your stream will be. The higher the bitrate, the cleaner the picture, which also requires more bandwidth. Bitrate will remain fairly stable no matter what you are streaming. I usually keep mine around 3500, which is considered on the high range. Streaming at 720p 30 fps might only require 2500 or so. Experiment to see what your bandwidth can handle. Asking your viewers for feedback always helps.


As far as resolution is concerned, stick with 720p. Stay away from 1080p, especially if you’re streaming something that runs at 60 fps. Don’t assume your viewers have lightning fast download speeds because most of them won’t. A stream of that size won’t even be viewable by much of your audience. Plus, it will put a ton of strain on your computer’s processor.


Frames per second is an important number to consider when configuring your stream. Know the fps number of the game being played. If it runs at 30 fps, there’s no point in configuring the stream to 60 fps. If you don’t know if the game is 30 or 60 fps, do a quick Google search. The answers are out there. Running a stream at 60 fps won’t make a huge difference compared to 30, but it does provide a smoother stream for your viewers. It’s also a nice way to separate yourself from the many console streamers out there since consoles can’t stream at 60 fps. 


Streaming console gameplay with a capture device probably sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, when the alternative is just pushing the “share” button on the PS4. I understand that argument. But using this streaming software is the best way to turn heads because of the complete control you have over your stream. This software will allow you to insert multiple cameras, display custom graphics and intros, show scoreboards, move and reposition screens and more. The PS4 and Xbox One give you the power to stream. Using dedicated streaming software gives you the power to make a production.


Try out going live a couple times a week with a game you enjoy. Prepare to engage with your audience. Most viewers don’t want to just tune in to watch silent gameplay footage. Talk to your audience as if you were talking to a friend on the couch next to you.


I recommend setting up a laptop that isn’t part of the streaming setup if you can. Use this to bring up your Twitch dashboard to switch your broadcast title on the fly. It’s also a must if you want to keep a close eye on your viewer comments.


The above advice is just a collection of guidelines that allow you to jump the technical hurdles of game streaming. The actual show lies in your hands. The key to kicking off a good streaming channel is to bring something new to the table. That could be something as simple as your charming personality, or a fresh new way stream game content. Be different. Stand out. Try to experiment and try new things. It’s not like you’re paying per broadcast. Be bold and shake things up. If you can do that, live streaming just may be your favorite new hobby.



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