Is hardware encoding better than software encoding?

If you are a streamer, it's essential to understand the differences between hardware encoders and software encoders. Many streamers are not familiar with these distinctions, so let's explore them in detail.

What is Encoding?

Encoding involves compressing streamed media into a desired format using compression algorithms. The device responsible for processing these compression algorithms is called an encoder. Encoders have video and analog audio inputs to encode content and produce the desired encoded output.

RTMP streaming relies on encoders. However, the choice between hardware encoders and software encoders depends on your specific preferences.

What is a Software Encoder?

Software encoders are the most commonly used type of encoder. They are popular because many software encoders are free to use. One widely used software encoder is Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), an open-source software package that offers more than just encoding. OBS is a comprehensive video multi-source switching solution that allows you to set up multiple cameras, add graphics and music, and create professional-looking live broadcasts. It performs both encoding and broadcasting of your video.

What is a Hardware Encoder?

Serious streamers and professional streaming facilities often opt for hardware encoders due to their strength and reliability. Hardware encoders are not cheap, with prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Their main function is encoding and streaming over the network, which they do with exceptional efficiency and reliability. Unlike computers, hardware encoders don't get bogged down with multiple programs running simultaneously since they focus on one task.

Hardware encoders typically don't have multiple inputs or switching capabilities, so if you want to use multiple cameras or graphics, you'll need additional video switching/mixing equipment or software to connect to the encoder.

Hardware encoders can be advantageous in case of network outages. Many hardware encoders, such as LiveU's LU210 and LU220, can communicate over various networks, including Wi-Fi, satellite, and cellular. They leverage the capacity of each network to provide the best possible streaming connection.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Software Encoders

Software encoders have several advantages and disadvantages. Let's delve into them:


  • Affordability, although some high-end software encoders may come with a price tag.
  • Versatility, as they can handle multiple streams and perform functions like switching and effects.
  • Customizability, allowing you to choose the bitrate and encoding type.


  • Dependence on the host computer, as they rely on the CPU's processing power. Performance is only as good as the machine they are running on.
  • Higher delay due to slower encoding.
  • Reduced overall performance, especially on lower-end systems or while multitasking.

Software encoders have their faults, but they can provide significant value for the money, offering customization options and creative possibilities. However, when it comes to quality and latency, high-end hardware encoders typically outperform high-end software encoders.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Hardware Encoders

Hardware encoders have everything you need in a compact package. They feature dedicated encoding algorithms and powerful processing units solely focused on encoding. They often provide an interface for selecting encoding codecs and stream destinations.


  • Excellent performance, especially for high-quality streaming requirements.
  • Reliability, as they are designed specifically for encoding tasks.
  • Lower latency due to faster encoding speed.


  • Higher cost, starting from a few hundred dollars and increasing based on features and capabilities.
  • Limited functionality, requiring additional equipment or software for tasks like switching.
  • Upgrades can be challenging compared to software encoders.

Hardware encoders are specialized devices designed solely for encoding. They excel at their core task but come at a higher price. However, if you can justify the investment, you'll experience top-notch encoding performance. Keep in mind that hardware encoders are dedicated to encoding and lack the versatility of software encoders.

Choosing the Right Encoder

Your choice of encoder should align with your specific needs and goals. Affordability often plays a significant role in the decision-making process. Hardware encoders require additional equipment to perform tasks like switching, while high-end software encoders can also come at a considerable cost. A competent software encoder and a decent computer can go a long way for most streamers, particularly those starting out.

As your production budget increases, you can gradually transition to hardware encoders or create a hybrid setup by combining hardware and software encoders. Ultimately, it's essential to select the encoder that helps you achieve your streaming goals.

Consider multistreaming with VDO Panel to reach a larger audience. VDO Panel offers many impressive benefits for video streamers. Take the time to explore these options and decide if it's the right video streaming panel for you.

In summary, software encoders are a popular choice, offering affordability and accessibility. Hardware encoders excel in performance and reliability but come at a higher cost. Assess your requirements, budget, and long-term goals to make an informed decision about the encoding solution that best suits your needs.

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