Live encoding is an integral part of video production or content streaming for live events, and refers to the process of encoding video into multiple streams at different bitrates and resolutions to adapt to the wide range of devices utilised by end-users.
Encoders are devices that convert broadcast signals. They can be either hardware or software, fixed or portable, and are used to convert the feed from your camera or recording device, into data that can be streamed.
There are different types of live encoding products, and the right type can be determined by establishing several factors, such as:
- How many streams will be produced
- Internet connectivity/capacity at the encoding site
- Where the streams will be produced and stored
- How the encoder will connect with your equipment
- The size of your budget
- Whether you need a portable encoder
- How much support is needed for end-users
- Broadcast bandwidth availability
Which type of product should be used for live encoding?
Hardware encoders are dedicated, specialised processors that encode video and data into content suitable for streaming. These encoders can come in portable boxes or can be permanent fixtures.
Hardware encoders are higher in price than software encoders, and for that reason are aimed at professional broadcasters.
Hardware encoding is when the GPU encodes the frame into a suitable format using dedicated hardware. The CPU's only job is to then transfer that frame over the network.
Portable encoders fall under the category of hardware devices, but have features designed for portable operation, such as one-button operation. Perfect for teams or individuals working at a remote event, units can be pre-set and customised.
Software encoders are programs that run on a laptop or desktop computer. Software encoding is when the CPU copies the image from the GPU and then encodes it.
These types of encoders vary enormously influenced by budget and the capacity of the server, PC or even lap top running it.
The biggest differences, other than cost, between hardware and software encoders are:
- Software encoders can be updated when a new version or upgrade is available.
Software encoders run on a computer do not often deliver the same latency speeds of hardware encoders, as they are working with other programs simultaneously.