It’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to buy gear to stream with. Even if you want to make your Zoom calls look better, it can be tough to figure out what’s actually good. Fortunately, I like building broadcast rigs more than I like streaming, so I’m here to help. I’ve rigged up everything from esports to music theater to live bands, and no matter what your budget is, there’s an option for you.

This article has been updated periodically since it was published in 2016 with my recommendations for streaming equipment purchases. All amazon links have my affiliate tag on them so please click them and buy lots of things so I get money. Web site hosting isn’t free, and this article pays for it. Alright, let’s dive in.

Each of these categories will be divided up into six tiers.

  1. Please Don’t:  Means what it says on the tin.  There is no logical reason for you to ever do or purchase the thing unless you actively like wasting your own time and money.
  2. I’m Just Getting Started:  Something that gets the job done, while perhaps being janky or excessively simple.  Okay for beginners or people who don’t want to put a lot of effort in.
  3. I Want To Do Better:  Mid-tier broadcasters, people who want things to look and sound good, but price is a concern.
  4. Time To Get Serious:  Expert twitch streamers for whom time is money, and who broadcast as a job.
  5. Literal Professional:  You’re being paid for your time and equipment to produce live video content for someone else, so it’s worth spending money on.
  6. Honorable Mention / Mobile: Something that you should know about because it’s cool, or because it can be used while you’re out and about.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so this article is split into eight sections.

Part 1: Streaming Programs

Part 2: Headphones

Part 3: Microphones

Part 4: Audio Interfaces

Part 5: Lighting

Part 6: Camera

Part 7: Capture cards

Final Thoughts


Part 1: Streaming Programs

The foundation upon which your channel is built.

Your streaming package is the most important choice you have as a broadcaster.  It determines your toolset, you workflow, and ultimately sets the bar for how good (or bad) the viewer experience is.

It’s also the most frequently-updated, so as a category all of these options are constantly in flux.  What was good six months ago might suck ass now, but what sucked ass is unlikely to become good because that’s just not how this works.

Anyway, there were more choices, but these days, it’s pretty simple.

Please don’t:

Please don’t stream directly from your PS4 or Xbox One.  I know it sounds like a really good idea – since direct-from-console streaming was added, there was a large increase in the number of people broadcasting.  However, there was no equivalent increase in the number of people watching.  Most people broadcasting from their consoles simply have literally no-one watching, for a number of reasons.

  1. There is no camera, so we don’t know who we’re watching.
  2. There’s no 2nd monitor to have chat open on, so they don’t interact with the viewers at all, and;
  3. Most people have no mic attached, so they can’t communicate at all.  It’s just gameplay footage. Worthless, worthless gameplay footage.

Please don’t stream from OSX.  If you don’t Bootcamp it and install Windows, you’ll have to install a series of custom audio routing tools in order to be able to capture sound being played by your computer, and that’s a rabbit hole that’s very difficult to climb back out of.  If you do insist on going through it, you’ll need Soundflower and WavTAP at a bare minimum, and possibly a multi-output volume controller.  Your in-game performance will generally be much worse in OSX, too. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

I’m Just Getting Started:

OBS Studio

Pros: Free, lots of features

Cons: Doesn’t really help you get started

OBS Studio is great. It’s clean, simple, fast, and you can have an extremely basic stream configured and working in 10 minutes. It’s come a long way since the early days, and unless you’re a power user, it can probably do everything you need it to.

By far the two most important things are the ability to make changes as a set before sending them live, and the ability to recursively add scenes into other scenes. What this means is that you can create a ‘scene’ for your alerts overlay, which you can just add to every other scene, meaning if you want to make changes, you only have to make them once. If you want to get video from another computer, NDI functionality can be added to send video across the local network with the NewTek NDI plugin.

That simplicity does come with a few limitations. Video conferencing is difficult, and to properly capture things like Discord video calls, you’ll often end up capturing screen regions off a second monitor due to struggles with hardware-accelerated apps. But with plenty of apps out there to provide missing functionality, and it’s impossible not to recommend it.

OBS Studio has come a long way over the years, and it just keeps getting better. I’ve migrated on and off it several times, and it’s still my go-to for getting something running quickly.  It should be considered the starting point for every broadcaster.

I want to do better:

OBS Studio, still. Previously, there were other broadcast programs listed here, but they’ve all gotten worse, and OBS Studio has only gotten better.

Time to get serious:

OBS Studio, again. Again, there were more powerful options and again, they’ve gone to hell. Just use OBS.

Literal professional:

vMix HD

If you’re a professional broadcaster using multiple PCs, multiple cameras and multiple mics, this is for you.

Powerful, lightweight, fast. Difficult to set up the first time, takes maybe 2 – 3 hours to understand if you’ve used other packages from this list before but easy if you’ve done any sort of TV broadcasting.  Not focused on capturing content from your PC so much as broadcasting other video sources. If you use a separate machine for broadcast production than gaming/spectating, this may be your ticket.

Most importantly, it contains triggers and scripting, so if you want to set up a broadcast and walk off, you can have countdown timers, videos playing in a row, playlists .. the list goes on.

The version of vMix that most of you will be looking at is $350, which I paid when my trial was up without hesitation. I then upgraded to the $700 version to get four remote call participants. Then to the $1200 version to get eight. It’s paid for itself many times over.

Honorable Mention / Mobile:

Elgato Stream Deck / Mobile: $120

Elgato have the scene-switching stream controller market on lockdown right now. With integrations for every major streaming program, and the ability to trigger hotkeys (including F13 – F24, so you can never accidentally hit them), you can make it work with anything, even things it wasn’t designed for.

I’ve used mine at events in three countries across two continents, everything from podcasts to commercial esports broadcasts, and while the initial setup is a little janky, if you export your profile to Dropbox, you’re only 5 minutes from being ready to go, no matter where you are.

Single-button presses to go live, record, play soundboard files, switch scenes, run ads, or even tweet out the stream? Yes, please.

There’s also a subscription-model version for your phone, a mini version for those who need fewer buttons, and an XL for those who need more.

Live:Air Solo for iOS is great for broadcasting from your phone when you don’t have access to a computer.  If you’re a broadcaster, you NEED this on your phone with your details plugged in ready to go, so if your computer crashes, your internet goes out, whatever, you can be live again in seconds.

VoiceMeeter Banana as well as its brethren. Stupid name, great product. This custom audio router lets you do just about anything with your sound in Windows, including sending it through audio plugins, or capture your game audio before your Discord call gets slammed over the top.

Part 2: Headphones

Music to your ears, comfort for your head.

This section has changed – don’t skip it.

Please don’t:

Previously, this section contained the Astro A50s. I’d like to state, on the record, that this has been rescinded, because the 2019 Gen5 update is actually fantastic and I use them every day.

I’m just getting started:

Logitech Pro-X, wired: $59

I reviewed these and still use them all the time.

It is INSANE that this headset is $59. UNREASONABLE. COMPLETELY FUCKED UP. IT SHOULD BE DOUBLE THAT. I’m not copy-pasting my review here, but they’re the #1 recommendation I make to anyone.

I want to do better:

This has inadvertently become the wireless section, because that’s the “new functionality” I consider this tier to unlock.

Logitech Pro-X Wireless: $178
Basically everything from the Pro-X wired version still applies, except they sound ever-so-slightly worse, and the mic is worse. I use them all the time too, and they’re great.

Steelseries Arctis 7: $149.99
Unique features: Multiple inputs and outputs for use in many situations

If you have a $150 budget, buy this headset. Don’t read any further, just click buy and never worry about headsets again. This is one of the only headsets in existence that seems tailor-made for broadcasters.  

The simplified transceiver requires no setup, and has a 3.5mm line in and line out. The line-in can take input from a console, making console streaming easy. Or, you can plug your phone into it so you don’t miss any messages while gaming. By comparison, normally you’d need something like the Astro Mixamp (listed further down for $130) to do that, which is just a wired headphone amp.  Being able to wirelessly transmit a secondary source is way more useful than you might think, because all of a sudden any audio source can be wireless. I no longer carry my phone around the house, because I’ll hear it on my headset if it rings. If the headset is off, audio will go out the line out for connection to external speakers, making the transition from broadcasting to chilling a single button press.

The Arctis 7 has the same drivers as the $300 Steelseries Arctis Pro, so they sound good. The isolation is surprisingly good as well; the firm but soft fitment transmits bass incredibly well, while remaining light on your head even for long periods of time.  There’s a 3.5mm TRRS cable that can be plugged straight into a phone – this works even if the battery is dead, which makes them really useful for travelling.

The configuration software is easy to use, has a heap of options, and the firmware upgrade process is smooth. There’s a mic mute button on the left cup, and the mic itself is flexible and retractable. Getting the mic just right for your environment should only take about five minutes, and it’s pretty easy to find levels where you get keyboard sound or just voice. Mixing between chat and game volume is done on the headset, and there’s a 3.5mm output (you read that correctly) on the headphones themselves to plug in a second set of headphones, which you think you’ll never need, until you do. Then you’ll be surprised that someone thought of it.  You can actually use this to turn the entire thing into a wireless audio bridge!  My range topped out around 30 feet, and they handle interference from microwaves like a boss (unlike the G930 which stops entirely if you heat up some noodles).

I actually just can’t believe these are $150; I’d happily have paid $250. These have become my main PC gaming and travel headphones, and I refuse to give them back.

They are a streamer’s delight, and I for one have not been this impressed in a long time.

Time to get serious:

Astro A50: $299

The 2019 rework of these for Gen 5 changed everything. They absolutely kick ass now for reasons I’ll elaborate on later. I was a known A40 and A50 hater. Now I’m praising them. That should say something. I’ll elaborate later.

TODO: Elaborate on that.

Steelseries Arctis Pro Wireless: $299
Unique features: Crazy amount of connectivity options for any setup

There is no other headset on this list, or in fact anywhere in the world that can do what the Steelseries Arctis Pro. 

Sounds good: ✓

Decent mic:✓

Myriad of connectivity options: ✓

Configurable: ✓

Replaceable standard battery: ✓

Compatible with everything: ✓

It’s got bluetooth so you can pair it straight to your phone as well. There’s even a 3.5mm out on the headset – you read that right – so you can daisy chain a second pair of headphones off them, if for some reason you want to do that.  You can connect with USB as an interface, the transmitter can take multiple inputs of 3.5mm or optical S/PDIF with levels separately adjustable.  You can use it with your phone, your xbox, your PS4, your PC.  If your microwave had a line out, you could use it with that too.  I’m actually angry this exists, because it makes me re-evaluate how stupid any headphone is in comparison. The audio quality is probably the worst of this tier, but that’s by no means an insult.

Literal professional:

Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + interface
Selling point: Professional broadcast headset at less than half the price of its competition

Do not buy the BPHS-1 unless you have a mixer/recording interface.  This is a professional broadcast headset with an XLR-cabled dynamic microphone, and a 3.5mm TRS stereo cable for connectivity.  It is useless to you unless you own the appropriate hardware to connect it to, and even then it’s going to sound worse in your ears than either of the TTGS recommendations.  However.

If you intend on running a broadcast from an event, these headsets are brilliant.  Solid isolation, plugs directly into your audio equipment, and headset mics that properly mirror the performance of a real dynamic stage mic, for $160 these are a steal compared to competing models like the Sennheiser HME 26-600(4)-XQ going for $550 (which Riot uses at major events).

Nothing more to say.  A workhorse designed for getting work done, and will make your life much, much easier if you’re doing live events.


Part 3: Microphones

What use is a phone call, if you cannot speak?

There is no such thing as a perfect microphone, only a perfect microphone for a situation.  I have studio recording mics that cost more than a small car, which sit in a drawer because they’re just not appropriate for streaming.  What we’re covering here is what’s good for streaming, but be aware that your use case must factor into any decision.

I’m just getting started:
Just use your headset mic.  It’s really not worth paying for anything extra until later on, and you already own it so just run with it until it becomes a problem.

I want to do better:

If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s worth the upgrade from a headset mic to a real microphone, there’s a sample recording on the Razer Seiren web site about half way down.  

This section contains one (1) microphone only, because the price is insane.

Razer Seirēn X: $49
Selling point: A very very cheap condenser mic specifically for streaming

It’s absolutely insane to me that this mic is $49. That’s mental. It works, it’s good quality, I’ve turned in professional VO work with it. The diaphragm itself has an internal shock mount, it’s light, it’s small, and it packs away easily.

But most importantly, it has no controls. This is important, because 99% of condenser mics are set up incorrectly. By removing the controls, it forces the user to position it an appropriate distance from themselves, and in doing so, makes an immediate improvement in the vast majority of users. The first time I fired this up, people on discord asked if I had a new mic. Even heavily compressed, it still sounded far better.  It has permanently displaced the dynamic mic I was using on account of its clarity, and excellent ability to filter out background noise.

They were great value at their original $129, but for $49?! A steal.

The only other option at this price point is the Hyper-X Solo Cast, which is also $49, and may be real competition here – but I only recommend things I’ve personally tested, so I can’t give it a personal recommendation. Hyper-X, you know how to fix this. Call me, I’ve moved.

Time to get serious:

HyperX Quadcast: $?

  • Obvious tap to mute
  • Comes with a shock mount
  • Audio quality is fine
  • Decent price

TODO: Elaborate on that

Rode NT-USB Mini: $95?

  • Small, well-built
  • Has a little desk stand
  • Onboard effects hardware accessed through Rode Connect which includes sound boards and junk.
  • Can be paired with a number of other rode devices to all present back to the OS as a single mic for meetings, conferences, podcasts, etc.
  • Totally effective to throw on a desk for your family to all stand around and call your brother on zoom

Cons:

  • Noise floor may be too high for you.

TODO: Elaborate on that

Rode NT-USB: $168
Selling point: A spectacular condenser mic that always sounds great

Rode has an amazing tradition of making great condenser mics, but don’t let this one fool you – it’s not a USB version of the classic NT-1A (which I own), it’s the USB version of the NT1.  The outside may look the same but the internals are all new.  This doesn’t necessarily make it better, just more fit for purpose.  This is a great mic for speaking with multiple people, recording guitar, or playing and singing.  As for the split over the Seiren, that’s really down to taste, but the Rode is tasty.  Very tasty.  And it comes with a pop filter.  And it looks very cool.  And it sounds really warm.  I really like this mic and recommend it to anyone.  I’ve done that twice, and so far two out of two people have been incredibly happy, even the one with an extremely noisy room fan (??) which doesn’t seem to be a problem for some reason.

Behringer XM8500: $20 + interface
Selling point: 95% as good as a Shure SM58 at a fraction the cost

This is the last thing anyone would expect to see here, but hell, we’re doing it.  Behringer makes cheap copies of well-known equipment.  This is a dynamic mic for $20, or you can get a Shure SM58S for $110, and most people can’t tell the difference.  It will put up with being shouted in, and transmit the bass in your voice well.  Again, add a limiter in software and you’ve got a sweet vocal sound.

Obviously this doesn’t cover the cost of the audio interface required to pick it up, but if you have one already, or are buying into it cheap, this is absolutely the best value for money.  I’ve tested all of the mics mentioned here, and I still use a Behringer XM for streaming when there’s background noise.

Wait, what is this aside?

Alright, now people are going to bitch and moan that I haven’t included the Shure SM7B or the Rode NT1A or the Electro-Voice RE320. If you know that you need those things you don’t need my advice. I’m not going to tell anyone they need them. By the time someone decides they need those things they have outgrown this article, and I don’t want to have to explain cloudlifters.

Rode NTG1: $250 + interface
Selling point: Sounds great without having a mic visible in frame

The only shotgun mic mentioned here, the NTG1 is very good at capturing sound directly in front of it, making shotguns a prime choice for broadcasters.  It will capture some off-axis sound, but gosh, it’s just really sweet.  The sounds are sweet and accurate.  You don’t have to have a mic right in your face either.  It is also the only mic listed that requires +48v Phantom power, so if you don’t have an audio interface capable of providing phantom, then you won’t be able to use the NTG1.  

Rode has the best after-sales service of any mic company I’ve ever dealt with, and spent some time helping me debug a problem that turned out to be with a Canon camera, just because I had a Rode mic connected to it.  Mark, if you’re reading this, thanks for your effort.

Rode is pronounced ‘road’, not ‘roadie’, by the way.

I use an NTG1 in my portable rig and it’s spectacular for interviews or small groups.  It’s the most expensive of the TTGS group, but if it’s a natural sound you’re after, you can’t beat it.

Literal professional:

Behringer XM1800S 3-pack: $40  + mixer interface
Selling point: 95% as good as a Shure SM58 at a fraction the cost

Again, surprises.  You can get a 3-pack of dynamic behringer mics in a road case for $40.  They sound near-indistinguishable from mics 6x the price and it doesn’t matter if they get lost, stolen or broken.  You will need a mixer interface for this because by default, audio interfaces will attempt to assign channel 1 to Left and channel 2 to right.  If you have two casters, this will pan one full left and one full right.  You do not want this.  Get a mixer that has a USB connection.  Get a $5 colored foam wind shield to pretty it up if you want.

Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + mixer interface
Selling point: Professional broadcast headset at less than half the price of its competition

The only repeat-appearance on this list, the BPHS-1’s dynamic microphones are great for casting because they’re attached to your head and they deal with variation in speech volumes very well.  Again, given the nature of why you’d buy these, a mixer is a must.

Remember, sometimes professional doesn’t mean ‘the very best quality’, it means ‘the best effort:reward ratio with minimal screwing around’.

Honorable mention:

Neewer Boom Arm Mic Stand: $13.50

Cheap way to mount a mic, especially a light one.  They cost basically nothing, they mount to practically anything, and they work acceptably for the price.  Surprisingly durable considering it costs less than a good sandwich; we’ve bought 3 of them.  Plenty of options too, with models containing USB cables, XLR cables or have integrated pop filters.  And if you don’t like it, put it in a cupboard somewhere – you will find a use for it. Rather have too many mic stands than not enough.

Elgato mic stand (both low and high profile versions): $135

The Rode PSA-1 and it’s pro cousin were knocked off here by Elgato’s mic stands.

TODO: Elaborate

Blue Yeti: $129.99
Selling point: A multi-purpose cardiod condenser mic for all applications

Once a staple of broadcasters everywhere but now hated by most, the Yeti remains on the list once again, because it does what it does acceptably. People think it sucks, and those people are wrong. If your Yeti sounds like ass, it’s because you’re using it wrong, or for the wrong thing. Condenser microphones should be placed close to the source of the sound (with an optional pop filter for those nasty plosives), with very low gain.  Not far away, with the gain turned right up, so that it picks up every keystroke, every click, every dog running by your house.  Set up correctly, it’ll do the job well, but sadly most will never be set up correctly, and people will continue to spend money chasing something that could be rectified by having the slightest idea what they’re doing.

Streaming and vocal recording are different, but you should start by learning about vocal recording, and then seeing how you can adapt the techniques to work without blocking your view of the screen, or the camera’s view of your face.

There’s a great article explaining the basics here.

There’s also a $40 shock mount available, which works. The main issue with the Yeti is simply that it’s heavy, which means that the $15 boom mic arm you bought off Amazon is going to struggle to hold it.

As for the sound itself? Voice is captured well, but it’s important to recognize that the Yeti was designed as a general purpose microphone.  It was designed in a time when USB condenser mics weren’t common, and that time is now gone.  It clearly wasn’t designed for streaming, that’s just something we use it for. I don’t recommend buying one, but if you come across one, or have one already, know that it’s probably fine.


Part 4: Audio Interfaces

The sound of silence (with some mild hissing).

Your computer already came with a sound card so more than likely you don’t need another one.  That’s all an audio interface is – a really fancy sound card with some special bits.  That said, when you do need them, you really need them.  Here’s where to look when you find those use cases.

Just starting out:

Don’t bother.  You don’t need it.

I want to do better:

Astro Mixamp Pro TR: $130
Unique features: Tonnes of connectivity and two full-quality balanceable output channels

Mixamps are great. They’re a little more expensive than some of the ‘high quality’ options, but they’re really about the functionality. It presents to the computer as a separate voice, and main sound channel, so you can up and down or capture people on comms separately.

Connectivity is spectacular.  It’s a USB audio interface of its own, but it’s also got secondary 3.5mm and optical ports, as well as an Aux in that you can hear in your headset but doesn’t get recorded to stream.  Add in the ability to daisy-chain them to create a private voice loop between adjacent mixamps and you’ve got a seriously powerful tool.

If you’re prepared to get a little weird, split the TRRS combo jack out, add a multi-out headphone amp on output, put a passive mixer on the input, and you’ve just made yourself a very cheap casting rig using just consumer equipment, thanks to the mic sidetone.

Or if you want to stream your Xbox One/PS4, you can hook the audio output from that up to the aux input so you can listen to the game live while still getting your PC’s notifications and alerts, and use your headset mic.  We ran this setup just to prove that we could, and liked it so much that the model Astro sent us keeps being ‘liberated’.  If you do plan to use the Aux input, pick yourself up a $10 Ground Loop Isolator, as running it from the same base power source as your secondary input can produce a mild buzz.

Note to self: buy another Mixamp.

Editor’s note: she did.

Time to get serious:

If you need one channel..

UA Volt 1 USB Audio interface: $129

  • More features than Scarlett Solo at a lower price
  • Only one input channel, which is actually good for broadcast
  • Can use UA plugins with the onboard hardware
  • Good hardware

If you need two input channels:

Presonus Audiobox USB 96 25th Anniversary Edition: $82

Warning: Has no headphone out. If you need a headphone out..

Behringer UMC-202HD: $99

These have some rough edges but if you’re light on cash, it will get you out of trouble. If you need this you probably have a non-USB mixer already.

UA Volt 2 USB audio interface: $169

Like the Volt 1, but with two channels. Again, not sure why you’d need this, but if you’re sure you do, it’s a solid 2×2.

Literal professional:

Mackie ProFX8v3: $260
Selling point: A reliable USB mixer with plenty of I/O and onboard FX

If you’re recording more than one host at once, you need to seriously think about getting a USB mixer/interface. “But wait”, you ask in a fervored tone, “more than one? Those interfaces have two inputs”.  You are correct, they most certainly do.  But you should know that no modern streaming programs have the ability to split those up as separate inputs – they want to treat them as the Left and Right of a single Stereo input.  This is a much more difficult to solve problem with no easy solution, except for a mixer.  Like this one.  The ProFX8v3 has some nice effects on board, and works instantly with any PC or Mac with no drivers to install.  Great bit of kit.

Yamaha MG10XU: $267
Selling point: Small footprint USB mixer

Pretty much the same as the Mackie.  Simpler to operate, way fewer controls, so if you’re less technically-minded this could be a better choice.  The inputs are all XLR/TRS-compatible so if connectivity is important to you then this might be a priority. Technically it has two more channels, but 99% of people who buy these will never fill out their channel budget.  No sliders, so it’s more space efficient, although that makes it harder to get a read on levels on the fly. That said, it’s unlikely that you as a broadcaster will be actively adjusting levels constantly, so it’s definitely targeted more for self-produced users than the Mackie which is more of a professional rig. They’re out of stock on Amazon but you can likely find one elsewhere.

A massive chain of Astro Mixamp Pro TRs: $130 x5
Unique features: Local voice communications across multiple PCs

Hear me out.  Again, this might be unexpected to most, but it’s one of those things how actors use hemorrhoid cream on their puffy eyes – “one weird trick”.  Using the included ‘voice chat’ link cables on Mixamp Pro TRs creates a very simple local voice chat loop, and it’s all in hardware so it’s instant.  If you ever have a need to broadcast more than one voice source, say hosting an event, or if you’ve got people on a LAN but only one PC broadcasting, using Discord / Teamspeak creates a weird echo and makes it incredibly hard to hear everything well or capture it.  And, if you’re picking up broadcast feeds from multiple computers using XSplit’s Local Broadcast feature (or NDI) you’d usually get janky scene switching audio delay issues when it cuts over, but using the Pro TR’s voice chaining it works seamlessly.  Buy as many as you need (and keep a spare one for yourself that just happens to accidentally come home with you for your PC).

Honorable Mention

The Elgato Wave XLR: $159

A decent single-channel USB audio interface designed specifically for streaming, and it integrates with all their stuff too. If you have any need or want to do any music as well, the UA is the better choice no matter what. If you ONLY are going to use a mic, and you’re in Elgato’s ecosystem and all over their software, it can be a choice too, but at $30 more and at the cost of a bunch of recording functionality, it’s not my first one.

What Didn’t Make The Cut And Why?

The Rodecaster Pro 2 is $699 for what’s functionally a usb-interface-mixer hybrid with some effects and a sound board. Maybe that’s great for you if want something simple but it’s a lot of money. I cannot find a compelling reason to recommend purchasing beyond “convenience”, if convenience is worth nearly triple the price of competing interfaces.

Part 5: Lighting

All photography is light, and video is just really a lot of really fast photography.  Fancy equipment can work around suboptimal lighting, but with the right light, you can look great on almost any camera.

Here’s how to get it right the first time.

Just getting started:

Seriously just point some lights, any lights, at a wall.  Light should be delivered to the subject from the same direction as the camera.  That is, it should always be bouncing off the subject and then back towards the camera.  Never point any raw light directly towards a camera.  Trust me on this.

I want to do better:

LimoStudio AGG1698 + Neewer Pro Octagonal diffuser: $55.99 + $13.99
Selling point: Small with just the right amount of light to mount behind your monitors

I use these lights for both streaming at home, and for live events. They’re bright enough to give you great coverage at close range, but not so bright you’ll be overwhelmed. There aren’t any brightness controls, but with diffusion at 1.5 feet, they’re totally fine.  You will need to cut the diffusers significantly in order to fit them over the barndoors, but it’s worth it.

Between the incredible value for money, and the minimal space requirements, it’s difficult to not just recommend these to everyone.

Time to get serious:

Elgato Key Lights, or Key Light Minis: $200+

TODO: Elaborate on this

  • They’re not an expensive version of a cheaper light
  • They’re a cheaper version of a much more expensive light

Literal professional:

Still Elgato Key Lights. Again, they are just really, really good. The other options are just not worth screwing around with.

Part 6: Camera

Webcams exist.  Here are some you can consider.

Before we start, some of you are going to say ‘but there are no DSLRs on this list’. That is correct. By and large, using a DSLR as a webcam, while feasible (in fact I’m doing it right now) is so much more trouble than it’s worth. You need external power, then you probably need a firmware hack (eg MagicLantern, NikonHacker) to disable power management or get a clean HDMI out, then you need to get the settings right, and get your workflow set up, etc etc … don’t ask. If you have to ask, it would be too difficult for you.

Please Don’t:

Try to use a DSLR as a webcam. More trouble than it’s worth.  The only exception to this that I’ve been happy with is the Canon SL2 which has a clean HDMI out and auto-power-off-disabling in the firmware out of the box.

Just starting out:

Logitech C920: $70
Pros: Good optics, arguably the standard
Cons: Shitty configuration software, bad at figuring out suboptimal light

There is nothing to say about the C920 at this point.  It’s been the default industry standard for quite some time and nothing has changed.  It is the best value for money, and will do an adequate job.

It can look fantastic and often be mistaken for a pro camera if you have appropriate lighting, and I still use one on my home PC and at work.

I want to do better:

It’s possible that the new Elgato Facecam, the new Logitech webcam, or the new Razer Kiyo are actually better here, but I haven’t personally tested them, and I don’t think there’s much of a chance that they are going to make a meaningful difference over a C920 if both are well-lit.

That said, there’s another option for an upgrade.

Any cheap video camera with a clean HDMI out: $?

Seriously, the autofocus of video cameras is just so much better than cameras that are trying to take photos, because video cameras only work with live feed information. They might be a little grainier but the performance is always surprisingly good.

Time to get serious:

Sony ZV-E10 or similar mirrorless: $799/$699 + lens/$450 second hand

Yeah, get a ZV-E10 if you can afford it, or a second-hand A6000 variant if you can’t.

You’re going to be drawn in by this camera advertising that it’s also a USB webcam. Don’t believe it.

I use a ZV-E10 for most of my videos, and for my home webcam. While it boasts that it can be used as a webcam via USB, don’t fall for it. It’s only got USB2, so it’s 720p only, and it has visible latency. You can set up macros to enable USB streaming in one button press, but you can’t do that while it’s connected to the computer, so you need to either unplug it or buy a switchable USB2 cable, like I did. It was still too much work, so I just put it into the capture card now.

That said, it still charges slightly slower than it works while it’s working, so you can’t just connect it via USB, or it will run out of battery and turn itself off. I recommend the dummy battery to avoid this. You also need to raise the onboard temperature warning to High, or it will turn itself off.

The stock 16-50mm kit lens it comes with is fine for most purposes, but if you are sure this will be nothing but a webcam, there are plenty of Sony APS-C lenses that can make your face pop. You’ll only save about $100 ($799->699) by not getting the kit lens bundle though, so you may as well get it if you can. It’s fine.

Anyway, this camera slaps, and it’s my personal daily.

That said, don’t rule out..

GoPro Hero 11: $436 + capture card
Selling point: Creates a unique look and feel

Unbeknownst to most, GoPros actually make really good supplementary video sources for streaming. The HDMI out is clean, and aside from the regular low-light performance issues that all action cameras suffer from, they produce a really interesting look that will differentiate you from the crowd.  The Hero11 no longer has a dedicated HDMI output though – it’s now USB-C->HDMI only.

Literal professional:

Canon XA60: $1799 + capture card
Unique features: Two XLR ports for shotgun or handheld mics direct into the camera

The XA60 is the professional run and gun camera, and as such has professional XLR audio options, allowing the mounting of shotgun mics or handhelds which is really great for interviews.  I’ve used previous models for LoL World Championships, Intel Extreme Masters, Pokemon Go streams and my own streaming – recommend for ease of use and workflow. The video quality isn’t the best, but it’s there for performance and to make sure that you get the shot you need, when you need it.

The functionality out of the box is unrivalled. They keep upgrading the sensor but the core functionality hasn’t changed so I’m just going to keep recommending it for live event streams.


Part 7: Capture cards

If you’re using a camera with HDMI out, or capturing from a console, you need a capture device to get that signal into the computer.  They generally use USB3, Thunderbolt or PCI-E, but not always.

Just getting started:

Xbox App / PS4 Remoteplay: Free

Obviously these are alternatives to capturing your console gameplay via a capture card, and neither of these help you with a camera, but they’re both excellent for trying out whether or not you want to console stream.  And they have the added bonus of running over the network so no additional cabling.  You can view some comparison videos on my youtube channel.

I want to do better:

Elgato Cam Link: $129
Selling point: Specifically designed for camera capture for streaming
Use case: I’m just trying to capture a camera

One of the cheaper cards on the market, the Cam Link is well-sized and is specifically designed to take your camera input.  The serious USB bandwidth it consumes makes it difficult to stack – only one per USB controller is supported.  This is a good option if you only need one cam, or you know you have multiple controllers on your machine.

Razer Ripsaw HD: $159.99
Unique features: Solves the console-streaming-audio-monitoring problem

The Razer Ripsaw HD is a huge improvement over the original. Featuring a USB-C connection on the device side, and a fantastic software-side upgrade that tells you what video signal you’re receiving (so you can select it in OBS/etc), it’s just overall more stable, quicker to set up, and has input/output options that make it super easy to stream with a PS4/Xbox and get all your audio monitoring needs taken care of. You can plug your mic and headphone straight into it! Super easy. A+, huge improvement, love mine.

Elgato HD-60X: $189

Only if you need 1080p60 HDR. Similar value proposition to the Ripsaw except more expensive, slightly worse, but does capture HDR.

Elgato 4K60 Pro: $249

Only if you need to capture 4K60. Is PCI-E, though, so you’ll need to put it in your computer. Be aware that past models had issues with multiple cards in the same machine. I haven’t tried it with this one, YMMV.

Time to get serious:

Magewell XI100DUSB-HDMI: $300
Selling point: Driverless and stable

I know there are already several external USB capture cards on this list, and this one is nearly double the price of the others, but if you need a high-quality device that works anywhere with no drivers and need it to be reliable and stay sync’d, this one’s your ticket.  Magewell makes really good stuff, and because of that it’s expensive.  There is no pass-through on this, it is designed for capture – making it ideal for cameras.

This has been $300 for the last five years and I don’t see that price changing any time soon.

Literal professional:

Magewell Pro Capture Quad $899
Unique features: 4x HDMI inputs in one device

The Magewell Pro Capture Quad (or X4) is a four-input 1080p60 HDMI capture card.  This means you can capture four simultaneous HDMI sources at as different inputs.  You might assign one port to a Spectator client, one to a host, one to an analyst desk and one to shoot the crowd.  You might put three cameras on the desk and swap between shots of individual people.  Who knows!  But you’ve got options.

This has been $899 for the last five years and I don’t see that price changing any time soon.

Honorable mention:

ViewHD HDMI Duplicator: $15

These HDMI duplicators do exactly what you think they do.  One port in, two ports out. I have an array of them behind my TV heading into a secondary HDMI switch so I can stream consoles without replugging anything.  Always leave one in your gig bag, just in case.  And the lights come on when they get a valid HDMI signal so if you think your patching is off, you can test!


Final Thoughts

Each of these options and pieces of hardware have pros and cons.  When it comes to broadcasting, there is never any ‘best option’, only the one that best suits a particular use case or budget.  There are many ways to send your message to the world, but if you want to get it right the first time, take what you’ve learned here and use it to guide where your money is spent, to make sure you get the best value.

All prices in USD and listed at Amazon.com

About The Author

Editor-in-Chief

Writer, Editor, Photographer, Video Guy, Audio Engineer, Broadcast Producer. Esports Veteran. I play Gnar, AMA.

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