We explain how to put it all online — your games, your media, your desktop or even your life.
We’ve relied on end-to-end streaming for longer than we’ve relied on computers. Where would society be without the influence of radio or cable TV? Would we be quite the same if Major General George O Squier hadn’t developed Muzak’s earliest tech, a 1930s system of sending inoffensive music along electrical wires directly to elevators and stores? Well, probably. We might even be slightly more sane. But that’s not the point: Streaming has long been hugely important, and the internet has completely democratised it.
You’re now free to send whatever you want wherever you want. You can push data, making it available to anyone who wants it, or pull streams, just for you, from a private source. You can work with audio, video, live cameras, or any other data that suits. You can use streaming for entertainment, for profit, or for practical benefits. And you can do it all, for the most part, for free. All you need is a quality broadband connection on either end of the streaming path. You might not even need that, if your server hardware is robust enough to transcode media on the fly, converting it to a lower resolution that reduces bandwidth demands.
In this feature, we take you through as many different content streaming situations as possible, from games to sounds, and beyond. It’s all very situational and personal. Everything you might want to stream has slightly different methodology, unique software and technical considerations to take into account. Many of the tools we talk about can be used for more than one thing, and the specific one you use is, at the end of the day, up to you.
We talk public and private streaming, and give a few suggestions as to how to take advantage of the former to increase your online profile. While it’s going to take a lot of work and a special kind of charisma to top Twitch’s 200,000-viewer record for a single streamer — and, indeed, its all-time stream record of over 1,000,000 for a CS:GO tournament match — there’s nothing stopping you from trying.
ecosystem. You could, with a bit of fiddling with SSH and VPN tunneling, make a Kodi library available online, or use VLC ( videolan.org) to stream any kind of media locally. Alternatively, PlexBMC ( bit.ly/2gCxAvq) can funnel the contents of a Plex media server into a Kodi client. Subsonic ( subsonic.org) was designed solely for audio streaming, but also includes rudimentary video streaming capabilities, and works in a very similar way to Plex. And, hey, if you’re happy to forget about controlling precisely what you can watch, you could always eliminate the worry of compiling a media library, and sign up for a dedicated streaming service such as Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al.
Now for something more practical: remote controlling your PC. There are several easy options for taking your desktop on the road, many of which have been around for a long time. VNC, for instance, is a well-seasoned opensource remote desktop client, highly configurable, with several different (but compatible) spins. Try TightVNC ( tightvnc.com) or RealVNC ( realvnc. com) if you’re leaning in this direction; run the server app on the machine you want to access, and set a strong password — VNC’s ports are, given that they offer up full access to your PC, often targeted by rogues.
Windows has a desktop streaming tool included in the form of Microsoft Remote Desktop, which can pick out individual apps from your desktop and stream them seamlessly without the rest of it, and has client apps for phones and other operating systems. It’s well featured and rather good, but it’s not our top pick. We’re leaning toward something that, like Plex, does all the hard work for you: TeamViewer ( teamviewer.com). It may be the most attractive among these tools in terms of the ease of its interface, and it’s generally used for idiot-proof remote support purposes, but it’s entirely feasible to set it up for easy access to your own hardware.
When you’ve downloaded and run its installer, select ‘Unattended’. Now, when you first run TeamViewer, you’re given a wizard to run through; you don’t need to sign up for an account, you can use it anonymously if you choose. Note down the ID number you’re given at the end of the process, and you can use it in conjunction with the password you set earlier to gain access to your desktop at any time, by using a TeamViewer app or through the website. The app also shows another password; it changes every boot, and you can give this to folks you want to be able to access your machine without knowing your login details.
One thing to note: Streaming your
desktop is generally more demanding, and slower, than streaming AV media, because your videos and audio have been encoded to reduce size and required bandwidth. TeamViewer and its ilk usually do some work to negate this, such as blanking your desktop background, dropping the colour depth, and compressing the stream on the fly, but this increases sluggishness. If you’re trying to throw the raw contents of a 4K desktop down your internet connection, don’t expect to comfortably run graphically demanding applications, or for the experience to be the same as being sat at your desk.
If you want pinpoint control over the minutiae of your desktop streaming, there’s another option: VLC media player. Set up a server by opening your desktop as a capture device and switch from Play mode to Stream mode. Run through the wizard that appears, select the destination IP address of your stream and use port 1234. You can now select the exact compression method you want to package your stream in, from encapsulation to video and audio codecs, by clicking the tool icon. It’s a one-way street, so you can’t take control with VLC itself, but it’s an option.
Games are the gaudy poster child of live streaming, and the topic most associated with the phrase. Given its proliferation, there are plenty of technologies and services associated with transporting gameplay from one place to another. If you’re keeping it to yourself, look in the direction of Steam’s In-Home Streaming service which, with the minimum of effort, translates titles running on a powerful gaming PC into an h.264 stream, and fires them off to a client machine. As long as it’s running Steam, this client can be equipped with almost any hardware — bringing beautiful games to the wimpiest laptop — though there are caveats to consider on the server end.
You need a machine powerful enough to render your game and quickly compress a video stream at the same time. Your server resolution is the maximum that is replicated on your client, and that server needs to be actively running the game, so it can’t be used for anything else while you’re streaming. There’s a small amount of lag, naturally, and while it’s technically possible to use VPN trickery to run In-Home Streaming out-of-home, the additional delay makes your games all but unplayable. The same things are generally true for other stream playing experiences, such as Nvidia’s Gamestream, which puts your GeForceaccelerated games on to Nvidia Shield devices, and third-party game streamers, such as Parsec and Remotr.
“Games are the gaudy poster child of live streaming, and the topic most associated with the phrase.”
Game streaming comes into its own with one-to-many solutions, such as Twitch and YouTube Live, which take a stream from a client app — OBS is complex but free, XSplit comfortable but subscription-based, and Gameshow the new paid-for pretender — and send it online for anyone to enjoy. Microsoft is, as Microsoft does, sticking its own fingers in the pie, with Mixer (formerly Beam), which has the advantage of being built into Windows 10 from the Creator’s Update onward, and available from the Game bar, but the disadvantage of being, frankly, not very good. It’ll grow,and it’ll get better, but stick with the big boys for now.
A few technical considerations: While it’s possible to stream to the internet from the PC you’re playing on, that’s often not the best idea. You’re dealing with, potentially, far greater system overheads than in-home streaming, because you probably also want to process a video stream of your webcam and some sort of flashy overlay. Bigger streamers tend to split the load, with one machine managing the gameplay portion, and another equipped with an HDMI capture device and running the stream end, putting viewer interaction front and centre.
While Twitch has long been the home of game streaming, it’s recently taken a turn toward the personal, in the form of Twitch IRL channels. These move the focus away from games and on to the streamer, allowing for personal, often inane, vlog-style live streaming. Twitch’s terms of service require that these include viewer interaction, follow strict guidelines, and don’t deviate too far from the streamer as the focus; the service also runs a talk show category, which caters for more subject-focused content.
YouTube Live, accessible from its Creator Studio, is more flexible in terms of subject matter — you’re free to stream whatever you like, as long as you don’t offend any copyright holders — and includes lots of useful tools. Sign up with your Google account, and you are given a livestreaming permalink that
“Twitch has a Creative category, which permits art, coding, music, and, occasionally, classic Bob Ross and Mr Rogers shows.”
you can share with potential viewers, and (with the help of OBS or similar) you’ll soon be broadcasting. There’s an included DVR feature, which lets viewers who missed the beginning of your broadcast jump back up to four hours. You can also stream directly from your phone, as long as you have an adequate mobile connection and data plan.
There’s a number of options for those who desire a more intimate audience. Facebook Live is growing in popularity, and getting up and running is as simple as penning a status, then hitting the live video option. You can, as with any Facebook post, set your privacy to public, and this is certainly a good option if you’re using the broadcast functionality to push your brand, but bear in mind that you’ll need to publicise public events if you want them to reach beyond your timeline. Justin. tv-style livecasting networks still exist, too; Ustream has been swallowed up by IBM, and now aims toward the corporate sector, but YouNow is increasingly popular, though it can lean toward Chatroulette and Omegle territory at times, and that’s not somewhere any civilised person wants to be. If you want to share a hobby rather than your personality, there are other niche streaming services. Twitch has a Creative category, which permits art, coding, music and, occasionally, classic Bob Ross and Mr Rogers shows, although you wouldn’t get away with broadcasting these yourself unless you’re the rights holder. Picarto.tv caters specifically to artists, and has a long history and large community behind it. We should also mention Mixlr, which is perfect for audio streamers; you can use it to set up a virtual radio station or create a live podcast recorded for later. It’s not free — a full subscription with a permanent livestream URL will run you a cool US$499 per year — but you can test it out with a trial. Happy streaming!
YouNow’s leaderboards take streaming narcissism to new heights.
Plex does all the hard work of compiling covers and media information for you.
Subsonic’s coverfocused interface looks a lot like iTunes—but it’s slightly less irritating.
Streaming your desktop with TeamViewer is easy—you just need two numbers.
VLC gives you plenty of options for streaming formats, so switch it up if one isn’t working.
You need a package such as Telestream’s GameShow to ensure your broadcasts look sharp.
Pick up art tips or showcase your talents for drawing scantilyclad anime girls on Picarto.
Microsoft’s Mixer project is a relative newcomer, but you need no additional software.