Game streaming is becoming a larger part of our industry. It's another medium that helps people connect with one another, sharing fun games and interesting entertainment. We here at USgamer have been getting into Twitch streaming on a regular basis with our Tuesday and Thursday streams each week. We're just beginning to understand how Twitch works for us and how it'll help us connect to you. (And I need to build a new rig; streaming on mine is spotty at best.)
When it came time to start streaming, I expected to have to pay for a XSplit license, but a friend recommended Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), a free, open-source alternative. OBS has occasional issues, but it's served me well in streaming and recording gameplay on PC and consoles. In fact, it seems everyone is using OBS now; it's free and it does the job rather well.
So where does that leave XSplit? Last year marked the launch of XSplit V2 and a chance for the SplitMediaLabs and its application to cement its place in the streaming market. I recently spoke to XSplit public relations coordinator John Howe Marshall about XSplit, OBS, and where SplitMediaLabs sees its application heading in the future.
"XSplit V2 is a way for us to reinvigorate XSplit as a brand," answered Marshall when I asked about what SplitMediaLabs hopes to accomplish with XSplit V2. "For the first time ever since we started back in 2010, we're actually being present at some of the big U.S. events. Working actively with the community to establish better relations and get valid feedback. We launched XSplit V2 back in November of last year. We added a ton of features the community's been asking for, as well as optimizing everything to try and make it a little faster and a little less heavy."
XSplit V2 comes in two different flavors now: Gamecaster and Broadcaster. Gamecaster is the simplified client. Load up Gamecaster and your game of choice, and you're ready to record or stream. You have access to webcam options, capture card support, image overlays, and in-game annotations. Gamecaster does most of the heavy lifting, trying to streamline the process between deciding to stream and actually streaming for the first time.
Broadcaster is the workhorse application, offering a ton of features for professional broadcasters. It has more options for multimedia support, letting you kick in dynamic text, 3D effects, images, videos, music, or even Skype chat. It features more capture card support and more broadcast platform support. It's aimed at high-end streaming.
"We wanted to make something that will be very suitable for the very high-end, but also those who are just getting started," explained Marshall. "Right now if you go to XSplit.com, you can get access to both applications. If you're a high-end user or a low-end user, we've tried to help both of you."
The V2 refresh saw both versions getting new options and features to make streaming and recording easier. When I'm streaming on OBS, I've set everything up in a "scene". In addition to the gameplay, I can change the placement of my webcam, any text or image, or resize everything to my liking. Generally, I preview everything prior to streaming and just leave it alone for the stream. XSplit V2 adds a new option, letting you preview specific changes with the Scene Preview Editor. You can change a scene in a window your audience can't see, then move it live once it looks good.
"Right now there are a lot of the high-end streamers who are maybe shooting for production quality running into a problem where when they're cutting between shots, they're going to a scene that they don't want to show to the audience, because it's not setup. This new feature allows you to preview it before you throw it live," said Marshall.
The team at SplitMediaLabs also added the all-new Audio Monitor, so you can hear what your audience hears. This is a big problem on my personal stream; I run my channel on a laptop so I can check in on the quality of a stream, but I have to mute it so my audience won't hear the audio. Audio Monitor is a fix for that problem.
The biggest new feature is related to gameplay recording, something SplitMediaLabs didn't realize would become as big as it is now when they first launched. OBS is a rather good game capture recorder because it requires few PC resources and creates smaller video files than something like FRAPS.
"When we first started XSplit, we didn't really consider the recording market, but it's obviously huge," said Marshall. "There's a ton of guys we've been working with, just trying to figure out, 'Okay, what is it we can do to make it better?' Right now, many are using FRAPS, which is a great application, but there wasn't really anything out there that was made specifically for the broadcasters."
The Video Editor, which is currently in beta, lets you cut your recorded game videos together right inside XSplit V2. It may not be as robust as Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier, but it's a better option than some free video editing applications.
"While XSplit was made predominantly for streaming, we've seen a ton of YouTubers use our application for recording gameplay," Marshall added. "After they record it, they'll dump it in Windows Movie Maker and cut it together. We figured we can do something a little bit better than that, so we put together our own. We wanted to streamline the process for content creators, while at the same time add more new features for livestreamers."
These features move both versions of XSplit V2 beyond OBS, but the magic of OBS is it's good enough and it's free. XSplit on the other hand has three different licensing options making things more complex: Free, Personal, and Premium. Free is all of the basic streaming and editing tools, with 720p streaming and watermarks on resolutions above that. Personal ($39.95/year) has full HD and 60fps support, enhanced tools, better audio codec support, and no watermarks at all. Premium ($59.95/year) is the full suite for commercial broadcasters, with additional audio support, extra effect transitions, and script plugin support. Marshall admits that XSplit's free option was pretty "draconian" before to the V2 launch.
"We got rid of a ton of the restrictions," he told me. "With XSplit Free you can stream and record in HD 720p, you can add a webcam, you can do a ton of different things. You can even go above 720p, we just add a watermark in the corner. I'd say when someone's getting started, try XSplit Free or OBS. When you're looking to level up your broadcast, that when we'd say give XSplit a shot."
Yeah, he did mention OBS as an option for new streamers. SplitMediaLabs doesn't see OBS as a competitor. They believe OBS is a robust tool, but it's just the beginning for hobbyist streamers.
"We're trying not to view OBS as a competitor," Marshall explained. "Every industry and application needs to have an open-source equivalent. Look at graphic designers; some of the world's greatest graphic designers got started in GIMP and then they moved to Photoshop. For us, that's how we see it. OBS is a great way to get started."
"People who start streaming in high school, they can't afford to drop money on a license, which is fine. How do you know it's for you until you get started? We're seeing that they graduate to trying XSplit. They'll build up an audience and there's that extra pressure that comes with delivering a high production value. That's what we try to do with XSplit: provide premium quality applications."
With V2 available, the team at SplitMediaLabs has re-jiggered its organization to be more proactive and respond to feedback quicker. They want to provide the best-in-class broadcasting software when streamers are ready for it, while also gives neophytes a gateway to entry. This also means the team is spending more time at events like PAX East, where they can interface with fans and show off everything XSplit V2 can do. Will that help XSplit find parity with OBS when it comes to casual streaming? I'm not sure, but at the very least it has a compelling featureset that makes me want to try it out.