Nowadays, just about everyone is sharing video content. From video recipes to comedy sketches to dance instruction, there isn’t a special moment that can’t be shared among the wider world. This is an area where gamers have a natural advantage – all you need is the right software and a good streaming PC, and you’re ready to go!
What does a Streaming PC need to do?
Streaming places slightly different demands on your system than gaming does. As well as rendering every frame, your machine will also need to be able to send those frames to the streaming software for broadcast. It’ll need to do so without impacting your gaming performance, and while retaining a pristine bit rate on the video stream.
Streaming PCs need to be good at multitasking. Even if the games you’re playing aren’t optimised with multiple cores in mind, you’ll still benefit from using more of them if you’re running multiple programs.
Things get more complicated when you’re capturing footage and superimposing that footage onto the gaming in real-time – which is exactly what’s required if you’re going to be putting your face in the corner of your stream and capturing those reactions.
If you want to take streaming on a computer especially seriously (and get paid to do it) you might elect to run two entirely different machines: one for running the games, the other for handling the streaming. This gives you performance advantages and saves you the trouble of alt-tabbing to monitor the stream. Processing doesn’t get much more parallel than two separate computers!
This might not be as costly a set-up as you might think, particularly if you’re building an entirely new machine, and need something to do with your old one. Obviously, if you’re gaming on a console, then a separate machine is almost a requirement (although consoles do come with a basic built-in streaming functionality).
By far the most popular live streaming service for gaming is the Amazon-owned Twitch, which boasts around 40 million monthly viewers. The service stipulates a minimum spec of an Intel i5-4670, 8GB of RAM, and Windows 7 or newer. Most gaming PCs should be able to meet this comfortably, but then it is only a minimum spec. Given the RAM cost of running your operating system, your games, and your streaming software of choice, 8GB of RAM may seem a little lightweight. 16GB is usually more than sufficient.
The importance of connection
When streaming on a computer for gaming, the quality and consistency of your internet connection is as important as the performance of your PC. To stream at 1080p60, Twitch recommends an upload rate of around 6,000 kilobits per second. If that isn’t an option, you’ll need to make compromises on quality.
Among the more significant implications of this is that there’s no point in investing in a powerful machine for streaming if you can’t actually broadcast all those extra frames fast enough. Similarly, with resolutions higher than 1080p not being practical, you might wish to play at a lower resolution while live-streaming gaming – which may mean opting for a different monitor.
More Cores make for Better Streams
If you’re running the standard x264 codec on a present higher than ‘faster’, Twitch recommends a processor with six cores or more. An Intel i9, like the one installed in this Elgato Pro, comes with eight physical cores and, thanks to hyperthreading, another eight virtual ones. Alternatively, you might consider the AMD-equipped Ultra 9, which comes with an amazing 16 physical cores.
Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that there’s no graphics card included in Twitch’s wish list, because, as standard, your streaming software isn’t drawing triangles or calculating light rays: it’s converting frames into a broadcastable format and firing them out onto the internet.
So, if the games you’re playing are mostly GPU-restricted, you’ll have more headroom for the streaming. If you’re playing something with lots of physics or AI, like Total War or Civilization, on the other hand, you may run into performance bottlenecks.
That said, Twitch does provide the option to allow a graphics card to handle the streaming duties via Nvidia NVENC. This takes advantage of a special processing unit built into Nvidia cards that are designed purely for video encoding.
This tends to offer superior performance all around, and it’ll relieve the strain on your CPU. You’ll find a suitable Nvidia card built into this Infinity X88. Where this isn’t an option, then you can adjust the x264 codec so that it provides a decent balance between responsiveness and quality.
Streaming PC Accessories
A few choice peripherals will help you get the most from your streaming experience. Let’s run through some of them:
In most cases, your webcam will only be capturing an image that eventually gets bumped down to 480p or less, as it’s compressed into the corner of your final output. But there’s more to quality video than resolution alone, and a decent webcam will be an investment that lasts for years.
A green screen will allow you to entirely remove the room behind you. These can be purchased relatively cheaply, and give your streams that touch of professionalism.
An amazing amount of engineering has gone into making foolproof microphones that do an amazing job of capturing the narrow range of frequencies that make up the human voice. They’re directional, which means that they avoid nasty echoes and the click-clack sound of your fingers mashing the R key as you reload. You’ll get fantastic results with one of the many gaming headsets available. Alternatively, if you want to push things further, Razer makes a dedicated microphone that connects via USB.
As well as being able to stream footage via Twitch, any PC set up in this way will also be able to record footage for later editing and broadcast. If you’re thinking of dabbling in video essays, reviews, and other pre-recorded content that demands pristine footage, you’ll need somewhere to store all of that uncompressed video. This applies especially if you’re recording at higher resolutions. This might mean investing in a generous storage drive or two, or even a separate NAS server.
Which Streaming System Should I Buy?
Many of the considerations we make when buying a gaming PC apply just as much to streaming ones. If you’re buying a system with a modern Nvidia card, you can get away with a slightly weaker CPU – but even in this instance, higher clock speeds and multiple cores can make an appreciable difference to performance. This Infinity X99 ticks every box, combining an overclocked Intel i9 with a top-of-the-range 2080Ti Nvidia graphics card.
You’re all set for streaming now, so whether you’re determined to be the next Ninja, Tfue or PewDiePie, you know what to do. Good luck!