I've been streaming on and off for a four or five years now and I don't think I'll get tired of it anytime soon. It's always a lot of fun to interact with viewers or other streamers, hang out (or go competitive) with/against friends or go on an epic single-player journey, try out new games or replay old classics. At the same time, I love to try and improve the technical quality of my streams. For me personally, that usually means tinkering with the quality of the audio or visuals, higher resolutions, more frames per second, higher bitrates and what have you.
But my PC is no longer the monster it was when it was new, because well...game and hardware development moves with the time just like most things.
Someone once told me something to the effect that "If cars would have evolved at the same rate as computers, today's cars would cost 10 cents, go 500 miles per hour for years on a drop of water and fit in the palm of your hand". I don't know if that quote is correct, or where it comes from, so feel free to enlighten/correct me on that. The point is however, that computer technology moves incredibly fast. New hardware and technologies, new generations of chipset and higher clock speeds etc., means - generally speaking - more accessible and cheaper products for the consumer, as the market adapts. It also means that high-end or so-called "enthusiast" hardware, will be utilized by game developers to a higher degree, in order to bring their vision of their game closer to where they want it to be. This is nothing new, just a simple fact of technological progress in general.
When I started streaming, my PC could easily run so-called "triple-A" games, as well as encode and stream without breaking a sweat. But it has gotten harder and harder to push all those pixels live onto the internet, so a while ago I started looking into offloading some off the work onto a second PC. Many streamers and youtubers do this - and have done for quite some time - so I thought, why not try it out? Besides the fact that you actually need a second computer to do this, traditionally this has also involved buying some rather specialized and (relatively) expensive hardware. Not so anymore. Well, you do still need a second computer (duh!), but the process of sending video and audio from one computer to another can be done with software with a minimal footprint - and for free no less!
After some research and having assembled a second PC with parts I had lying around, I now have a multi-PC setup where I (yet again) don't really need to worry about bottle-necking neither CPU nor GPU. A couple of people have asked me how I can maintain stream quality, while I've actually upgraded very little hardware the last two years or so. So I thought I'd try to visualize my setup, as that is easier to do than trying to explain with only text.
Here's a simple schematic of my set-up the way it looked a couple of years ago. One PC, which had to do all the hard work; running the game, running all the software I wanted to, and last but not least, processing and encoding audio/video and deliver it to the nearest Twitch server.
The tough job here, is running the game itself (or whatever software you might be showing your audience) on the PC, while simultaneously doing the encoding (the highlights in red). Some games are more demanding on the CPU than GPU, some are the other way around. This can force you to compromise on either game or stream quality - or both. You can easily find yourself spending more time tweaking settings, than actually playing the game, streaming and interact with chat.
With a second PC, the scenario looks quite different. Here's another schematic, this of the second generation of my set-up - the way it looked a year or so ago.
Now the encoding is done by the second PC, leaving PC #1 (or the "main rig" or "gaming rig") to basically only make sure that the game itself runs well. A piece of software ("NDI Scan Converter", link in the bottom of this post) has been added to PC #1, which streams the video and audio to PC #2 (or the "streaming rig"). This piece of software has a very small CPU and GPU footprint on PC #1, so small that it is close to negligable. It does come with a few minor limitations though, such as max resolution being 1920x1080 (which should be more than enough, but anyway). Since I run 3440x1440 on my main rig, this presents a problem if I want to stream native resolution, but only then. The NDI software streams my screen and game audio (but could be setup to stream a webcam and additional audio as well if I needed to). I want to be able to separate audio and video tracks as much as possible, so I can remix afterwards if I want to. I also want my mic on the main rig, to use with Discord or in-game voice chat. In addition to that, I have some VST audio plugins (noise cancelling, gate, compressor etc.), so I still need to stream my mic to PC #2 separate from NDI, which I use OBS Studio for.
I have made some research into alternatives to NDI, and I'm currently running some tests with some different software which does the same job, but differently. When I'm done with testing, I'll go more into detail on the advantages and disadvantages of NDI Tools.
On PC #2 I run Streamlabs OBS for encoding, controlling scenes and overlays etc., Streamlabs chatbot, Discord for text chat if I need to. Streamlabs OBS uses more CPU than "regular" OBS, which makes it a not-so-great choice for a single-PC set-up. But for a dual set-up, it's great, simply because of its user-friendliness. The camera and the Elgato Stream Deck is also plugged into #2.
Mind you, a single-PC setup is still quite enough to stream the vast majority of games - always depending on your specs and the game/software you are streaming of course. (Although a second screen is the best quality-of-life investment a streamer can start with, after getting all the "need-to-have"-s such as a mic.)
I am getting close to needing a couple of upgrades though... But until then, I'll keep milking these rigs for all they're worth.
I hope you enjoyed the read! As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to get in touch, either in a comment below or the various SoMe channels. I hope you have a great rest of your day, wherever you are.
Note: Pictures/graphics/photographs in this post have been created/designed/etc. by me, unless stated otherwise.