OBS: What It Is, How It Works, and Why You Need It

New to OBS? Let’s get started!
Ash Ash (311)
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If you’re looking for high-quality streaming software, you may have heard of Open Broadcaster Software (OBS). It’s a free application whose name gets tossed around the streaming community—but what does it do exactly and is it worth it?

What is OBS?

OBS is a free, open-source streaming application designed for both casual and professional users. It can be used to record video and live stream using multiple video sources with custom effects.

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OBS install

OBS is available on almost every major platform. You can run it on Windows, Mac and Linux-based machines. There are multiple packages available depending on the OS you use or the source you prefer to download from.

To download the OBS installer, visit the download page on the official OBS Project website. Since this is an open-source application, you may want to dig into the source code. You can check it out on GitHub.

When the package has been downloaded, run the installer and follow the prompts to complete the install.

OBS provides professional quality tools to capture and customize both video and audio. Here are some key (but not all) features that you can take advantage of with OBS:

  • Multi-video Sourcing - Use videos from multiple sources at the same time in any arrangement.
  • Custom Transitions - Create and use your own custom transitions for professional, real-time editing quality.
  • Image and Text Overlay - Upload images or text to overlay in the main video feed.
  • Window Capturing - Capture video directly from a specific application window.
  • Audio Mixing - Edit audio and apply custom filters or effects to audio channels.
  • Custom Layout - Adjust the layout of your videos anyway you see fit. You can even use custom mask filters to change the shape of the video—for example, you may prefer to have a circle shape rather than the standard rectangle.
  • Add-Ons - Because OBS has such a huge community, you can find a wide selection of add-ons to improve your experience. One of my favorites is VirtualCam, it formats your OBS feed so the computer you’re using will recognize it as a webcam device.
OBS

After you install OBS, make sure any hardware you want to use is connected and launch the application. You will be welcomed to a default screen that will usually open with settings and sources left where they were last time the application was launched.

How to add a video source

By default, the Sources window is located at the bottom of the OBS window in the center. Click on the + plus sign-shaped icon to add a new video source. You can choose to add a camera feed, image, capture a window and more. Look through the list of options and choose the video feed you want to add.

How to remove a video source

Sources can be removed by selecting the - minus sign-shaped icon.

How to edit a video

The gear-shaped icon will open settings for whichever source is selected at the time. You can edit the name and a few other settings depending on the type of source you're modifying.

How to adjust video source layers

The up and down arrows can be used to move layers up and down. Sources highest on the list will be placed on top.

How to add filters to a source

To add a custom filter, right-click the source you want to modify and go to filters. Use the + plus-sign and - minus-sign icons to add and remove filters.

Once you’ve configured OBS how you’d like, you can use it to record and stream content. OBS is useful in a huge range of environments from live-streaming and video conferences to podcasts and video recording. Check out some of the add ons like VirtualCam to extend your OBS support to whatever application you want to stream with.

OBS is a full-fledged streaming platform with plenty of tools and features for a totally custom video feed. The biggest caveat, as with most open-source applications, is the steep learning curve compared to commercial tools. You will have to work a bit more to find all of the effects you want to apply.

If you want plenty of features without the hassle and don’t mind spending money, OBS probably isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a free application that can do everything you need with a little bit of work, you should definitely check out OBS. There are tons of tutorials and help found within the OBS community. If you aren’t sure if OBS can do what you want, there’s probably someone online who’s done it before.

In my experience, OBS has been an excellent tool with plenty of flexibility and compatibility. I recommend everyone give it a try at least once before spending money when you don’t have to.