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What is OBS Studio?

For those who stream to Twitch or other platforms, or those who have considered streaming, one software is mentioned over and over: OBS. Officially known as OBS Studio, this program is one of the most frequently used for streaming and recording from PC and Mac… but what is it, and how does it work?

Open Broadcasting Software (OBS) started in August 2012 as a small open source project created by Hugh “Jim” Bailey so he could stream Starcraft. The original version of OBS, later known as OBS Classic, is no longer supported as of 2016. The new version, OBS Multiplatform (later renamed to OBS Studio), entered development in 2013 and is still being updated regularly by its parent organization OBS Project. OBS Project receives financial support via Open Collective and Patreon to keep OBS Studio running and up to date.

If you’re interested in using OBS Studio, the first step is to download the program to your computer of choice! OBS Studio is free, and currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux directly from OBS Project. It is also available on Steam for Windows and Mac. Once it’s downloaded, open the program and configure your settings – dark vs. light theme, confirmation for stream start/end, and more. It can be confusing at first to set up, but the official OBS Studio Overview walks through the process of configuring the program for the first time, including setting up scenes (what displays on your recording or stream) with transitions between them. When I was setting up OBS Studio for the first time, it took a few tries for me to have everything configured the way I’d like – make sure to set aside time for a few test recordings or streams so you can get all your settings just right.

Within OBS Studio scenes, you can combine audio, gameplay, overlays, and more to make your video look however you’d like. Set up an audio source to capture audio from your microphone or game, a window or display capture to showcase something from your computer, text and image sources to add a personal touch to your scene, or a video capture source to include your face within your recording or stream. Additionally, you can use a device called a capture card to pull in footage from the game console of your choice using a video capture source – I personally use the Genki ShadowCast to capture gameplay from my Switch, but there are many good options available. Setting up scenes and pulling in various sources can be confusing at first, but OBS has a helpful guide.

Once you have scenes ready to go, OBS Studio has three things you can do with them: recording, streaming, and virtual camera. All three can be started from the Controls dock, which by default is in the lower right of OBS Studio. For recording, OBS Studio takes the various sources from whichever scenes you choose to use and saves a recording of that footage to your device. For streaming, OBS broadcasts that content to Twitch, YouTube, or other streaming platforms – you can set up where your stream is broadcast in Settings, and the Streaming section of the Knowledge Base provides great instructions for how to stream. Unlike recording or streaming, the virtual camera enables you to share your OBS Studio scenes with any application that can use a webcam – Zoom, Skype, Discord, and more. Want to hop on a Zoom call and show your friends your Animal Crossing: New Horizons house? Using OBS Studio and a capture card, you can share that gameplay in real time.

So, how does OBS Studio relate to LTN? The folks who run LTN’s Twitch streams use OBS Studio, and so do many members of the LTN community! LTN’s setup includes a few additional things within OBS Studio, but that’s one of the perks of this program – there are a variety of plugins that work alongside OBS Studio, including one for StreamElements that is great for streamers.

If you enjoyed this article and are looking for similar ones, check out my articles on how to use Twitch, Discord, and Steam, or any of the articles tagged as Resources or Education. If you are looking for more help using OBS Studio, check out the OBS Knowledge Base and the OBS Studio Quick Start Guide. You can also ask around in the LTN Discord server or the LTN Facebook community – both have many experienced nerds who would be happy to help!

Rachel Knight, known best in the LTN community as Lark, has flown her nerd flag high since childhood - ask her dad about the time she read the entire Star Trek Encyclopedia cover to cover. She currently serves as the Research and Instruction Librarian/Archivist at Wilberforce University.

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