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The world of game livestreaming videogames is growing astonishingly quickly. So many people are already watching streams on Twitch.TV that they were acquired for a billion dollars last year and they continue to grow. Even YouTube is going to be getting in on the action more soon with their own YouTube Gaming service scheduled for summer 2015. With such a large audience, there are a growing number of people interested in trying to stream their own gaming sessions. The latest gaming consoles have some streaming functionality built in but the most popular streamers tend to use PC setups to get their streams going with high quality. While making a mediocre stream isn’t terribly tough, if you want to get serious about streaming and take yours to the next level there is a lot you can do to improve the quality level. 

Streaming setup basics

IMG_3338.JPGTo start with you’ll likely want a webcam. Many people enjoy watching the people playing as much as the game they are playing. Often streams feature a picture-in-picture type of layout with a webcam in the corner. While pretty much any webcam will do the trick, I’d recommend you go for a good quality HD webcam. Even if your picture is shrunk down in the corner, the picture quality of an HD webcam can make a huge difference, and give you more flexibility. Make sure you have good lighting too. A desk lamp can do the trick. You just don’t want to rely on your gaming screen’s light to illuminate your face. Some nice bright and even lighting will make a big difference. Many popular streamers have been setting up green screens behind them lately too. This can help them insert their footage in a more natural way, without being bound by a visible box that covers up the game. This can be as easy as just getting a sheet of fabric to drape behind you, as long as you make sure it is well lit, and you set up your software properly. In terms of software, one of the more popular options is OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). It is free, easy to set up, and has plenty of great features to get you streaming in no time.

Audio: the missing piece of the puzzle

While your webcam can make a difference it’s shrunk down and the main thing people will be looking at is your gameplay. What matters more than the webcam is definitely your microphone. With most video production, audio is one of the most important factors. You can always make up for less than ideal quality video content but audio is ever present and sets the tone for all your content. Poor quality audio can really ruin otherwise great content, while well produced audio can definitely turn mundane video content into a joy to consume. Honestly, with any video you might be making you never want to underestimate the importance audio can play.

IMG_3336.JPGConsidering how much people underestimate audio I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss microphones. Sure, your webcam has a microphone built in, right? Well you don’t want to use that. Your webcam’s mic might be okay for the odd Skype chat, you don’t want to use it for a live stream. The audio quality just isn’t good enough, particularly while mixed with game audio. You could use a headset which is a better option than your webcam’s mic but even then, your audio quality might be okay for chat but in a live stream it won’t quite have that clean, professional quality sound you want. It can also be a challenge if you want to stream from a connected console and use your console’s headset to listen to game audio. The best and most dynamic solution is a standalone desktop microphone. These are purpose built for this purpose and give you lots of flexibility, while delivering amazing audio quality. Once you hear the difference you won’t want to go back. 

Start out with the Blue Snowball

In the world of desktop mics you have multiple options. One of the most popular choices I see on streams is the Blue Snowball mic. This USB mic has a nice, clean good look that manages to be compact while delivering really nice sound. It’s good for a variety of recording needs like capturing a musical performance for example. The dual-capsule design has a three-pattern switch to let you toggle between cardioid, cardioid with -10db pad and omni sound capture modes. When you’re capturing your vocals for streaming, podcasting, or whatever, set it to cardioid mode which will help it focus on your voice, and eliminate background noise. This will give you a very crisp sound with precise high and low tones that your webcam and headset microphones just can’t compare to. On top of the high quality, this is a stylish mic. You can get Blue Snowball mics in various colours too to suit your style. If you’re just starting out with streaming this is definitely the mic I would recommend. 

Elevate to premium quality with the Blue Yeti USB microphone

For those more advances users there are still even better options to choose from to take that audio to the next level. Take a look at this Blue Yeti Blackout Edition microphone. To start with, the good looks are undeniable. It has a gorgeous design that is simultaneously classic and modern with a beautiful all-black matte finish. It’s designed specifically with game streamers in mind.  With three modes (stereo, cardioid, omnidirectional, and bidirectional) it is well suited for a wide variety of recording applications but as mentioned before, you’ll want to set it to cardioid mode for recording vocals for a stream or podcast since this mode focuses on recording sounds directly in front of the microphone for a full-bodied sound. That mode also helps to eliminate background noise as it seems to focus well on your voice but reduce the interference from keyboard clicks, chair creeks, and so on. This mic is going to give you sound comparable to all the best professional streamers and make a huge difference in your presentation. It features studio controls for the volume for the 3.5mm no-latency headphone jack for easy audio monitoring and adjustment. The weighted stand is easily adjustable and overall setting this microphone up for your broadcast is just as easy as the others. If you’re really looking for the ultimate in quality and precise control then this is the microphone for you. 

IMG_3337.JPGWhen people pick out their gear for streaming they often focus on video which makes some sense – it’s the aspect you can see, and it’s what you imagine when you think of a stream. After you flip through a few streams you’ll find that a lot of them look the same, however. A nice webcam and lighting can make a difference but what really helps the pros stand out and rise above the pack is audio quality. High end audio without hiss, background noise, and clear full-bodied voices makes all the difference in the world.  If you think your webcam or headset’s microphone is “good enough” then consider when you still had an SD television and thought it was “good enough.” When you made the move to an HD screen, it was a whole new world and everything seemed so much better. It’s hard to go back to SD TV now. Similarly once you experience the audio quality of high-end microphones you won’t want to go back to those other microphones.

Do yourself a favor and check out some of these standalone desktop microphones—they’re built to do one thing and so they do that thing extremely well. If you have any aspirations of creating a popular stream or even being one of the most popular, a proper microphone is a key factor to break away from the pack and distinguish your stream as quality in a sea of good enough. Even PewDiePie, one of the internets top game video creators, uses one of these Blue desktop microphones when he creates his content, which is probably the best endorsement imaginable.