AV1 Streaming Comes To OBS For Higher-Quality Output On GeForce, Arc And Radeon

hero av1 video codec logo
By now, loyal HotHardware readers are surely familiar with the AV1 codec. After all, hardware companies like Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA have all done their share to promote use of the codec, which is supported by the latest graphics processors from all three companies. The problem was that the biggest beneficiaries of a more efficient video codec couldn't make use of it.

As a recap, AV1 is a newer video codec than the commonly-used AVC, also known as H.264. It is much more computationally-intensive both to playback and create, but given that video encoding and decoding are typically done using fixed-function hardware accelerators, that's less important than the fact that it can offer drastically improved video quality at the same bitrate when compared to H.264.

intel av1 comparison to h264
Image: Intel (click to enlarge)

Naturally, then, livestreamers were very excited about the potential of the AV1 codec, but there were two major problems with using AV1 video for live feeds. The first was that there were no services which could accept AV1 video for live streams. You've been able to upload AV1 to YouTube for at least five years, but it wasn't possible to use it for live streaming until very recently.

The other problem was that there was no software capable of sending AV1 video to YouTube to begin with. That final issue has now been resolved with the release of OBS Studio 29.1. OBS is of course the Open Broadcaster Software, the FOSS application that almost all live-streamers use to do their thing. OBS is a powerful piece of kit with a great many features, and the latest release adds support for the brand-new Enhanced RTMP.

vso github screenshot
A screenshot from the VSO's Github page for Enhanced RTMP.

RTMP is the Real-Time Messaging Protocol, an old video-streaming protocol originally created by Adobe and intended for use with Flash Video. The standard is more than 20 years old, so it was long past time for an update. The new version, known simply as "Enhanced RTMP," was created by a non-profit group called Veovera Software Organization, or VSO, and it has the specific goal of adding new audio and video codec support to RTMP.

So with a compatible video card—that's a GPU based on NVIDIA's Ada Lovelace, AMD's RDNA 3, or Intel's Arc Alchemist—and the latest version of OBS, you can start livestreaming to YouTube using the new AV1 codec. But why would you want to?

nvidia nvenc av1 vs h264 graph
NVIDIA says AV1 is up to 50% more efficient at the same visual quality.

Well, it's because AV1 is drastically more efficient than H.264, and it's also better at handling fast motion. That means that at any given bitrate, your video stream will be clearer and will break up less when you swing the mouse around for those quickshots. You don't have to take our word for it, though; check out this video from NVIDIA that demonstrates the difference succinctly:

There is one final caveat to live-streaming using AV1 on YouTube, and that's that people who watch your livestream won't be getting the full-quality AV1 stream; instead, they'll get a video feed transcoded to either AVC or VP9. However, YouTube itself will, and the resulting transcoded video stream will be higher-quality as a result.

Unfortunately, YouTube is the only major video streaming platform that currently has support for Enhanced RTMP, which means that for now, if you want to take advantage of higher-quality AV1 livestreaming, you'll have to do it on YouTube. Sorry, Twitch fans.
Tags:  Nvidia, AMD, Intel, GPUs, obs, av1