How to live stream from your Linux desktop

Stream on YouTube

Each time you want to stream live through YouTube, you’ll need to set up the feed in YouTube itself before transferring control over to OBS Studio. Whether setting things up initially through the auto-configuration wizard or going via File>Settings>Stream, click Get Stream Key to begin.

You’ll be transferred to your browser: log into your YouTube account, then choose to start your live stream now – don’t worry, you won’t immediately start streaming. 

Next, click Go under Streaming software to transfer control of the live stream to OBS Studio, and if it’s your first time you’ll be prompted to fill in some details about your stream: title, category, privacy settings (choose from public or unlisted) and whether it’s child-friendly or not.

Once done, you’ll find yourself at the main YouTube streaming dashboard where you’ll be told YouTube Live is waiting for your software to start streaming. You’ll see ‘Default stream key (Variable)’ is set by default, which means it supports variable bitrates. Click Copy next to the Stream key field, switch back to OBS Studio, and paste it into the Stream Key box.

If using the wizard, the ‘Estimate bitrate...’ option can’t be checked, but when you click Next, OBS Studio will perform a series of tests regardless. If your original settings pass muster, click Apply Settings; otherwise click Back to try something less ambitious. 

Once you’ve applied your settings, you’ll find yourself at the main OBS Studio desktop, ready to set up your stream.

Scenes and sources

A quick explanation of how OBS Studio works: each individual stream represented as a Stream Collection and can be broken into component parts using scenes. Think of each scene as a template, each capable of supporting multiple sources at once. 

No fewer than 13 source types are supported, including video capture device (such as your webcam), audio input device (microphone), screen capture (entire desktop), window capture (specified application window), text, image, and image slideshow.

Scenes can consist of a single source for simplicity, allowing you to switch between say a webcam and a game screen, or you can overlay multiple sources together within a single scene – for example, text captions over a video feed, or a screenshare of a program window accompanied by your webcam in a picture-in-picture style window. 

The only limits are your hardware capabilities and internet bandwidth. It’s this flexibility that makes OBS Studio a superior alternative to using a streaming service’s online tools, which tend to be more limited.

If you want your stream to stand out for its professionalism and slickness, it pays to have a firm idea of what you plan to cover. Start with a simple storyboard, which you can render on paper: break down your stream into component parts.

Assign a scene to each part. Remember that Scenes are basically templates, so can be reused multiple times throughout your stream. When working out what elements to include in each Scene, why not sketch it out on paper: for example, a video feed certainly, but also titles, captions and maybe images too.

You should also consider writing a script – either a tightly written one you read straight from, or a looser series of pointers to keep your stream on track with a basic structure and a list of key points to include.

OBS Studio saves all your changes as you go along, meaning you can happily close it while you put these elements together. It’ll save your settings – including the streaming key – when you exit, so everything is where you left it when you next launch the program.