OBS and Xsplit are two popular software suites for recording and streaming your gameplay videos. For first-time recorders and streamers, OBS’ option-laden interface can seem a bit too much. XSplit, on the other hand, is more refined, but is it worth the money?
Today, we’ll be assessing two of the biggest recording software suites: OBS and Xsplit. We’ll be looking at ease of use in terms of setup and configuration. We’ll also look at performance metrics by running these in two CPU-intensive games, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, and Borderlands 3.
1. OBS vs XSplit – Initial Setup
The installation process is a lot easier with OBS. We’re putting this down to the fact that OBS is an open-source suite. It doesn’t have a vested interested in getting you to sign up for its ecosystem. You simply download the binary, run setup and you’re good to go.
XSplit, on the other hand, makes things slightly more complicated. You need to have an XSplit account in order to use it. You can opt to login with one of your other social media accounts instead, though. I opted to login with my Facebook. This gives XSplit basic access to your information. It’s not much but it is a tradeoff relative to OBS. XSplit is also not ashamed to show you a few nag screens to get you to upgrade to their premium offering. It’s important to note that the free version limits you in some important ways. You’re limited to a 720p recording at 30 FPS. If you want native resolution streaming, 60 FPS, or even a standard 1080p stream, you’ll have to pay extra for an XSplit subscription.
2. OBS vs XSplit – Initial configuration
Once the initial setup is done, the configuration is considerably easier with XSplit. Setting up recording is a simple, three-step process. You run the game you want to record while XSplit is running. You then press control and tab together, bringing up the XSplit overlay. You then click on record. It’s that simple. The recorded video is available in the XSplit folder, and you can edit it with the tools of your choice.
OBS configuration process is a bit more difficult. There’s an initial configuration wizard will set default settings for resolution, bitrate, and framerate. But it’s not just plugged and play after that. OBS was built with a variety of capture options in mind.
If you just want to record a fullscreen game, you’ll have to select that option from a poorly-labeled dropdown. There is no on-screen display, so you have no way of knowing whether or not the recording’s going on unless you switch out of the game tab. Nevertheless, OBS doesn’t limit you in terms of resolution, bitrate, or framerate: these are critical factors when deciding between it and XSplit.
3. OBS vs XSplit – Performance Testing
Most comparisons tend to look at video quality and features, while completely skipping over the performance impact. I’d ask this question then: what’s the point of recording gameplay if your recording software has such a performance hit that it impacts the play experience?
In order to assess how XSplit and OBS performed, we benchmarked two AAA PC games. These are Assassin’s Creed: Origins and Borderlands 3. Why these two? There are a couple of reasons. Both are relatively CPU-intensive titles that scale across multiple cores. Older games that aren’t optimized for multithreading suffer a much bigger hit to performance when a recording program is running.
These multithreaded titles take advantage of the Ryzen 1600’s 12 threads. They give a better idea of how performance is in games today, and the years to come. Because they hit the CPU hard, though, it’s easier to assess the impact of recording software with these titles. Running OBS with a GPU-bound title like Tomb Raider might not even result in a noticeable performance drop.
Here, though, the performance impact is tangible. The second reason is that both these titles feature an in-game benchmark. The benchmark gives a good picture of in-game framerates and, crucially, is repeatable. We ran both games at 1440p, with V-Sync disabled.
Since XSplit limits free users to a 720p/30 capture, we ran both OBS and XSplit with that capture setting enabled, even though OBS can go much higher. We ran each benchmark sequence with: OBS enabled, XSplit enabled, and without recording software running. Here’s what we found:
Assassin’s Creed Origins Performance
Vanilla performance in the game is reasonable, with a framerate average of 67 FPS. There are dips and inconsistency in CPU-intense areas of the benchmark, such as the flyby of the city center. However, overall framerates were fairly consistent without recording enabled.
Enabling OBS saw a slight but noticeable 4.5 percent drop in framerates. We went from 67 FPS to 64. We also noticed a slightly greater amount of stuttering and frametime fluctuation. All in all, though, the experience wasn’t a hindrance to gameplay and a 60 FPS cap would offer consistent framerates, even with OBS running.
XSplit presented a slightly different picture. Overall framerates were significantly lower at 62 FPS, representing a 7.5 percent reduction overall. Frame consistency was much lower than with OBS. This manifested in a significant amount of stuttering.
Borderlands 3 Performance
Borderlands 3 received criticism at launch for being poorly optimized. This actually makes it a good use case for CPU benchmarking. Without any recording software running, we saw a 66 FPS average.
With OBS enabled, there was a 4.5 percent drop to 63 FPS. While the game was still playable, the framerate spent more time than before under 60 FPS, with minimums also dropping.
Running Borderlands 3 with XSplit recording was a worse experience. We’re looking at a 58 FPS average. With the game struggling to hit 60 FPS, stutter and screen tear were noticeable. Minimums were hit hard, in CPU-intensive scenarios like the battle scene towards the end of the run. We wouldn’t recommend playing Borderlands 3 with XSplit running.
4. OBS vs XSplit – Features
XSplit offers a more ‘pro’ experience right out of the box. For instance, in the free version, it can show a webcam, chat, basic notifications, etc but the recording is limited to a 720p at 30 FPS. In the paid version, you get live annotations, supports the major encoders & the usual streaming platforms.
OBS can also do pretty much everything that XSplit does, but it requires extra plugins & extensions, which makes the software heavier and chunky.
In short, you get what you paid for, Xsplit is limited in the free version and OBS definitely have an upper hand, but if you are willing to pay for more features, XSplit takes the cake there.
Both OBS and XSplit are feature-rich streaming and recording solutions. A standard comparison would evaluate them on these merits and perhaps give OBS a leg up because it’s free and doesn’t paywall key functions. This’d miss a crucial point, though: Both these solutions incur a performance penalty, but XSplit’s is much higher. In CPU intensive games like Borderlands 3, XSplit can make it unviable to play at all.
Keep in mind that our testing was done at 1440p (where CPU bottlenecking is less prominent), and with recording done at 720p/30 (much less intensive than a 1080p/60 capture). Despite these ameliorating factors, XSplit still handed in an unplayable 58 FPS average in Borderlands 3. It also handed a lower average in Assassin’s Creed: Origins.
While OBS might be a bit harder to configure, recording performance is great. Oh, and it’s free too. We’d easily recommend it over XSplit for these reasons. That said, it’s all about creating good gameplay videos and choosing any software that works well for you. In fact, even XSplit is sponsoring the development of OBS.