Nvidia Nvenc Vs X264 Obs: Who Will Win Encoding Battle

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Modern live streaming that has become immensely popular nowadays was made possible by the introduction of video encoding, especially Nvidia Nvenc and x264.

To sum it up, video encoding is the process of compressing RAW video files to digital ones, thus saving a lot of disk space. So, for example, when your capture card for OBS picks up the signal from your console while you are streaming, the video encoder processes these signals and creates digital videos.

Moreover, the compression of files is not the only advantage. Video encoders have made it possible to retain the initial image quality that is being processed.

In other words, the video quality of your games does not drop once it is turned into game footage for streaming. Therefore, video encoders are responsible for high stream quality.

In this article, we will compare two video encoders, the Nvidia encoder, and the X264. Hopefully, you will have a better understanding of how these two encoders work and of their differences. Hence, you will be able to choose the one which is more suitable for your streaming setup.

Two points shall be discussed:

  • Nvidia Nvenc encoder
  • X264 encoder

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    Nvidia Nvenc Vs X264 Obs: Who Will Win Encoding Battle

    Reviews

    Nvidia Nvenc Encoder

    The Nvenc encoder used to be considered an encoder that could not match the video quality of the X264. However, with the introduction of RTX video cards, Nvenc’s quality of encoding has improved greatly.

    Nvidia Nvenc encoder GPU
    Nvidia GPU

    GPU Encoding

    The main advantage of Nvidia Nvenc encoder is that for the process of encoding the GPU is used. This means that your CPU is not engaged, and that the Nvidia GPU does everything.

    For a slower CPU, this is extremely beneficial since the CPU usage is completely focused on the other processes that are active while you are playing games. This ensures a higher quality of both your game performance and your stream performance.

    In the past, the old Nvenc encoder did not have the ability to encode a video at 60 frames per second of a 1080p video.

    However, with the introduction of the modern Nvidia graphics card, GPU usage was regulated, and Nvidia has been able to improve the quality of its encoder.

    The new Nvenc, when used with RTX cards, can now render high-quality frames at a high frame rate. Moreover, we can safely say that the Nvidia Nvenc encoder is now at the very top when compared to other encoders.

    Nvenc Encoder Copes Better With The Rapid Changes Of Images

    If you play games that involve fast gameplay and have many details in each image, Nvidia Nvenc performs better with such games.

    Nvidia Nvenc encoder is much better at noticing these small graphic details, and thus, it can render much sharper video quality than the X264.

    With the X264, there could be some skipped frames, and overall, the image that it renders is more blurry in these cases where a game has many small elements which change quickly.

    The Nvenc is speedier coded, and that can especially be seen, for example, in car racing games where there are a lot of thin lines that constantly pass and shift on the screen.

    nvidia-render-card
    Nvidia rendering

    Nvidia Nvenc Renders A Much Clearer Text

    Many games have a lot of in-game texts throughout the gameplay that appear in the games’ environment, during characters’ conversations, cutscenes, etc. Now here, the difference is quite conspicuous.

    The Nvenc with the Nvidia card has the ability to precisely encode any text that is present in the background. Such max quality makes the text completely legible.

    With the X264, there are many dropped frames, and texts will often appear completely illegible, especially those that are present in the background.

    This is not acceptable if you desire to achieve a professional stream quality. Such blurry details will be highly detrimental to the overall representation of your stream, and here the Nvidia Nvenc is clearly better than the X264.

    X264 Encoder

    The X264 encoder has been used for a long time, and it is renowned for its consistent performance. However, with the development of the gaming industry and streaming, other settings and features have become important for video encoding.

    Nevertheless, it is considered to be one of the best OBS encoders. Still, we have seen that encoders such as the Nvenc perform better in some areas.

    CPU Encoding

    While the Nvenc encoder uses GPU, the X264 uses CPU for encoding. This has been considered the most reliable way for encoding and transferring the exact frame data. What makes it even better is the fact that it works very well with OBS settings, OBS studio being the most popular streaming software.

    However, this could also at the same time be a big problem. The CPU can simply become too encumbered by all the processes that require its usage.

    When streaming, besides the game you are playing, you have to run OBS and the encoder. Therefore, your CPU will have to process all these actions at the same time, and that can significantly lower the max quality of your stream, especially if you are playing a game with high motion scenes.

    Nonetheless, if you have a PC with a powerful CPU, the X264 can reach the same performance as the Nvidia Nvenc certainly. But we have to say that the GPU encoding overall is much more suitable for gameplay streaming.

    The X264 Differentiates Better Between Bright And Dark Colors

    When it comes to different hues of the environment in your game, it seems that the X264 has the ability to detect a much wider range of different color shades.

    Color shades
    Color shades

    This can be seen especially if different shades of a single color are used in a single image. The X264 has the ability to make much clearer distinctions between these hues, and that can potentially have an impact on the quality of your stream.

    The CPU rendering overall can be much more precise than the GPU. However, such nuances often do not affect the quality of the stream that much, and often the GPU encoding that is done at the lower bitrates is a much better choice for a stream.

    Conclusion

    Of course, the main question is whether you should go for the Nvidia Nvenc or the X264 if you intend to stream, namely, which encoder wins in the CPU versus GPU encoding battle?

    Overall, for streaming your gameplay, we believe that the Nvenc is better at the moment. Modern games nowadays require high usage of CPU, and you would have to possess quite a powerful machine in order to achieve that performance hit.

    However, bear in mind, that RTX cards are quite expensive, and getting an RTX just for the sake of the Nvenc is not worth doing. Still, if you already possess the RTX card, then Nvenc is the best choice for you.

    Bear in mind that getting a CPU with multiple cores costs less than the RTX card. Furthermore, games are slowly getting more and more adjusted to such CPUs. So, in the future, the CPU encoding may become better.

    Nonetheless, presently the GPU encoding or the Nvenc encoder is a much better choice for streaming games.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Which encoder is better for live streaming, the Nvenc or the X264?

    Currently, when all things are considered, the Nvenc has better overall performances than the X264 since it uses GPU encoding rather than CPU.
    The CPU encoders can overburden your CPU too much, especially when you take into consideration that the CPU already has to process the video game that you are playing and the streaming software that you are using.
    This can have a negative impact on your stream. Therefore, GPU encoding generally enables your stream to run much more smoothly.

    Should I buy an RTX card in order to use Nvenc, I have an AMD Ryzen processor?

    AMD Ryzen processors are powerful processors that include multiple cores. We would advise you to first stream the X264 encoder and see how it performs.
    With such powerful processors, the CPU encoding should not have any great impact on the overall quality of your stream.
    The RTX cards are quite pricey, and usually, it is not worth it at all just to buy them for the sake of suing the Nvenc encoder.

    What encoder performs better, the Nvenc or the x264 at a bitrate of 6Mpbs, which is the maximum that Twitch supports?

    With the standard settings of 6Mpbs and the keyframe interval of 2 which all the modern streams on Twitch use, the Nvenc has overall better performances.
    It is simply able to catch with more precision the details that pass through the game quickly, and most importantly, the Nvenc captures any in-game text with much higher precision than the X264.
    The X264 shows better performances in distinguishing different shades of colors, but overall, if you have a gaming setup that is compatible with the Nvenc encoder, then the Nvenc is the right choice for you.

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    Stefan

    Stefan is a long-time content creator and one of the Stream Mentor's co-founders. He's a tech geek and a Dota 2 player (not even a good one) who wanted to help others become professional streamers and earn from the comfort of their home.

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