Dylan Larkins

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Watching Twitch Livestreams Without A Web Browser

Let's face it - Twitch's in-browser performance is not great. To avoid that, I'll show you how to use a couple of great community-made programs in order to completely avoid having to use a browser to watch and chat in any Twitch stream.


Table of Contents



Introduction

Twitch is a massive livestreaming platform that was created out of the old Justin.TV website - in fact, if you go poking around a little, you'll still see many, many references to "jtv" or "justin" around the Twitch API/inner workings! Twitch has absolutely exploded over the past several years and, as of this writing, is sitting pretty at #4 in terms of United States bandwidth transfer per day. Using Twitch to watch/broadcast is one of the most straightforward ways to be able to share your creativity and/or gaming with others.

In order to "ingest" and "output" video from one source (the broadcaster) to another (the viewers), Twitch uses a protocol called Real-Time Messaging Protocol (RTMP). This was initially a proprietary protocol developed by Macromedia (remember them? Shockwave?) in order to stream audio, video, and data between a server and a Flash player. However, once Macromedia was acquired by Adobe, a "dumbed-down" version of RTMP was released for the public to use.

Similarly, Twitch chat also runs on an open protocol called Internet Relay Chat (IRC). IRC has been around "forever" and is the de-facto method of text-based communication between nerdy types. It also has an incredibly robust backend and is open for anyone to use, thus making it possible to connect to and use Twitch chat through many other means besides the in-browser chat box.

The JustinTV platform, now Twitch, faces the interesting challenge of taking what was once a "stream-to-desktop-player" protocol, and serving the audio/video to a web browser instead. They also face several other challenges - real-time chat with emoticons, performance of all the features together, etc. etc. Unfortunately, they don't do a fantastic job of keeping everything "lean and mean", and so many people are left with crashing browsers, computer fans ramping up to 100%, and overall a bad experience while attempting to watch streams on Twitch.

Fortunately, since the core features of Twitch (video/audio streaming and interactive chat) are based on open protocols, there are ways around having to use Twitch's low-performing web player/chat. In this gude we'll go over a couple programs that will allow you to completely eliminate the necessity of using your web browser to watch Twitch in the first place, which will give you a far more positive experience while watching streams.

Preparing - Downloading & Installing Necessary Programs

In order to eliminate the need to use a web browser to watch Twitch streams and participate in chat, we'll need to use a combination of three external programs. These programs are called VLC, Livestreamer, and Chatty. Let's go over how to download and install these programs now.

Installing VLC
  1. Go to https://www.videolan.org/vlc/ to go to the VLC downloads page. Click on the big orange Download VLC button to download an all-in-one installer.
    • If you are using Windows and have a 64-bit OS (it is extremely likely that you do), then you want to click the Windows icon below the orange "Download VLC" button. Once on this page, click the little white arrow next to the orange "Download VLC" button, and finally, click on the Installer for 64-bit version option.
  2. Follow the step-by-step instructions in the installer by reading them carefully. If you're able to carefully read and follow instructions, VLC will set itself up and install just fine - there's no need to do anything else to it past the installation for now.


Installing Streamlink
  1. Go to https://streamlink.github.io/install.html to go to the Streamlink downloads page. Based on which OS you are running (Linux, OS X, or Windows), there are varying install instructions that I've listed below.
    • Windows: Scroll all the way down to the "Windows binaries" section and click on Installer. This will download an all-in-one installer that will automatically install Streamlink for you. Just follow the instructions in the installer by carefully reading and following all instructions that appear on the screen.
    • Mac OS X: Open Terminal in your Utilities folder, and type this EXACT thing (do not copy/paste, as there will likely be an error):

      easy_install -U streamlink

      After you have typed that EXACT thing, press Return ONCE in order to successfully install Livestreamer. The installer may take a minute to complete - you'll know when it's done by reading the words that appear inside the Terminal window.
    • Linux: Chances are if you're using Linux (like me!) that you already know what you're doing. If not, read the top of the Downloads page for your respective distro's repository and/or binary for Streamlink, then proceed to install as usual.


Installing Chatty
  1. Go to https://chatty.github.io/#download to download and install Chatty. Note that Chatty is a standalone program - it does not have its own step-by-step installer - so it is YOUR responsibility to keep it in a location where you'll be able to find and use it whenever you need to.
  2. Chatty requires Java in order to run, so we'll need to go get and install that now. Go to the Java SE Runtime Environment Downloads page to go to the Java download page. See below for specific instructions on how to download the correct version of Java for your OS.
    • Windows: Click the Accept License Agreement box under the LOWER of the two sections on the page (as of this writing, it is 8u92 instead of 8u91). Then click the Download link for Windows x64, making sure that you are getting the file name that ends in .exe. If you download the wrong file you will not be able to install Java, so please make sure to actually read the words on the page and successfully download the correct file. Once the file has downloaded, open it to begin installing Java using its all-in-one installer.
    • Mac OS X: Click the Accept License Agreement box under the LOWER of the two sections on the page (as of this writing, it is 8u92 instead of 8u91). Then click the Download link for Mac OS X, making sure that you are getting the file name that ends in .dmg. If you download the wrong file you will not be able to install Java, so please make sure to actually read the words on the page and successfully download the correct file. Open the .dmg file once it has downloaded and run the all-in-one installer inside the disk image that pops up on your desktop.
    • Linux: As Java installations vary wildly from distro to distro, you're on your own here - I trust that you know what you're doing, though.


Success! We now have a working solution to watch Twitch livestreams and use chat - all without even touching your web browser Let's actually put this all to use in a test run to make sure everything's working.

Viewing A Stream Via Streamlink

To test out Streamlink, we'll need to open a command line and attempt to view a livestream. For testing purposes I've picked a stream that is online 24/7 - the Food stream (side note, very entertaining!) - so that we are guaranteed to know if Streamlink is working correctly. I've given complete instructions for how to use Streamlink for each major OS below.

  • Windows: Press Windows Key + R on your keyboard - that means hold the Windows key, and while you are holding it, press the R key - in order to bring up a "run" window. Type this EXACT thing into that window that pops up:

    cmd

    Once you have typed that EXACT thing, press Enter ONCE. This will open a Command Prompt window.

    Next, let's use Streamlink to view the Food stream by typing in this EXACT thing at the command prompt:

    streamlink twitch.tv/food best

  • Mac OS X: Open Terminal in your Utilities folder, and type this EXACT thing, then press Return ONCE: streamlink twitch.tv/food best

  • Linux: Open a terminal and run streamlink twitch.tv/food best.


Using some basic critical thinking, we can figure out that this will use the Streamlink program to open the stream at twitch.tv/food at its "best" quality. You should see a readout in the terminal window of exactly what's going on - if everything works correctly, Livestreamer will automatically open VLC, which will begin to play the stream. That wasn't so hard, right?

Using Twitch Chat Via Chatty

In order to start using Chatty, it will need to connect to your Twitch account and be able to access certain things - we can accomplish this by authorizing Chatty to do so. Thankfully, Chatty takes care of almost all of this automatically.

Open Chatty by unzipping the ZIP file that you downloaded from its website, and then opening the Chatty.jar file.

When you start Chatty, the Connect Dialog should open. Click Create login..., then Request login data, and follow the instructions on your screen in order to authorize Chatty. By carefully reading and following the words on your screen you will be able to accomplish these steps, and Chatty should be able to connect for you.

If you need further help with using Chatty, their Getting Started Guide is well-written and will guide you through the basics of connecting to and using a specific Twitch channel's chat, as well as many other options available to you. For more advanced users, or for more in-depth documentation of Chatty's features, check out their Help page, which goes into great detail about every feature and exactly what it does.


That's the end of this guide! If you want further reading, you can read the official written documentation for VLC, Streamlink, and Chatty. If you're a super advanced user and want the ultimate nerdy experience for Twitch chat, you can look into using it with your own IRC client - there are plenty of step-by-step tutorials written about this available through some simple Google searches.

If you have any suggestions, click the Contact button at the top of this page. Thanks!