So you’re a streamer, and things are going well. Your channel is growing, and every day more and more people are tuning in to watch you do your thing. Great!
But you’ve got a problem. As your fanbase grows, so does the complexity of your production. You’ve got lower-third graphics you want to show off, fans to thank, other scenes and cameras you want your viewers to see. You’ve got big plans, but can’t do any of this without alt-tabbing all the time, or trying to remember complicated key-combo shortcuts.
Enter the Elgato Stream Deck.
In our testing, this hyper-flexible macro-pad proved itself incredibly useful, both for streaming, and potentially anyone who could benefit from 15 extra commands or shortcuts available at the press of a button. Even for someone who isn’t super experienced with streaming, the Stream Deck definitely impressed.
You can get your own from Newegg for $140.
Specs and Features
The Stream Deck is a simple concept, but it’s a concept that’s executed very well here. It has three rows of five buttons on the top surface, each of which is also a small screen. Through some super robust configuration software (which we’ll cover later) you can assign each of those 15 keys to carry out a specific command when pressed, such as a single hotkey combo, or launching a predefined program. What sets the Stream Deck apart from its imitators, though, is the flawless integration it supports with programs streamers use every day.
Each of button-screen is 72x72 pixels, and is full color. The dimensions for the unit as a whole are 118 x 84 x 21mm, so about the size of a large gaming mouse. It includes an adjustable stand which allows you to set it at a comfortable angle, because ergonomics are key for long broadcasting session. Also, you’ll need at least one open USB 2.0 port on your PC, which is enough to power the device. The top panel of the stream deck is made of aluminum, while the body feels like heavy duty ABS plastic. Finally, the buttons are definitely membrane (as opposed to mechanical) and require a decent amount of push to complete a travel cycle.
Stream deck software
The physical Stream Deck itself is only half the package. It wouldn't do much of anything without the Stream Deck software, which is where the real magic happens.
The Stream Deck software (available from Elgato’s download site) provides the user with an incredibly powerful tool to program what each key does. There are some universal functions here that you could find in any high-end gaming keyboard. Some of these functions, located under the System tab, include text-block entry, launching executables, launching the default browser to a specified URL, key combination hotkeys, media controls, and a few others.
As mentioned earlier, the Stream Deck also supports integration with a huge number of streaming and broadcasting applications/services. The list is expansive, but some of the support broadcasting programs include OBS Studios, Streamlabs, Xsplit, and Elgato’s own Game Capture.
There are simply too many commands available here to list them individually, but common themes include stream start/stop, recording start/stop, changing scenes, inserting graphics or other media, or configuring aspects of the stream itself on the fly.
As if integrating with all of these programs wasn’t enough, the Stream Deck also works with streaming services, such as Youtube and Twitch. Most of the functions focus on interacting with viewers. For example, one of the Twitch commands allows you to send a block of text directly to the chat channel for your stream, so you can thank new subscribers with a push of the button. There’s a lot going on here, so we’ve included an image to help illustrate:
You can see all of the programs, services, and websites the Stream Deck software works with. You can also see the (rather unorganized) setup I used for my review testing. I’ve got some OBS studio commands in the upper right corner, some executable links on the left column, Twitch controls (the purple icons) in the middle, and a couple of other scattered commands and functions, including folders.
That's right, folders.
Because if 15 extra commands aren't enough, you can organize more commands in folders, and subfolders beyond that. Here I have a folder for launching some applications I could see myself using often, and a folder for link of websites I commonly visit. And again, Stream Deck supports layers of subfolders, so one could potentially have an Apps folder, with separate subfolders for game launchers, productivity suites, office tools, media apps, and so on.
It’s a little easy to get carried away with, so it’s probably good that Stream Deck also supports loading (and exporting) profiles, like one would commonly see with gaming mice and keyboards. There are a couple of ways to go about organizing all these shortcuts and commands, which adds to the flexibility of the Stream Deck.
There’s only one function that was missing: the traditional multi-key macro. While text blocks and hotkeys have 90% of the same functionality, there are those rare cases where you’d want to be able to have a sequence of key presses with precise timings. The thing to keep in mind that while the Stream Deck certainly has its uses for gamers, it is primarily targeted at streamers and broadcasters, who probably don’t need the type of macros we’re talking about here.
There’s one other cool feature of the Stream Deck that you’ve probably already picked up on. Not only can you program each button with a useful function, but you also have the ability create a unique look for each command. Any function icon can be set with user-defined artwork. Ideally, this should be a 72x72px .PNG file, but others will work, and the Stream Deck Software can do some scaling.
The best part might be that Elgato offers a stream Key Creator, which is a website that allows you to create a custom image, which you can then download in the perfect format for your Stream Deck keys. It’s pretty versatile all by itself, and is awesome if you aren’t handy with GIMP or Photoshop. It’s free to play around with it whether or not you own a Stream Deck, so feel free to give it a try.
Stream deck performance
I spent the better part of a day playing with our Stream Deck, to really get a feel for how useful it is in different scenarios. The bulk of that was actual game streaming, so if you want to watch and check out some astoundingly sloppy Heroes of the Storm gameplay I created using the Stream Deck, you can review some videos from the stream here. You’ve been warned.
Still, in spite of my limited skill at the game, not to mention my nonexistent viewership, I quickly realized the potential of the Stream Deck. First and foremost, the thing works as advertised, which is obviously super important. I’d press a button, and the thing that was supposed to happen, did in fact happen.
And though I didn't actually have anyone watching, I set up a “Thanks for watching!” button, and when I pressed it, I saw it appear in my stream’s chatbox. (I was watching the stream on a second laptop while playing.) I also defined some buttons as hotkeys for in-game commands, which functioned perfectly. Not once did I notice any kind of performance hit from using the Stream Deck, even when I used it to capture clips to my local machine, by way of some programmed OBS studio commands.
It’s also worth noting how quickly I took to having the Stream Deck to the side of my keyboard. I was initially worried that I’d have problem hitting the right buttons, or forgetting where things were. I noticed that with a quick glance I could easily tell where things were, and pretty soon, I could hit the right button without even looking at the Deck.
Finally, it dawned on me exactly how powerful the Stream Deck could be. Obviously, this device is designed and meant for streamers. But just through use of the Hotkey function, I realized how versatile it was for anyone who could benefit from a few more easy to reach key commands. I also play a fair amount of World of Warcraft, and I have four action bars on my UI, (it’d be 5 if I played a Hunter) each with 10-12 functions. That’s close to 48 buttons to keep track of, not to mention other hidden commands to bring up different in-game windows.
I already have several commands bound to my trusty Roccat Nyth, but I could certainly use even more macro keys, especially ones that I can use with my WASD hand. Better yet, you can run multiple Stream Decks simultaneously on one PC, so there’s suddenly the possibility of having a bunch of extra macro keys at one’s disposal. As another use case example, I also prepared the images for this article in GIMP.
I mapped some commonly used GIMP shortcuts to the Stream Deck, and I see no reason you couldn’t do the same for CAD software, or anything under the Adobe Creative Suite. The potential flexibility the Stream Deck offers is pretty extraordinary, even when compared to other similar macro pads.
Concluding the stream
The Elgato Stream Deck is, simply put, a must-have accessory for a serious streamer. It offers an incredible amount of integration and interaction with leading streaming services and programs. Incorporating a Stream Deck into your broadcasting setup will add a huge amount of on-the-fly flexibility to control your stream and interact with your viewers.
Even if you aren't a streamer, the Stream Deck has a lot to offer in the way of a traditional macro pad. It offers a number of basic Windows Operating system commands, the most important and useful of which might be the Hotkey function. This flexible tool allows the user to set a key combination, which can potentially increase workflow efficiency in productivity applications, and offer a competitive advantage in the right games.
If you want to take your streaming, editing, or gaming to the next level, you can pick up your own Elgato Stream Deck for just under $140 bucks.