When Elgato launched the Stream Deck in 2017, you would have been forgiven for asking the same question as many of us: “OK, but why do I need it?” It was a good idea, but nearly five years on the Stream Deck (and its family members, the Mk2, Mini, XL and more recently the Pedal) have become essential streaming tools for gamers. .
As a concept, a programmable keyboard is not unique. But with customizable buttons and user-friendly software, Elgato has created a device for creators that is a game-changer for everyone.
Out of the box, the Stream Deck is a fairly modest piece of kit. Its black plastic body is simple but feels reassuringly solid and wears Elgato’s usual high-quality finish. Despite the focus on the gamer, there’s also no extravagant style to be found and the Stream Deck will be equally at home on a desk. The stand offers a choice of four different viewing angles (although the difference between each is very subtle) or you can remove the stand altogether and lay it flat thanks to the rubber feet on the back.
All 15 keys have some wobble, but they’re pleasantly tactile with around 5mm of travel and a pleasantly soft, quiet click. That’s enough to feel responsive without worrying about accidental presses. The party piece of the Stream Deck however is the individual LCD display below each key allowing for custom number keys. Elgato offers a fairly extensive range of free designs to cover the most common use cases or you can get creative and import your own. Admittedly, the 72x72px resolution isn’t the sharpest, but it’s more than enough for most icon designs, even if the text does get a bit crispy.
The Stream Deck software does everything you need and does it without a hitch. The drag-and-drop interface simplifies key management, and the ability to switch between profiles is a nice touch.
Native commands for Twitch, OBS, Windows, and Elgato’s wider product line await on first install and should cover most users’ needs. For those looking to dive deeper, Elgato’s plugin store includes over 100 free apps covering everything from Spotify to lighting control and even tracking your crypto wallet – if you’re into that.
I’ve used the Stream Deck for a few years now and it’s held comfortably with every action I throw at it. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it handles simultaneous button presses and you can trigger actions in quick succession without noticeable delay. If you constantly throw the same set or sequence of commands, the multi-action buttons allow you to string them together with a single keypress.
There’s one area that the Stream Deck software could improve, but it’s one that’s ultimately not in Elgato’s hands. Five years after the launch of the device, it is surprising to see Adobe not offering official plugins. Yes, you can use custom keyboard shortcuts and macros to achieve the same result, but official support would be a welcome addition.
Overall – Should You Buy It?
Offering complete control of your production, the Stream Deck is pretty close to a must-have for streamers in 2022, and as essential as having one of the best microphones for streaming and one of the best webcams. Adding it to an existing Razer streaming setup, for example, would be just as great as building one around itself.
There is also a lot of value to be had outside of the creative space and most people will find a nice quality of life using it. Simply put, it’s technology you’re probably not sure you need, but pick one up and you’ll quickly realize it’s technology you can’t live without.