Elgato Stream Deck Review
Up until a few years ago, streaming seemed to only be for tech savvy gamers with PCs that were strong enough to stream and game at the same time. These days the hobby (or profession, if you’ve cultivated a large enough audience) has evolved far beyond that. Thousands of people start a brand new streaming channel every single day, and with the scope of streaming being expanded to the point where you can basically stream about anything the audiences are larger than ever.
Companies have also noticed this, and in recent times a variety of products have been coming out to make the lives of streamers easier. From all-in-one microphone packages to key lights aimed at streamers: if you can think of it you can probably buy it. The Elgato Stream Deck is one such product. This device is designed to make your life as a streamer/content producer much easier by allowing you to program a huge host of shortcuts and actions to the device itself. As a consequence it could also be a really handy device to streamline the productivity of regular users, so we’ve sent one over to our reviewer to find out just how handy it is.
“Customizing Stream Deck is effortless. Simply drag and drop actions onto keys, and make them your own with custom icons. Need more actions? Turn keys into folders to amass and access as many actions as you want.”Elgato
Elgato Stream Deck – First Impressions
To start off: this review focuses mostly on how easy this product is to use (and the build quality etc. of course) so I won’t do a very deep dive into the world of streaming. I purposely focus on how it is for a wide variety of people (including, but not limited to, streamers).
Inside the box of the stream deck there’s not a lot to be found except for the deck itself and some documentation. What immediately caught my eye is that the deck itself feels really solid and well built while the stand that it sits on just… doesn’t. It’s made out of plastic and doesn’t feel up to par when compared to the deck that it’s supposed to hold up. Of course you’re not going to use this thing to go paragliding or anything like that so it doesn’t have to be made out of military-grade materials but still.
Something else that caught my eye is how short the cable is. The Stream Deck connects to your PC via a regular ol’ USB cable, but it’s not detachable and the cable is only 1.5 meters long. I have my PC on my desk to my right and I would ideally place the Deck to the left of my main monitor but that means that it becomes a bit hard to hide the cable since it’s so short. I’m not a cable management freak (I’m a ‘business in the front, party in the back’ kinda guy who has a very clean desk top with a giant cable spaghetti behind the backboard) but the less cable I see on my desk itself the better, so it’s kind of annoying that they didn’t make this a bit longer.
One more thing that I noticed is that the tiny screens behind each button look pretty darn sharp and vivid, but due to the fact that the buttons themselves are slightly curved and made out of thick plastic the image on them can easily warp. I suppose that’s by design and to protect the brittle displays underneath the thick plastic buttons, but if you use icons that span the entire display they’ll only really look their best if you look at them head on.
Setup and Ease of Use
Setting the Stream Deck up is honestly a massive breeze. I am not a professional macro user at all, but in one afternoon I managed to program most of the things I would want it to do to the deck. What’s cool here is that the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and, in extreme cases, your programming ability.
In the Stream Deck software you’ve got flawless integration with things like Streamlabs and OBS, and extra ‘modules’ for Twitch and so on can be downloaded with the press of a button in the software itself. There’s also a big community of users out there where you can find a lot of third-party stuff, so even if you can’t program (like me) you’ll most likely be able to create or find anything that you need.
Once you’ve got such a module installed you’ve got a bunch of premade shortcuts and then it’s a matter of dragging the shortcut to the desired key. Should a certain action not be available you can always just record/program it yourself like you would with a keyboard macro, but it’s honestly impressive what comes packed with the Deck by default.
One really cool aspect is that you can nest folders inside folders. This way you’ve got infinite space to store your macros and shortcuts. Every action/shortcut can also be customized with your own icon, so if you want the deck to have a specific aesthetic that’s totally possible.
I have a folder for my lights, which has a bunch of shortcuts to set different scenes on my Nanoleaf panels, for example, along with a bunch of preset colors for the Elgato Light Strip. All of this was achieved without any programming of my own: these things are ready for you to use in the software.
One thing to note is that setting all of this up will take a while, definitely if you also want to use a bunch of custom icons and what not. That’s just the nature of things like this so it’s not a negative, but just be prepared to spend some time with it before it’s ‘fully operational’ to your liking.
I am not a streamer so I only briefly tested the streaming functionality, but setting it up to do things like put chat in slow mode or switch overlays or scenes is (luckily, since it’s focused on streamers) an absolute breeze. Not having to alt tab just to switch scenes or make a small adjustment not only makes your life as a streamer easier, it also makes the broadcast that much more smooth looking.
Being able to press just one button to respond to a certain event (like a sub or big donation, for example) with a specialized overlay or sound or what have you makes the whole thing a lot more seamless as opposed to having to navigate to the appropriate folders, after which ‘the moment’ might already be gone.
This functionality makes the device handy for people who don’t stream, too. For work I’ve got a whole bunch of programs, websites, and files that I need to open, for example. If I need a certain file along with an editing program opened I don’t need to interrupt my ‘flow’ to go find them and open them: one press of the button opens everything I need. Of course all of this can be achieved through keyboard shortcuts, but the disadvantage with that is that you need to remember them, whereas with the Stream Deck everything is laid out handily with icons of your choosing.
What’s also nice is that more action modules keep getting added. When I first got the deck I went online to find out how I could connect my Nanoleaf panels to the deck and saw a bunch of discussions on how to get it to work through third party programs, only to find out that this stuff was already officially supported in the latest version.
Now of course there’s the million dollar (or 100 dollar) question: is this worth it? It really depends. If you’re a streamer who wants to upgrade their streaming setup I’d say it’s 100% worth it without a doubt. If you’re not a streamer then it’s a question of what kind of things you’re planning to do with it. In essence this is just a fancy macro pad so if you can’t find any reason to use such a thing it’s probably not going to be for you.
I will say that, even as a non-macro user, I’ve really come to love the Stream Deck. It just makes life easier. In my gaming folder, for example, I have shortcuts to boot my most played games and change the lighting to match the game I’ve just launched, but also a shortcut to activate Shadowplay’s ‘clip feature’. Games like CS:GO have their own folder where I put some shortcuts that automatically enter the console commands for me to start practicing grenades. I even did some sillier stuff: I made a shortcut that types ‘gg wp’ in Valorant’s all chat for me, for example. Can I do this stuff manually? Yes, of course, but having these multi-action procedures ready at the press of a button is just awfully convenient.
So in essence this pad, aside from looking cool on your desk (that’s a personal opinion though), can make your life a lot easier. Sitting down behind my desk and having to press one button to open and log me in on all work programs, while simultaneously setting my lights to a ‘productive white’ is just fun, and it does save time. Yeah, it might only save a minute or two each day, but that can start to add up over the course of a year. I definitely wouldn’t say that this is an essential piece of equipment (because it’s not, unless you’re an editor, streamer, or just someone who likes to use a lot of shortcuts) but it does exactly what it advertises, and it’s so easy and fun to use that I’m going to keep it on my desk.
Conclusion & Recommendation
The Stream Deck is a well made piece of equipment that can really help you be more productive and streamline your workflow, but if you’re only behind your desk to do a spot of gaming or some light work every now and again it’s not going to be worth it.
I haven’t listed all of the things that are possible with the Stream Deck (it can also function as a hardware monitor, for example: I have a folder where I can see my system temps and load and so on) because the possibilities are almost literally endless. If this kind of productivity streamlining sounds good to you then you can definitely consider the Stream Deck, even if you’re not a streamer. Yes, it is a glorified macro pad, but the fact that you’ve got the visual aids and endless space for shortcuts thanks to the folders-within-folders elevates this far above your regular macro pad that doesn’t have a tiny screen behind each button.