Stream decks and special keyboards make streamers life easier. We test Elgato's products and present alternatives.
As a streamer you have your hands full. Programmable additional keyboards and panels promise to do a lot of work on a live broadcast. Why not every hobby streamer should fall on one of the sometimes expensive devices, we explain in our guide.
At first glance, streaming games seems easy: you pick up your screen, put your face in the camera, and say something nonsense, right? In fact, streaming is more complicated, because multitasking wants to be learned first. Games require a lot of attention, especially action titles, where quick reactions are required. At the same time, a streamer must respond to the live chat. The more popular one is, the more messages rush through. One must not completely ignore the viewers, because interaction makes for many people at all the charm of a live stream.
In order for the program to gain professionalism, many streamer use dynamic fade-ins that they have previously used in programs such as OBS (Open Broadcasting Software, Basic article on Mac & i) or X-Split. Then come titles, belly bandages or other graphic elements, as known from television. And then there's social media: program announcements, times, shoutouts, competitions – all this can be announced on Twitter, Facebook and Co. Preferably in parallel to the stream, perhaps to get even more viewers on the boat.
Why do you need a stream deck?
Streamers need a lot of coordination skills to handle all these tasks fluently. Even high-budgeted streams from big tournament events are not as strict in their planning as classic live TV shows, but the overall effort is getting close. Depending on your needs, even an individual needs to emulate a whole studio at a small desk – with a microphone (theme world), a camera, plenty of software and video capture hardware (guidebook). Although many tasks can be done by keyboard shortcuts on the normal computer keyboard, but usually switching to other program windows is necessary. To sell a tweet, you first have to switch to a Twitter client. No big deal – if not just a few thousand people were watching now, for which every wasted second seems strangely uncoordinated.
For such tasks, there are helpful tools that are still so much in a market niche that they have no common name. The most suitable is "control panel" or "programmable keyboard", whereby Elgato has found the most appropriate name with his product "Stream Deck".
At first glance, these helpers look inconspicuous: they are programmable buttons on a physical console. You press something, and then you trigger an action. Also virtual versions on smartphones are possible. But the real power behind Stream Decks comes from the flexibility of the associated software: The desired actions can be simple, such as the start of a game or an application.
But it gets really interesting with the interface to OBS or Twitch, because then more complex actions can be done with the push of a button. For example, a hotkey can be used to switch an entire scene in OBS. Means: The just streamed screen layout can be like a TV studio switch to another preset at the touch of a button.
An additional programmable keyboard is not only interesting for streamer, but basically for anyone who works with video or audio. In a video podcast or a program filmed in a studio setting, a programmable controller can be a valuable tool for focused work.
For example, you can control the light or switch between different camera sources. The functionality depends not only on the software, but also on the input methods of the device. Elgato's Stream Deck consists of buttons only, while Tangent's products have knobs, joggers and trackballs. The Tangent Ripple Control Surface is specifically designed for video editing and color grading and works well with DaVinci Resolve or Final Cut Pro X together.
In order to bring the Elgato Stream Deck closer to such programs, one had to trick for a while with external programs such as AutoHotKey or Karabiner, but since the 3.1 update there is native macro support. Elgato simply calls him "Multi-Action-Button". Since then, the video cutter community has been busy crafting tailor-made solutions for their editing environment. For example on Reddit. The third party SideShowFX.net supports the cause with free icons for DaVinci Resolve.
Stronger on the sound during streaming is the GoXLR by TC Helicon. It comes as a kind of hybrid between mixer and control panel, therefore, that should simplify the audio signal path. It therefore has an XLR input, a multi-channel mixer with sliders and midas preamps. Again, there are programmable keys, but they are primarily intended for effect presets. As with a loop machine, you can, for example, save live sound recordings here and play them later. The GoXLR is therefore very special in the application. On this device is also most likely to show what the major disadvantage of such additional controllers is: Without the in-house manufacturer's software is nothing. The GoXLR will not even be recognized by Windows after connecting via USB. Also the products of Tangent or Elgato are strongly dependent on own software. This means that if the manufacturer stops supporting the hardware, you soon have nothing more than an unusable piece of plastic in your hand. This is especially painful because of the price, because even the smallest stream deck with only 6 keys beats at around 100 euros. Tangent is at the other end of the spectrum, scratching the $ 1,000 mark. To be fair, however, it has to be said that above all Elgato regularly publishes updates, so a timely hiring is not likely.
Entry level up to 100 euros
The absolute cheapest alternative to the Streamdeck is an external mini keyboard, which one configures over programs like Karabiner or AutoHotKey. In principle, an external number field suffices, but there are also stylish-looking solutions, such as the inexpensive Logilink ID0181, the Redragon K585 DITI one-handed gaming or the Razer Tartarus V2.
These are designed to give more desk space to play as they are sufficient for common WASD configurations. The Redragon K585 DITI stands out for its low price of around 40 euros and is well-made for this price range. However, there are a variety of similar products with similar design, some of which are still offered much cheaper. Theoretically, it is possible to buy a one-hand keyboard from just 10 euros, but with fluctuating product quality. If you would like to try out the concept of an additional panel during your everyday life on the computer, you may find a prototype for the test run for little money here.
One-hand keyboards, however, have one major disadvantage: they can not be seen on them without self-printed stickers, which triggers which key. The special feature of Elgato's Stream Deck is the LED screens behind the transparent buttons. This allows the software to display any picture or icon. This is especially helpful in stressful streamer situations. The smallest Stream Deck Mini with 6 keys does not cost very little with 100 Euro. Since each key can be structured into infinitely nested subfolders, the few keys may already be sufficient. In a folder you can e.g. Accommodate twitch actions, in another functions for streamlabs or blenders. The way is only longer with 6 buttons and possibly confusing. There is nothing to complain about when processing the Stream Deck. All versions are only made of plastic, but they look solid and valuable. Except for one thing: The keys have no real pressure point. They look soft, are easy to press in and there is no noticeable click. Whether the action has been performed can not be recognized by haptic feedback. This criticism is shared by all versions of the Stream Deck.
Praiseworthy is the software for the configuration of the Stream Decks: Changes happen in real time and the operation is very simple. You can create profiles to customize the Stream Deck for multiple work situations. Even a hibernation can be adjusted so that the LEDs do not shine throughout the day.
Elgato Stream Deck Mini
Redragon K585 DITI One-Hand Gaming
Razer Tartarus V2
Middle class up to 200 euros
There are not many alternatives in the middle class. The Elgato Stream Deck with 15 LCD buttons is offered for about 140 euros. There are special MIDI controllers and launchpads designed for musicians. They mainly work with colors such as the Novation Launchpad X. This and similar products are designed to work with music programs like Ableton Live. For the programming of other purposes is more because of the Expertkeys EK-58 for 150 Euro suitable. With 58 keys it is extensive, but the labels have to be printed out themselves.
Elgato Stream Deck
Professional class from 200 euros
This category includes most products. For streamers, the Stream Deck XL is the most obvious option. It is the most comprehensive version with a total of 32 LCD buttons. Due to its size, Elgato has donated the device a sturdy base, which is magnetically attached to the back. The feature is otherwise identical to other versions of the Stream Deck. The price is about 250 euros.
An alternative for 300 euros is that X-Key-68, There are no LCD buttons, but there is a jog shuttle that can be useful for video editing or for adjusting the brightness of lamps. A common criticism of this and similar products of lesser-known manufacturers is the accompanying software. Especially with the X-Key-68, there are many complaints from customers that the software is error-prone and unstable. That is of course unacceptable for such a high price.
More specific solutions, such as the already mentioned panels by Tangent or the GoXLR, also start from 300 euros. But when it comes to video streaming, Elgato's Stream Deck remains the best solution in terms of price and functionality. That's less about the hardware than the good software.
Elgato Stream Deck XL
Coming from Elgato Stream Deck Mobile for iOS, which visually resembles the aforementioned stream decks. However, you do not even buy the app at a fixed price, but pay for an online service that costs 2.99 euros a month. Depending on the duration of a project, this can still be a good alternative. The layout provides 15 keys that are configured according to the same principle as the hardware counterpart. How well the virtual buttons respond, but of course depends on the performance of the smartphone and the local network connection. Physical hardware is certainly less prone to delays and errors. But it is not wireless. If you want it to be controlled by the moderator in front of the camera in a studio setup that can not hide cables, Stream Deck Mobile is a good solution.
If you want it cheaper, the app deck Board try out. It works much like the app from Elgato and supports Twitch and OBS directly. Android users can try the app for free with up to 12 tiles. The paid pro version extends this to up to 30 tiles per board. Another app that works with both Mac and iOS is Touch panel, Again, there is a free trial and a pro version with more features.
Whether and which programmable additional controller makes sense, therefore, depends on how complex the purpose is. The hobby star who occasionally broadcasts on weekends may not need a stream deck. However, if you have one to make work easier and sometimes cut a video separately from the twitch stream, you do not necessarily need a dedicated mixer for the video cut. The Stream Deck may be enough to help with occasional work.
If you're a little bit wary of streaming, you can get a lot out of a stream deck by programming a bit, but you're better served with a different, tailored controller. In all cases, it is clear: These devices are not a gimmick. They can save a lot of time and work. In addition to DIY solutions, Elgato's Stream Deck has so far been relatively unrivaled, especially for streamers.