[Editor’s note: The review unit has been returned to Elgato Gaming for analysis. The replacement we were given is working flawlessly, with no screen burn-in whatsoever.]
It seems that every other gamer is streaming these days, myself included. Presenting gameplay and commentary to a live audience brings about a certain thrill, and really enhances enjoyment of the medium.
Current gen gaming platforms have embraced streaming as well, making it easy to hit a couple of buttons and start transmitting. The PS4, for example, has its own “Share Button,” which allows players to start broadcasting in a matter of seconds.
This is all fantastic for casual streaming, and for many it’s enough. However, for those looking to take things to the next level, with vastly higher production values, things can quickly become more complicated. With potentially multiple scenes to switch between, sources to enable and disable, graphics, sound effects, and notifications — this can all get to be a bit much. And when you’re trying to play a game, while entertaining an audience, you don’t want a mess of distractions weighing you down.
This is where Elgato Gaming has stepped in, to allow high production values without sacrificing the actual enjoyment of streaming. The Stream Deck aims to save the day with a powerful feature set contained within a small form factor.
Small, Yet Powerful
The main attraction here is the 15 LCD keys, which can each be designated a function and custom image, or turned into a folder, allowing for up to 210 actions to be assigned in total. It’s also possible that Elgato could add nested folders in the future, meaning even more room for extra functions!
What makes the Stream Deck truly stand out amidst the competition is its direct API integration with a number of popular streaming programs. This essentially means it can talk to applications and give them specific instructions even while they aren’t in focus. A simple example of this is if you want to send a pre-written tweet. Perhaps you want to alert your audience about your stream starting in 10 minutes time. Well, simply assign that function to a key, give it a push, and that’s the tweet written and sent. You even get visual feedback with each key you activate. No longer are streamers left wondering if everything worked as intended!
This functionality is applied to other programs like OBS and Elgato’s own Game Capture software. I’m fond of the latter, and have my Stream Deck programmed to make both capturing and streaming simpler. Direct integration with Twitch and TipeeeStream should please streamers, too, and I hear that XSplit support is being “looked into.”
The Stream Deck can also be assigned websites or programs to open, or bound with various hotkeys. I have my frequent apps, websites, and games all set up with their own images, meaning everything I need is just a button push away. The various recording methods I use take up the majority of my middle row, with each using different hotkeys. For my content creation needs, which are largely satiated by Adobe Premiere and Photoshop, I have asset folders at the ready, as well as hotkeys for each program. So while this device is mainly aimed at streamers, it can absolutely assist in making workflows more efficient, or speeding up general PC use.
What’s great, is that this functionality is just the beginning, with Elgato working to develop the software and add more programs as time goes on.
Speaking of the software and how you go about customizing the interface, it’s a piece of cake. Booting it up takes you to a digital representation of the 15 LCD keys, whose functions can be assigned with a simple drag and drop. If you grab and hold an action over a key, you’ll turn it into a folder. Clicking the icon image will let you add a custom graphic, which you can create using Elgato’s own web-based tool, a program like Photoshop or GIMP, or you can just grab them from Google images. Text can also be added to each key, if you need them to stand out a little more.
The setting menu is fairly barebones, with a brightness slider, update checker, account management page, and an area where you can reset, import, or export your layouts. It’s all very easy.
As for my list of negatives, I’ve really only had one significant problem. This is the screen burn-in which I’ve noticed on a few of the keys. Sometimes text can remain, despite having been deleted. I’ve spoken with Elgato Gaming about this, and apparently they’ve never seen it before. Despite testing hundreds of units for hundreds of hours, my review sample is the only one to have this issue. Happily, the text does seem to have faded somewhat over the last few days, and is only noticeable if you look closely.
As for other cons, there isn’t much to cover. I’ve had the Game Capture app pop up with an error a few times, when accidentally selecting the same scene, but it doesn’t actually close the software. It’s a minor annoyance that I’m sure will be ironed out in a patch.
Another thing I’d like to have seen is a detachable cable, or at the very least it could do with being a bit longer. Oh, and for those wondering about OS compatibility, you’ll be needing Windows 10 or macOS 10.11 and above.
Is It Worth It?
Some may be expecting me to harp on about the $149.95 price tag, which I’ll admit seemed steep when I first heard about it. However, having looked at the competition and weighing in the Stream Deck’s API integration and ability to create folders, as well as the overall ease of use, the price seems justified for someone like me with a one PC, two monitor setup.
Perhaps the problem is that cosmetically, it doesn’t look all that substantial or impressive. And I’ll agree that the subtle design does little to hint at the power within. This little guy packs a punch, and is a worthy purchase for any streamer looking to increase the quality of their production, without taking the focus away from what’s important: enjoying games and keeping the audience entertained.
The Stream Deck offers a lot of convenience for that $150 price tag, and if you’ve gone beyond using just the built-in PS4 app, to stream and perhaps also game on a PC or Mac, I’d recommend keeping an out for the Elgato Stream Deck when it launches on May 15, 2017.
Stream Deck review unit was provided to PlayStation LifeStyle by Elgato Gaming. For more information, please see our Review Policy here.