Elgato Stream Deck Review: Content Creator Perspective

Today we are taking a look at a unique product that had changed the way we work and transformed our workflow – meet the Elgato Stream Deck.

German consumer electronics manufacturer Elgato (formed back in 2002) has a very popular gaming line which includes a number of interesting products including an HD capture card and a collapsible chroma-key panel which can actually be an interesting solution for mobile video shooting as well as all those gamers and streamers.

The product that we are going to test today was also developed with gamers and streamers in mind but as we shall soon see, it is at least as useful for content creators if not more.

The stream deck is a compact 15 button keypad with a metal enclosure that measures 12cm (4.5″) wide and just over 8cm (3″) tall. It comes with a plastic base which you can adjust to get the right angle and it is bus powered by a USB cable connected to your computer (the unit works with both PCs and MACs – we used a PC for our testing).

The unit was originally launched in March 2017, however, the software that powers it went through several important and major updates in 2018 – one of them (ver. 3.1) just a few weeks ago which added some very powerful new features.

So what can the Stream Deck do and why do we think that it is such a transformative product for content creators? At the most basic level, the Stream Deck is a smart shortcut keyboard that is completely user configurable.

You can set each of the 15 physical buttons to open websites, launch a software, activate and keystroke, write pre-programmed text and even toggle between two settings with a single button. For each key, you can assign an icon and or text in different sizes.

This all sounds pretty cool but some of you might be asking yourselves – can’t I just set 15 shortcuts on my own keyboard, memorize or tag them and do what the Stream Deck does? well, you can, but the Stream Deck can actually do much, much more. First of all, you are not restricted to the 15 physical keys – you can easily set up folders and sub-folders and create as many actions as you like – try remembering 100 different shortcuts with your regular keyboard…

Our Premiere Pro shortcuts (for now…)

Even more impressive, you can set program-specific profiles with different layouts. Whenever you open or switch to a program which is linked to that profile, all the relevant shortcuts that you set will automatically pop up. This seems to work with almost any piece of software and gives you tremendous flexibility.

The most recent 3.1 update to the Stream Deck software added an even more advanced option (one that we and quite a few other users have been asking Elgato to add for a long time now). That feature is called multi-action and it is the ability to assign a number of different actions in succession to a single key.

If you are a more serious power user you can take the Stream Deck to the next level through the power of macros and scripts, adding the ability to perform extremely complex scenarios with a push of a button. Taran from Linus Tech Tips who is a true power user and an accomplished video editor did a full video in late 2017 talking about how he uses the Stream Deck for some very clever (and complex) scripting for Premiere and other programs – really worth watching (you can even download his scripts and adapt them to your needs from Github).

Instead of demonstrating all the different aspects of the Stream Deck software and how to use them – there are by now plenty of reviews that show this and Elgato themselves have some very useful videos worth watching – we want to give you our take on the Stream Deck as a content creators.

Initial setup was a breeze, just plug, install the software and you are ready to go.  What will likely take you quite a bit of time is the process of finding the right icons and adding profiles and actions – the more complex your workflow the more time this will take.

It would have been nice if the software could change the size of the icons automatically (it would have saved us some work in Photoshop) but on the upside, there is a nice keycreator which you can use to easily create your own icons if you don’t want to search for them online. One tip though, if you do bring your own icons – PNG is the way to go – with its transparent background and try to find or make icons which are not black for the most part as those are not always clear (you can also use GIFs now which was a highly requested feature by a many users for a long time).

So far we made profiles for Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Izotope, Audacity as well as Chrome a general profile for use when none of these are active – which actually doesn’t happen too much.

The automatic switching between profiles of active programs works almost flawlessly and is very fast. There is also zero lag when pushing a button on the keypad making the experience of using the Stream Deck quick and effortless.

We are still learning how to best use the multi-action feature – for instance we discovered that we can create a single key that will allow us to switch between user profiles in YouTube (it did require us to use the new delay option by the way), and we are still struggling to create a more complex action in Premiere that will delete the sound from a clip and replace it with a synchronized sound bit recorded by an external recorder (an action that we use for almost each video we edit and can save us time).

For the most part we are still learning what the best functions are for each of our programs when it comes to the Stream Deck – in Premiere, for example, we are still pretty basic with save, cut, cursor, gain etc. but our feeling is that the more we use the Stream Deck the more time it will save us.

You can save your profiles (which we highly recommend that you do – especially if you worked long and hard on creating them) but you can also import profiles that you made or that other users created which is great.

Productivity booster – the Stream Deck

At the end of the day, if you are anything like us and work long hours behind the screen and want any advantage you can get trying to save time – especially on repetitive tasks – the Stream Deck is a godsend and we could not recommend it enough. At $140 this tiny keypad might sound a little bit pricey at first, but after you use it for a while and learn just what it can do and how much time it can save you, the pricing actually sounds much more reasonable.

Update: as we were finishing this review Elgato announced the release of a new, tiny 6 key Stream Deck Mini for just under $100. We still think that for productivity the 15 key is a better deal but if you need something really compact for travel – that might be an option as well.

One last thing – after using the Stream Deck for quite a while now and loving it we have a few ideas for Elgato on how they can take this concept to the next level with their next release:

  1. Create a larger more advanced version of the deck designed for creative professionals. This version will have more (maybe larger) keys, plus sliders and high quality knobs – all programmable, with the same fantastic interface Elgato already developed for the Stream Deck (we do want to mention that Elgato now allows the use of more than one Stream Deck at the same time so if you have lots of shortcuts you are not forced to use folders, however knobs and sliders on a single larger keyboard is still our preferred option for content creators).
  2. Make a wireless version of this unit (the user will be able to choose WIFI/BT or USB at any time). This should only be an option if the very low lag time of the Stream Deck can be maintained wirelessly.
  3. Make an improved base. While the Stream Deck itself is fully metal and very well made, the base is plastic (although fairly decent one). It would be nice to see an all-metal version which will be slightly larger and have a few more options for adjustments (especially lower angled ones close to that of a keyboard).
  4. Talking about keyboards – we love our Das Keyboard 4 Professional mechanical keyboard. The company recently announced the 5Q cloud connected keyboard which is meant to increase productivity by using RGB lights. A much better solution in our opinion would be if Elgato and Das Keyboard will join forces and physically integrate the Stream Deck keys and software into a full-size mechanical keyboard – either above the F-keys or – if this is technically possible as the mechanical keys themselves – which will surely make that product the ultimate productivity keyboard.
  5. Something far more easy though that Elgato can (and should) do, create a simpler way for the Stream Deck community to share advanced profiles including complex actions and even easily adaptable macros. The way we would do this is right from the Stream Deck interface where you would be able to upload, download and perform an advanced search for profiles based on specific software, use etc.

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Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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