When Elgato introduced the Stream Deck in 2017, you’d have been forgiven for asking the same question a lot of us did: 'OK, but why do I need it?' It was a fair thought, but nearly five years on the Stream Deck (and its family members the Mk2, Mini, XL, and most recently the Pedal) have become essential tools for streaming for gamers.
As a concept, a programmable keypad isn’t unique. But with customisable buttons and user-friendly software, Elgato has made a device for creators that’s actually a game-changer for everyone.
Design & features
Out of the box, the Stream Deck is a pretty unassuming-looking bit of kit. Its black plastic body is simple but feels reassuringly sturdy and carries Elgato’s usual high-quality finish. Despite the gamer focus, there’s also no outlandish styling to be found and the Stream Deck will look right at home on a work desk too. The stand offers a choice of four different viewing angles (though the difference between each is very subtle) or you can do away with the stand entirely and lay it flat thanks to rubber feet on the back.
The 15 keys do have some wobble to them, but they’re pleasantly tactile with about 5mm of travel and a satisfyingly soft and quiet click. It’s enough to feel responsive without worrying about accidental presses. The Stream Deck’s party piece though is the individual LCD screen under each key allowing for custom digital keycaps. Elgato provides a pretty 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 text does become a bit crunchy.
The Stream Deck software does everything you need it to and does it without a fuss. The drag and drop interface makes it simple to manage keys and the ability to jump between multiple profiles is a nice touch.
Native controls for Twitch, OBS, Windows, and Elgato’s wider product range are waiting from the first install and should cover most people’s needs. For those looking to dive in deeper, Elgato’s plugin store includes more than 100 free apps covering everything from Spotify to lighting control and even tracking your crypto portfolio - if you're into that.
I’ve been using the Stream Deck for a few years now and it’s comfortably kept up with every action I throw at it. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it handles simultaneous button presses and you can fire off actions in quick succession without any noticeable delay. If you’re consistently launching the same set or sequence of commands, multi-action buttons let you string them together on a single keypress.
There is one area the Stream Deck software could improve but it’s one that’s ultimately out of Elgato’s hands. Five years after the device launched it’s surprising to see the likes of Adobe not offer official plugins. Yes, you can use custom hotkeys and macros to achieve the same result, but some official support would be a welcome addition.
Overall - Should you buy it?
Offering complete control of your production, the Stream Deck is near enough 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 it itself.
There’s plenty of value to be had outside of the creative space too and most people will find a nice quality of life bump from using it. Simply put, it’s a piece of tech you’re probably not sure you need, but pick one up and you’ll quickly realise it’s one you can’t live without.