Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+: How Does the Next-Gen Macro Pad Stack Up Against the Competition?

Take control of your computer, adjust audio levels on the fly, and action complicated keyboard shortcuts known as macros with the press of a button. With the Elgato Stream Deck+ in your setup, you’ll enjoy upgraded functionality with four rotary knobs and a touchscreen display for near-limitless macro potential. As the latest iteration in the beloved Elgato series and another addition to the evergrowing world of macro pads, the Stream Deck+ must contend with an already crowded market. So how did we end up here? Where did these multi-button devices come from, and why are they so popular amongst gamers and streamers? Let’s find out.

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Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Previewing The Elgato Stream Deck +

Heralded as the one interface to rule them all, the Stream Deck+ is a natural next step in the evolution of Elgato’s macro pad. Upon first glance, you’ll see a familiar stack of buttons arranged in a 2×4 pattern. But below that is where things start to get really interesting because coming to the platform for the first time is a touchscreen and four rotary knobs!

What’s great about the new dials is that you’re not limited to four functions (eight if you include pressing the dial). Because you can swipe through multiple pages on the touch bar, you can configure your dials beyond a single function with up to 10 Stream Deck pages, giving you hundreds of options to enhance your workflow. Adjusting audio levels in the middle of a stream, accurately controlling specific application settings, firing off batch edits in Photoshop or quickly accessing effects in a video editor.

On top of that, Elgato adds Dial Stacks, which bring multiple functions to a single dial, opening the door to exponentially more controls. However, with a field of choices, it might be challenging to track where you are in your list of programme shortcuts. Thankfully, if you get lost in the boundless sea of subfolders, pressing and holding the return key will return you to the start. Thanks, Elgato!

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Customisable LCD Screens

Adjusting these settings is also super simple since the software responds in real-time. Any changes you make to the software will automatically be updated on your device, and whenever you swipe to another page on the touch bar, it will swap over in the software. To add new functions and actions, drag and drop from the panel on the right.

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Feedback

Although its functionality is updated in more ways than one, there is one missed opportunity: tactile feedback of the four customisable LCD screens is severely lacking. One online reviewer described them as “soft and mushy”, giving users a less satisfying sensation than one finds typing on mechanical keyboards, which is something our own Ben McKimm is quite fond of.

It’s an opportunity that was also missed, with the touch bar lacking tactical feedback when interacting with the controls. However, it is pretty baller to switch up the touch display’s background like the LCD buttons–another handy tool for keeping track of where you are in your myriad macros.

Where Elgato did remember to add some tactical feedback is in the dials with physical steps, which you can adjust in the included software in increments of 1, 5, 10 or 25. Though we’d recommend avoiding the single-step increments since holding down the dial while turning automatically adjusts by 1 regardless of your chosen settings.

Complimented by over 200 ready-made plugins and a community that is constantly churning out new and improved ways to map keyboard shortcuts to keys and dials, the Elgato Stream Deck+ could be anything you want it to be, thanks to the power of macros. No, not macronutrients. We’re talking about the sequence of events you can program into your computer to accomplish a task or action automatically.

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

What are Macros?

Anyone using Excel, Google Sheets or Apple Numbers will know macros as automated input sequences that imitate keystrokes and even mouse actions. Designed to replace a repetitive series of inputs, these macro shortcuts quickly expanded into gaming and online streaming, unlocking increased efficiencies and improved productivity for all power users.

Before macro pads like Elgato’s first Stream Deck, many of these shortcut sequences would be actioned through your standard computer keyboard, requiring users to remember and recall the specific shortcuts and keystrokes. Moreover, creating these scripted actions required a lot of know-how and quite a bit of trial and error to get right.

As PC automation and gaming gained popularity, the need for easy access to keyboard shortcuts gave rise to macro functionality on keyboards and computer mice from the likes of Logitech and Razer. Supported by proprietary software, gamers could configure their own macros and assign them to particular buttons on their peripherals.

Unfortunately, this new wave of macro-enabled devices still came without a way to label or easily see what function a particular button had currently applied, which is exactly what the Elgato Stream Deck aims to solve.

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Revolutionising Workflows

Sporting 12 programmable buttons in a 3×4 arrangement, the Stream Deck was (and still is) an incredible piece of technology that enabled users to customise their workflow in revolutionary ways. Each button has a near-infinite amount of functionality, with single keyboard shortcuts on top of macro sequences for even faster control over your devices and software.

The Stream Deck has evolved several times, with an XL and mini version, alongside an MK2 version of the original, joining the lineup since its launch a few years ago. Complemented by the Stream Deck Mobile app, the Stream Deck Pedal and the proprietary software enabling limitless functionality, Elgato has upgraded the platform again, this time with rotary knobs and a touchscreen.

Side note: everything is getting touch screens these days; check out the new JBL Tour PRO 2 earbuds to see what we’re talking about.

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

A Crowded Market

It’s also not the only option on the market. Excluding other iterations of the Stream Deck, there’s quite a bit of competition from brands such as Loupedeck, Razer, GMMK and the ever-growing mechanical keyboard community. For example, the Corsair K100 Air keyboard, tested by Ben McKimm, enables macro keyboard shortcuts through the four programmable G keys. A staple amongst many major gaming brands like Logitech, HyperX and Alienware.

And a while back, we covered the Monogram Modular Console, which proposed a more unorthodox approach to the macro pad, with components like dials and toggles that magnetically snap together, enabling a more customised workflow. Moreover, its software hooks into popular editing software through custom-built plugins and common standards like MIDI and HID joystick.

Another contender is the Loupedeck CT. Boasting a comparable arrangement of customisable and remappable LCD buttons and rotary dials, among standard buttons like Undo and Save, the device incorporates similar functionality as the Stream Deck+, opting for a circular touchscreen dial reminiscent of the Apple iPod.

Speaking of Apple, they also joined the macro party with their Shortcuts app, allowing macOS and iOS users to mix and match actions for automation that interact with the apps and content on Apple devices.

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Then there’s the world of mechanical keyboards. GMMK and Keychron are all big players in the mech scene, with rotary dials making their way to their flagship keyboards alongside sliders found in the recent GMMK Numpad. Of course, this barely scratches the surface of custom-built mechanical keyboards, where the possibilities are only limited by your patience and your skills with a soldering iron. And don’t even get us started on the lube. So fiddly.

What’s next for macro-pads? If we were to hazard a guess on the next device from Elgato and the world of macro pads, we reckon it’s in office space. We could see the company bring out an Elgato Strem Deck Mini+. Imagine a 2×2 stack of buttons and two rotary dials (above/below or to the sides). It could be the ultimate video call tool for muting, unmuting and controlling your music volume so you can quickly go back to blasting tunes after a meeting with the boss.

Check it out

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

Elgato Stream Deck+ | Image: Elgato

CONTRIBUTOR

Elliot Nash

Elliot Nash is a journalist and content producer from Sydney with over five years’ experience in the digital media space. He holds a Bachelor of Communications (Media Arts & Production) from the University of Technology Sydney and a Diploma of Screen & Media from the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE. Specialising in pop culture, news & current affairs, photography, audio and hi-fi, Elliot’s work has featured in 9News.com.au, 7NEWS.com.au, Next Luxury, Alive Radio and WhistleOut. He currently works as a Context Executive at Yoghurt Digital.