Repurposing Tech

Posted by on May 17, 2017 in General

As I have stated many times, I am an occasional streamer. I like to think that I’m only one regular schedule away from being even moderately popular, but I am also a realist: I know that I am not anyone’s demographic based on the games that I play and…you know…that I’m a middle-aged guy — not young enough to have my finger on the pulse of the stream viewing public, not old enough to be a novelty, and not enough cleavage to get people to turn in no matter what I play.

Yet I am inappropriately attracted to the new Elgato Streamdeck.

Licking this image does nothing. I’ve tried.

A few years ago there was a product called the Optimus Maximus (which I just found out had actually been produced!) which was a keyboard where every key was a tiny LCD screen. This seems like a stupidly logical product not just for gamers but for all kinds of professionals. The idea was that you could design a custom keyboard, replacing the staid lettering with icons that might have more at-a-glance meaning for whatever you were getting up to with your input. For folks who use Photoshop or other keyboard-intensive apps (I’m glaring at you, Blender), such functionality would be a godsend. It was apparently too costly or too technologically steep to mass produce so the product and its spawn were discontinued, but the technology caught on somewhat, most prominently in the Razer Star Wars: The Old Republic-branded gaming keyboard which sported 10 programmable function LCD keys and one big LCD trackpad. Still, this was a bespoke product, and while I’m sure some folks bought them, this specific device also seems to have been discontinued.

Elgato makes products for streamers. They are known for their capture cards, which are dedicated hardware that allows users to offload some of the heavy lifting usually reserved for the CPU when broadcasting. They also make breakout boxes that allow for the connection of consoles for streaming to services that integrated solutions might not support.

It seems that Elgato does have their fingers on the pulse of what streamers need, and one thing that streamers apparently need is more control over their productions. Apps like OBS and XSplit have a lot of features, but they either require the user-slash-streamer to move focus from the game to the app to trigger, to use a mobile device companion app, or require keyboard hotkeys to be recognized by the app which, when playing a game, especially those which have a whole lot of keyboard commands, is easier said than done.

The Streamdeck seeks to alleviate these issues. It ties directly into popular streaming apps to allow for direct actions through its 16 programmable LCD keys so that the operator can trigger whatever bell and/or whistle he or she feels needs to be shoved into the viewers face at any given time. This is where my well-crafted prose regarding the act of streaming is going to trail off into a mumble because that level of need is way beyond what I’m interested in when it comes to the Streamdeck.

I’m talking about this disaster area:

You might be an old-school sim gamer if this makes you drool instead of vomit.

That’s the keyboard layout for Star Citizen. If you squint you’ll notice that there’s not just a set of commands for most keys, but that each assigned key has a shift state as well. Flying a starship ain’t easy, folks, and although I have a lot of buttons on my HOTAS, there’s simply not enough easily accessible buttons to accommodate the full range of actions I’ll need to perform in order to keep my ass alive in the cold depths of space. Sure, I could use the keyboard, but the older I get the less bandwidth I have for remembering which four-finger configuration triggers ECM, and which triggers the eject sequence.

Is it possible for a product designed to play obnoxious sounds and display irritating graphics on a live stream on command to execute at least some of these keyboard functions in Star Citizen? Supposedly, yes. See, from what I can gather, the Streamdeck isn’t much more than a really expensive “speed pad”, which has existed for many years under the names of Belkin Nostromo (now the Razer Orbweaver/Tartarus) and the Logitech G13. These products are little more than a small keyboard seated upon an ergonomic hand rest (although the G13 sports an LCD display of sorts), but it’s the programmable software that does the real work. Each key can be programmed to relay a normal key value, a key combo, activate an application or intrinsic command (in supported apps), or even a series of commands. I frequently use my Nostromo for games like The Secret World to allow me to move using the thumb stick and execute my attacks with the action keys. It allows me to place my hand in the comfortable position so I don’t have to wave around looking for the right key in the right situation.

So why the Streamdeck if I have a pile of speed pads already? Those keys, man! When talking about complex games like Star Citizen, it’s easier to pick an icon from a lineup or to find an acronym on a key that matches the acronym displayed in the game so there’s no need to remember which key combo has been assigned to which key doing what. While a regular speed pad would do just as well…those LCD keys for crying out loud!

The proof will be in the pudding, so they say. I should be getting a Streamdeck…(checks watch)…tomorrow, so I’m hoping that my understanding and expectations aren’t totally off base in regards to the functionality of this thing. Of course, I can also use it for streaming, but…who would know?