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Thread: The expensive way to add to your keyboard... :P

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    Default The expensive way to add to your keyboard... :P

    While we're on the subject of input devices, I didn't want to derail the other thread. (JoyToKey is a great way to get more use from a controller!) But as somewhat of an input device junkie, it seemed like a great time to give a shout-out to another very versatile -- but definitely not cheap -- device.

    This is the Elgato Stream Deck XL. A 4 x 8 programmable macro key device. (Click for bigger image)
    StreamDeckSmall.jpg

    What's different about it from the X-Keys from PI engineering (RailDriver folks) or the Genovation macro keypads that are popular with graphics and video pros and industrial users, is that the keys themselves are buttons on top of an LCD display, and the key legends are completely configurable in software. So you can have a custom key layout and key legends for any software you want, and switch between the layouts at will or automatically when an application is detected in the foreground.

    In my picture, it's configured for Euro Truck Simulator/American Truck Simulator. The buttons are set up as simple mappings to key-presses. The graphics are from a collection that's on the Internet to be used with the old Roccat PowerGrid application that turned a smartphone into a configurable macro keypad. I modified some of the icons in Paint.net to make ones for additional functions. Others for game functions are completely new ones I created using clip art. It's not hard to do, and it lets you create a custom control layout for any game, with meaningful icons and text instead of generic keys or sticky labels on keys.

    Simple hot-keys and macros are kind of the most basic function of the device; it was designed as a tool for Internet content streaming -- Twitch, YouTube, etc. and it has an API that allows it to integrate with other software for more advanced behavior. Entire workflows can be programmed for it, with the keys automatically changing as a sequence of actions runs.

    Of course, since it has an API, it can connect to anything that can use it. There's already an X-Plane add-on that uses Python scripting to connect X-Plane's API with the StreamDeck, and exchange stateful information between X-Plane and the StreamDeck, so that buttons can match the state of the virtual cockpit's own on-screen buttons.

    This could be really useful with a cutting-edge sim application like the upcoming new Microsoft Flight Simulator. It will be interesting to see if the new sim has an API to support devices like this. I've thought about getting some of the Saitek/Logitech flight sim panels, but the software is known to be troublesome, there are limitations even with alternate drivers for them, and they're still locked to generic layouts. The flexibility of the software-defined key functions and visual legends on the buttons is so much more flexible.

    I really like that Open Rails has support for assigning the RailDriver's buttons in the Monogame experimental versions. Adding this device allows more functions -- like the additional key mappings needed for steam locomotives -- to be set up.

    At $250 US on Amazon, it's not cheap, though. There are 3 x 5 and 2 x 3 button layout versions that are cheaper, but I went for the flexibility of the larger key layout while I could.

    There's also an iPhone app version that mimics the 3 x 5 version in software on the phone touchscreen, but the software is sold as subscription-only -- which seems foolish to me.

    There are also a number of "button box" apps for iOS and Android devices that do the same thing, and allow for custom icons and buttons, but not all of them are easy to design for and I've never liked touchscreens all that much. (They annoy me in real cars -- you HAVE to look at them to aim where you touch. I much prefer tacticle buttons you can locate by feel and a quick glance only if necessary.) Phone apps also need WiFi or Bluetooth connections to the PC, and I prefer the reliability of a wired USB connection.

    Anybody else find anything useful like this?


    MSTS-Roundhouse

    On hiatus and moving to a new host -- Probably in 2021
    (Because 2020 has turned out to be b0rked beyond belief...
    )

  2. #2
    Join Date
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by EricF View Post
    While we're on the subject of input devices, I didn't want to derail the other thread. (JoyToKey is a great way to get more use from a controller!) But as somewhat of an input device junkie, it seemed like a great time to give a shout-out to another very versatile -- but definitely not cheap -- device.

    This is the Elgato Stream Deck XL. A 4 x 8 programmable macro key device. (Click for bigger image)
    StreamDeckSmall.jpg

    What's different about it from the X-Keys from PI engineering (RailDriver folks) or the Genovation macro keypads that are popular with graphics and video pros and industrial users, is that the keys themselves are buttons on top of an LCD display, and the key legends are completely configurable in software. So you can have a custom key layout and key legends for any software you want, and switch between the layouts at will or automatically when an application is detected in the foreground.

    In my picture, it's configured for Euro Truck Simulator/American Truck Simulator. The buttons are set up as simple mappings to key-presses. The graphics are from a collection that's on the Internet to be used with the old Roccat PowerGrid application that turned a smartphone into a configurable macro keypad. I modified some of the icons in Paint.net to make ones for additional functions. Others for game functions are completely new ones I created using clip art. It's not hard to do, and it lets you create a custom control layout for any game, with meaningful icons and text instead of generic keys or sticky labels on keys.

    Simple hot-keys and macros are kind of the most basic function of the device; it was designed as a tool for Internet content streaming -- Twitch, YouTube, etc. and it has an API that allows it to integrate with other software for more advanced behavior. Entire workflows can be programmed for it, with the keys automatically changing as a sequence of actions runs.

    Of course, since it has an API, it can connect to anything that can use it. There's already an X-Plane add-on that uses Python scripting to connect X-Plane's API with the StreamDeck, and exchange stateful information between X-Plane and the StreamDeck, so that buttons can match the state of the virtual cockpit's own on-screen buttons.

    This could be really useful with a cutting-edge sim application like the upcoming new Microsoft Flight Simulator. It will be interesting to see if the new sim has an API to support devices like this. I've thought about getting some of the Saitek/Logitech flight sim panels, but the software is known to be troublesome, there are limitations even with alternate drivers for them, and they're still locked to generic layouts. The flexibility of the software-defined key functions and visual legends on the buttons is so much more flexible.

    I really like that Open Rails has support for assigning the RailDriver's buttons in the Monogame experimental versions. Adding this device allows more functions -- like the additional key mappings needed for steam locomotives -- to be set up.

    At $250 US on Amazon, it's not cheap, though. There are 3 x 5 and 2 x 3 button layout versions that are cheaper, but I went for the flexibility of the larger key layout while I could.

    There's also an iPhone app version that mimics the 3 x 5 version in software on the phone touchscreen, but the software is sold as subscription-only -- which seems foolish to me.

    There are also a number of "button box" apps for iOS and Android devices that do the same thing, and allow for custom icons and buttons, but not all of them are easy to design for and I've never liked touchscreens all that much. (They annoy me in real cars -- you HAVE to look at them to aim where you touch. I much prefer tacticle buttons you can locate by feel and a quick glance only if necessary.) Phone apps also need WiFi or Bluetooth connections to the PC, and I prefer the reliability of a wired USB connection.

    Anybody else find anything useful like this?
    Hi Eric,

    Yeah - I've looked at that a couple times and have been tempted - I actually contacted Elgato as well - the one thing holding me back is it sounded like the macro language included with the device wasn't really that sophisticated - perhaps you can shed some light on it ? As per Elgato - if you want to do things like hold a keyboard press for a defined amount of time (which I use a great deal in ORTS) I'd need a third party macro solution... I like the flexibility that thing should have to store various profiles - for different sims - and the fact that each button is a mini LCD that can display different images for each profile makes it pretty enticing... Sure beats trying to remember what you have assigned where...

    For me - JoyToKey is too basic for Macros but it's cheap and easy to setup - it does what it was designed to do quite well...

    A better piece of software is VoiceAttack which I've used for years and is amazing... It has a much more powerful macro facility... I use it with Flight Sim all the time as it gives you the option of triggering commands from Key Stroke, Joystick, or Verbal Command through a headset... The voice recognition is quite good and seldom makes a mistake.. I have it acting as a virtual copilot in Flight Sim - reading checklists to me - acknowledging my responses - interacting with ATC - and - performing tasks on its own... When flying aircraft certified for two pilot operation - it's amazingly helpful... The developer is extremely customer orientated and he actually added the voice challenge and response (checklists) feature at my request... At $10.00 - it's another piece of software that you can't go wrong with...

    https://voiceattack.com/

    Regards,
    Scott



    Regards,
    Scott
    Last edited by scottb613; 02-22-2020 at 10:59 AM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    New England
    Posts
    863

    Default

    The remembering issue is what drove me to the stream deck. I have no memory for keyboard commands outside the normal Windows keyboard shortcuts that I use endlessly. Everything else kind of falls out. Setting macros positionally, and with RGB color-coding on a good keyboard helps, but isn't great for everything. So the configurable display function made me look at the stream deck as an investment in one controller that's genuinely functional for multiple purposes.

    So far I'm using it for one-shot keypresses and "fire and forget" types of macros. I think the limitation on key-hold functions is probably wrapped up in both how the API protects against repeats that would break workflows, and also the key debounce function. (The early versions of the software had issues with key bounce, because the keys press on a a membrane contact sheet around the perimeter of each key, and pressing on any one corner can trigger as a keypress -- pressing more than one corner progressively used to register as multiple keypresses which made pressing keys off-center a big problem.)

    Right now, I'm using the Stream Deck for tap-up/tap-down key functions, and I'll experiment with my regular PC keyboard that can do macros as well for things that rely on key-repeat. That's also where there's still a use for re-labeled USB numpads and macro keypads like X-Keys and the Genovation pads.

    But the Stream Deck sure can still replace a lot of dedicated keypads -- apparently it's getting really popular with video and graphics professionals who frequently map the myriad of commands to multiple macro keypads... which eat desk space terribly.

    I've tried voice control off and on for various things... not Voice Attack specifically though. It's sure gotten better over the years. But people in my house tend to like it quiet and frown on my talking at the computer too much.


    MSTS-Roundhouse

    On hiatus and moving to a new host -- Probably in 2021
    (Because 2020 has turned out to be b0rked beyond belief...
    )

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