The Stream Deck has mastered the LCD key by making it peripheral

Like many great products, the Elgato Stream Deck was not Exactly a new idea.

When the very first debuted six years ago this month, we instantly compared it to Art Lebedev’s legendary Optimus Maximus keyboard, which promised an array of swirling OLED displays under your fingertips a decade earlier. . Razer also pioneered LCD keys before their time, pairing them with a keyboard and the company’s first-ever Blade laptop.

But today we celebrate the sheer genius of Elgato – the company that finally turned them into a viable product by making them relatively cheap, comfortable and, most importantly: peripheral.

Both Art Lebedev and Razer thought we wanted a new keyboard that transforms, where our main computing input mechanism should be replaced with one that intelligently adapts to our needs.

Even today, the idea seems grandiose: “Why Photoshop and earthquake introduce you to the same boring keyboard? you can practically hear Art Lebedev’s concept images ask.

Left: A Photoshop layout. Right: A Quake layout with fewer keys used.
Image: Art Lebedev

Razer, maybe inspired by this earthquake keyboard layout, asked a follow-up question in 2011: “If your keys can morph, maybe you don’t need that many to play PC games on the go?” The result was the Razer Switchblade, a prototype 7-inch portable gaming PC created through a partnership with Intel.

Razer didn’t sell that one, though. The final “Razer Switchblade” turned out to be much less exciting at the time: ten LCD keys and a touchscreen trackpad integrated into a regular keyboard. You can almost see a Stream Deck if you look closely – but still integrated, not yet peripheral.

This is why the idea did not hold. Razer believed users would buy an expensive ($250) keyboard or laptop ($2000+), give up the familiarity of input devices they already owned, and trust game developers to support its new Switchblade UI. It also didn’t help that the keys were rough – stiff, flat and brittle.

The Elgato Stream Deck required none of these compromises.

Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

The Stream Deck immediately presented itself as a purpose-built tool right down to its name, giving you handy buttons to control Twitch, OBS, and Twitter right off the bat. (It does a lot more today.) You place it next to your favorite keyboard, instead of replacing it, and between that and the $80 starting price of the six-key Stream Deck Mini, I was easily sold.

The knobs of an Elgato Stream Deck, in profile.
Photo by Dan Seifert/The Verge

And the touches, those touches… soft, plush, inviting, each jewel pressed like a piece of bubble wrap. I’m not saying it sounds like the satisfying creak of a mechanical switch – it’s an entirely different joy.

Speaking of which…I have a little announcement to make, a treat for any Stream Deck owners who might read this story:

The Verge has its own official Stream Deck plugin that pops bubbles!

Before heading out on a 2600 mile hike – seriously, he’s walking the Pacific Crest Trail – my dear colleague Mitchell Clark coded the bubble app from my daydreams, complete with sound effects. (He actually submitted it to Elgato on his first day on the track.) It works with as many buttons as you want; Tom even tested a full page of bubbles on his 32-button Stream Deck XL.

It’s available on the Elgato App Store, it’s our free gift and you can download it now.

I’m about to interview the manager of Elgato in the near future, and I intend to ask how they managed to make these keys feel good. We already know that there is no small screen under each key:

The buttons are all lenses which are based on a single LCD screen. The more you know!

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