The Steam Deck, not to be confused with the Stream Deck, is a handheld gaming “console” that isn’t from Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo. Valve, the company behind Half-Life, Portal, and Steam, made a portable computer you can play games on.
Back in my day, PC gaming was a never-ending money pit of hardware upgrades as new games push the limits of graphics cards. This vicious cycle led me to primarily be a console gamer, mostly focusing on Sony’s Playstation. I was intrigued when Valve announced the Steam Deck, but like most others, skeptical of the performance a portable PC can achieve. Earlier this year I pre-ordered a Steam Deck, but after reviews said it’s not ready yet, I pulled my order. Meanwhile, Valve worked hard on software updates and getting units shipped, so I gave it time to percolate. Revisiting tech reviews, Reddit first-hand accounts, and six months of improvements, I was ready to give it a go.
Prior to fall 2022, Valve had long wait times to get your hands on a Steam Deck, much like the almost two-year-old next-gen consoles. Apparently I waited until the right time as my pre-order was only in for a few days before I was able to actually order a console. Within about 10 days, it was delivered to my home and I was full steam ahead.
The first thing I did was look at my sad Steam library and figure out how to play games. After exploring SteamOS a bit, I went directly to Reddit to aid in my fun. The Steam Deck community was alive and well and has all the resources I needed to learn about Steam games, emulation, and playing non-Steam games on my brand new Steam Deck.
While a huge device, it’s comfortable to hold and not heavy
Great software and familiar if you know Linux
So many buttons
Speakers sound good for how small they are
Right to Repair friendly
The screen could be better on a device released in 2022
Base model storage is slow and tiny
No built-in cellular options
Feels kind of locked to SteamOS
Battery life is very low, especially on newer games
No native way to run Windows
Runs hot and has an exhaust port
Not a Nintendo Switch competitor
The Steam Deck is a full-fledged gaming computer, that (almost) fits in your hands. For me, it wouldn’t replace a Nintendo Switch or gaming on an iPhone. The Steam Deck is targeted at the PC gaming market in an effort to take those games on the go. What Valve may not have realized, is they have a tinkerer’s dream on their hands. Giving a technically inclined person a powerful computer they can take with them on an Airplane is great opportunity in a small package.
What you CAN do with the Steam Deck: – Play most games available on Steam – Install and use most apps available to Linux distros – Emulate retro gaming systems – Emulate Nintendo Switch games – Play Xbox Cloud games – Use it as a real computer
What you CANNOT do with the Steam Deck: – Play native Windows games without workarounds – Run iOS or Android apps/games – Easily play PC games not purchased through Steam – Play games for more than six hours without charging – Mirror wirelessly to a display or TV – Natively play Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo games
Did you know?
Steam makes a dock for the Stream Deck to allow you to use it as a full desktop computer or connect to a TV for a Nintendo Switch-like experience.
You may have seen something like this on technology blogs (like this one!), YouTube videos, or even your favorite Twitch streamer, but what actually is this Stream Deck thing everyone is talking about?
I’ve always thought a Stream Deck was a command station for streamers and YouTubers that can control their streamy stuff and play stupid sound effects. While I wasn’t wrong, the Stream Deck platform is open and friendly to those of us who are into automation and scripting.
Like a lot of people, I took advantage of holiday season sales to purchase a Stream Deck by Elgato. The device is a very simple piece of hardware. At it’s core, it’s a USB keyboard that stands upright on your desk. The version I have has a five by three grid of clear buttons that each have an LCD screen under them. I opted for the mk.2 version that was released in the summer of 2021. (What are the differences?) The ability to have anything on the screen under the buttons make the Stream Deck very fun to play with and to use!
I’m going to go into very technical detail of how my Stream Desk is set up and what I use it for. Hold on to your butts!
The first button is a simple date/time display with my custom background color applied. No action occurs when this button is pressed. Time plugin by Krabs.
Moving from left to right, the next button is a stock ticker display. Currently I have it set to show $AAPL. When you press this button it retrieves an update on the stock price, outside of its schedule update. Stocks plugin by exension
When I walk away from my computer, I want to just put up the screensaver until is goes to sleep. This button, when pressed, runs a custom AppleScript to start the screensaver. At the same time, the Stream Deck goes into screen saver mode. Custom icon featuring a green iMac, by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
tell application "System Events"
start current screen saver
The next two buttons are the same, except the left one is for on, and the right is for off. They both run an AppleScript that runs a Shortcut. The macOS Shortcut turns on/off the lights in my office I use for video calls. This consists of a Nanoleaf essentials light strip in front of my face, Nanoleaf shapes on the wall behind me, and a Govee RGBIC light strip on my Kallax unit behind me. Custom lightbulb icons by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
run shortcut "Office Lights On"
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
run shortcut "Office Lights Off"
The first icon in the second row is another AppleScript button that I call ‘Start Working’. This is usually the first thing I do when I start working from home. It opens all the URLs I like to look at (e.g. Amazon, BlipShift, Woot) and work related web pages. It also opens all the applications I use daily like Outlook, Slack, Teams, NewsExplorer, LastPass, and Music. Custom briefcase icon by me. RunAppleScript plugin by mushoo.
The next button is another display only button that really doesn’t do much when pressed. This is called Octodeck and is a plugin that talks to my 3D printer server, Octoprint. This displays the percentage complete of an active 3D print job. I added a couple lines to the original creator’s code to include the time left, one line under the percentage. Octodeck plugin by cpeuschel.
This center button is kind of a playground of what’s possible. I was testing Keyboard Maestro and its Stream Deck integration and came up with this. In Keyboard Maestro I have a timed macro that runs every 1 minute and grabs the song info from the Music app and pushes it to the Stream Deck button. Also, if you press the button, it will update the info outside of the one minute interval. Keyboard Maestro plugin by Stairways Software.
Another mostly info-only button, displays the album art of the currently playing song in Music. When not playing it shows a play button that can be used to start playing music. This is a simple one, but I like having the album art displayed on my Stream Deck. Apple Music plugin Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
The last button in this row, is a simple ‘next track’ button for Apple Music. When pressed this will skip to the next song when music is playing. I like having this button on Stream Deck as well as on my Apple keyboard. Custom icon made by me. Apple Music plugin Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
In the third row, we start with two folders. The first folder holding sound effects that can be triggered with the push of a button. I also have a button in this folder to switch to my Zoom profile as I’m usually triggering these sounds while on a Zoom call.
The second folder is for all my lighting controls. I can go into this folder and adjust my office lighting as needed outside of my normal on/off functions on the main screen. In this folder I can change the scene on my Nanoleaf shapes, adjust my Govee light strip, and set all lights to red (when I’m angry).
Another folder in the third row houses my quick access commands for Slack. All of these buttons use a hotkey command to make changes to text in Slack. The middle button with the slack logo, when pressed, opens Slack or brings the application into focus.
Phone – /call – starts a call in Slack channel
Giphy – /giphy – prefix for sending a random GIF
ThumbsUp – ???????? – types and send thumbs up emoji
Quotes – shift+⌘+9 – formats the selected text as a block quote
</> – shift+⌘+C – formats the selected text as code
</> block – option+shift+⌘+C – formats the selected text as code block
Strike – shift+⌘+X – formats the selected text with strikethrough Custom icons by me. System Hotkey plugin by Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app
Next to last, is a mute button. When pressed, this mutes all sounds on the computer connected to the Stream Deck. I usually use this when I receive a phone call or need to quickly hear something not in my office. Custom mute icon by me. System Multimedia plugin by Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app.
The last button is a microphone mute toggle. This is a system-wide button that when pressed either mutes or unmutes the computer microphone. Useful for when I’m using a video chat app that’s not Zoom or Teams. Custom mic icon by me. Mic Mute Toggle plugin by Fred Emmott.
Stream Deck Profiles
The Stream deck can support multiple profiles that will display specific pages based on the application you’re using. I’m using three profiles in addition to the default profile, outlined above.
When I’m using Photoshop I like to have quick actions in front of me instead of trying to remember the keyboard shortcuts. As I use this profile more with Photoshop, I’m sure I’ll add more commands. The icons used in this profile were provided by SideShowFX.
While on a Zoom call, I like to have a button to press to mute my microphone, as everyone should. (and remember to unmute it) I found a Zoom plugin that gives you more than just mute, but also camera control and some other useful buttons. The center button with the Zoom logo does nothing other than let me know which profile I’m in at a glance. The button in the very bottom-right corner switches me back to my default profile where I can access light controls and sounds. If I click out the Zoom app and then go back to Zoom, the Zoom Stream Deck profile reactivates. Zoom plugin and icons by LostDomain.
Lastly, I have a Teams profile which is similar to the Zoom profile, but there is no plugin I’ve found as of writing this. I’m using hotkey buttons to trigger actions in Teams, like mute/unmute and show/hide camera. The Teams logo in the middle acts as a profile switch to go back to the default profile.
Should you buy a Stream Deck?
Overall I think the Stream Deck is a fun toy and can be helpful with repetitive tasks. Would I be lost without one? No, but I’ve already gotten comfortable with the buttons/display I have setup that I would buy a replacement if mine was stolen.
Should you buy one? That’s a difficult question because everyone’s needs/wants are different. If you’re into tinkering, scripting, and/or automation I think you should give Stream Deck a try. If you’re not, you may struggle with what to do with your new Stream Deck. It can always be used to add a wow factor to your desk setup.
Things to Note
The Stream Deck currently only works on a Windows or Mac computer. The Stream Deck community has it running in Linux, but is not officially supported.
The Stream Deck device must always be plugged into the computer to work, there’s no wireless option.
In order to get the auto-switching profiles for specific applications, the Stream Deck software has to be running, but not currently have any windows open. If you have any Stream Deck application windows open, in the background or not, the automatic switching will not work. This is somewhat annoying and hard to determine on macOS as the application does not show up in the application switcher or dock.
The Stream Deck software has to be running for the device to work. If you quit the app, the Stream Deck goes into screensaver mode and does not function.
If you have more than one computer, you have to transfer/re-install your plugins, icons, etc. on each computer. Currently there’s no cloud syncing between devices. Same goes if you have multiple Stream Decks.
Fun Tips & Tricks
You can set the icon of any button to an animated GIF
Any button can have a custom icon – you can make your own or download them
You can take a single image and chop it up into a grid and set that as your button icons
The mk.1 and mk.2 Stream Deck are vey similar with the exception of the mk.2 having USB-C (at the Stream Deck end only), longer cable, solid stand, and interchangeable faceplate (not included)
There are currently three sizes of Stream Deck, mini 3×2, regular 5×3, and XL 8×4
Elgato’s software is free and you don’t need a device to play with Stream Deck configurations
Let me know on Twitter if you also have a Stream Deck and the different things you do with it.
This is not sponsored content. Elgato is not affiliated nor has influenced this post.
Thinking about getting a Sony PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series S|X this holiday season, or any point in the future? If so, the odds are your current TV won’t be good enough to get everything out of these next-gen1 consoles. Here’s why…
What’s Special About the Next-Gen Consoles
The next generation of console gaming is here and with it brings a variety of new technology that will make gaming exponentially better than previous generations. For starters, both new consoles come with solid state storage (finally!) that will make loading times 100 times faster than older systems. Another significant change is how similar the two major systems (PS5 & Xbox) compare in performance. In years past we could see an easy winner of performance on paper, but this generation, it’s much closer. The PS5 and Xbox Series X both make claims of achieving 120 frames per second2 at 4K resolution3 , which was previously only possible on very high-end computer rigs.
So Why Do I Need a New TV?
Let’s say for a moment you got a nice shiny new 4K TV a year or two ago and think that your new gaming system will look great on it. Yes it will display at 4K, but you won’t get the new features that allow 120fps gaming or advanced HDR4 for gaming. Keep in mind, if you’re TV isn’t updated, you’re better off waiting to get a new PlayStation or Xbox until you get a new TV or there is a specific game you want to play on the next-gen consoles. If you currently have a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One or One S, you’re not even currently getting above 1080P5 gaming. You need a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X6 to get the higher resolutions. If you’re fine with not getting the most out of your new system and just want the next-gen consoles, then you’re good to go and don’t need to keep reading.
What Do I Look for in a New TV?
There are three major keys to look for in a new TV for your next-gen console. I would make sure the TV you’re selecting has all of these features to make your experience the best it can be.
HDMI version 2.1 This is the latest spec of HDMI that allows 3x more data to go through the cable. Both systems have HDMI 2.1 ports, so your TV needs to as well.
120hz refresh rate This is how fast a TV refreshes the picture. Most TVs operate at 60hz. The 120hz refresh rate is needed to hit that 120fps mark.
HDR10+ or Dolby Vision support These are competing HDR standards. This will allow you to get the most 4K/HDR content out of your new TV. I personally prefer Dolby Vision, but if you buy a Samsung, it will have HDR10+.
Bonus features to look for: VRR (Variable Refresh Rate), G-SYNC, FreeSync, HGiG, and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode)
Just Tell Me What TV to Buy
If you don’t want to look for a TV that has everything you could need to enjoy next-gen gaming, I have some recommendations for you.
Top Pick: LG CX OLED 55”, 65” or 77”
Has all the bells and whistles plus it’s OLED so it looks incredible
Supports Dolby Vision
Samsung Q80T LCD 55”, 65” or 75”
Great alternative to the high-priced OLED, also has everything you need
Budget Pick: Vizio P Series Quantum X LCD 65”, 75”, or 85”
Personally I chose the LG CX OLED 65” for my home theater and gaming TV. The TV was discounted heavily for the holidays and met all my requirements. Now all I have to do is wait for my Xbox Series X to show up.