What is a Stream Deck?

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 main page layout of my Stream Deck
Time and Date

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.




Stock Ticker

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





Screen Saver

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
end tell
Lights On and Lights Off

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.


--on
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
	run shortcut "Office Lights On"
end tell
--off
tell application "Shortcuts Events"
	run shortcut "Office Lights Off"
end tell
Start Working

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.



OctoDeck

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.




Now Playing

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.




Album Art

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.



Skip Track

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.




Sound and Lights Folder
Sound Effects

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.

Light Control

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).

Kallax and red icons by me, others by plugin.
Nanoleaf-Tiles plugin by fSoft ltd.
Govee plugin by me – release TBD



Slack

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 – /callstarts a call in Slack channel
  • Giphy – /giphyprefix for sending a random GIF
  • ThumbsUp – 👍🏼types and send thumbs up emoji
  • Quotes – shift+⌘+9formats the selected text as a block quote
  • </> – shift+⌘+Cformats the selected text as code
  • </> block – option+shift+⌘+Cformats the selected text as code block
  • Strike – shift+⌘+Xformats the selected text with strikethrough
    Custom icons by me.
    System Hotkey plugin by Elgato – available in the Stream Deck app
Mute Speakers

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.



Mute Mic

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.

Adobe Photoshop Profile

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.






Zoom Profile

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.

Microsoft Teams Profile

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.

Youtube Twitch GIF by Elgato

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.
Stream Deck GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY
image from Giphy

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
  • The Stream Deck SDK is very friendly and anyone can make their own plugins for free using Javascript, python, html, or c#
  • 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.

Which AirPods Are Right For You?

AirPods_hero

AirPods are completely wireless earphones that go in your ears to provide music or other audio from your Bluetooth device. Apple again revolutionlized music by making earphones that didn’t need wires and were super easy to use. They even went viral during their launch that made AirPods the trendy must-have accessory.

Five years later, Apple now sells four different versions of AirPods, and like some other product categories can be really confusing, especially when buying for others.

AirPods Max are a different kind of listening device and are more of a headphone than an earphone product.

I’m going to talk about the three white wireless versions of AirPods. These are always great gifts for the holidays and are still immensely popular with the younger crowds, but which AirPods are right for you?

AirPods (2nd-Generation)

The now iconic shape of wireless earbuds were refreshed in 2019 to offer additional features like “Hey Siri”, longer battery life, and wireless charging case. Other than the new features, the AirPods shape and design remained the same. It’s impossible to tell a generation 1 product from a generation 2 just by looking at them.

Like the EarPods that proceeded the AirPods, they were designed for a wide variety of ears and rest on the antitragus and intertragal notch. When they were first announced, everyone exclaimed that they were going to fall out of ears and get lost. Based on how EarPods always popped out, it was a hard sell. About 10 minutes after AirPods were in wearer’s ears, they were a hit. So much of a hit, they immediately faced a supply issue. I remember showing people my AirPods and they were in disbelief of the fact that they would stay in my ears, even while jogging.

AirPods Pro

With the success of the first generation AirPods came a lot of outcry that they just didn’t work in some ears. Additionally, the AirPods didn’t isolate sound and were basically useless on airplanes. About six months after the second generation AirPods were announced, Apple announced the AirPods Pro. These featured in-ear silicone tips that completely isolated sound and increased sound quality. Most people were familiar with earbuds that featured the same design, but Apple made the earbud a lot better. Noise cancelling, transparency mode, and increased frequency response were touted as the main features of the Pros. The biggest change was the shape. Gone was the long stem that projected out of people’s ears and was replaced by a stouter, less obvious version. The in-ear portion has silicone tips (in three sizes) to seal in the sound. The case was bigger and wider so the new style could fit in to charge magnetically like the original AirPods.

Apple will inevitably announce second generation AirPods Pro, but probably not until Spring 2022 at the earliest. The Pros being the flagship AirPods, they’ll probably receive new technology before it trickles down to the non-Pro AirPods.

AirPods 3

In October 2021, Apple announced what they’re calling the AirPods (3rd generation) but I’ll be referring to them as the AirPods 3 for confusion avoidance. This was the first time AirPods have changed shapes in almost five years. They look strikingly similar to the AirPods Pro by shrinking the stem and adding more speakers to the in-ear portion. The headlining features of the AirPods 3 are spatial audio, sweat/water resistance, and longer battery life. They also changed the controls to match the Pros by adding a force sensor to the stem so you can squeeze instead of jackhammering your ear. In a rare Apple move, the price also decreased from $199 to $179 for the wireless charging case.

Enjoy my ear as I cycle through wearing all three AirPods

Which AirPods Do I Want?

This is quite the subjective question because all ears are not created equal. The complicated answer falls into three categories to determine which AirPods are right for you.

  1. I want the cheapest AirPods, I don’t care about price.
    • AirPods 2nd generation are right for you, if you can find the 1st-gen, grab those instead
  2. I want to use my AirPods for working out and casual listening.
    • The added sweat resistance and comfort level of the AirPods 3 is great in this scenario
  3. I travel a lot and want to use my AirPods on planes, trains, and automobiles.
    • AirPods Pro offer noise cancelling and adjustable listening modes to aid you when traveling
Some caveats to those recommendations

AirPods (2nd generation) fit in most ears, while AirPods 3 are a bit larger and have trouble staying in ears with smaller openings. If you’re interested in moving from 2nd-gen to 3rd-gen, be aware that the AirPod is larger than the previous. My wife was able to wear 2nd-gen with no issue, but 3rd-gen do not stay in her ears.


AirPods Pro seal off outside noises and can cause you to hear internal noises while you’re ears a blocked. Think chewing and walking thumps. To me, this is the most annoying part of the Pros.

Tech Specs Showdown

AirPods 2nd-gen
AirPods Pro
AirPods 3
Price

$129

$249

$179

Active Noise Cancellation

No

Yes

No

Spatial Audio

No

Yes
Yes
Sweat/Water Resistant

No

Yes
Yes
Battery Life

5 hours

4.5 hours

6 hours
Wireless Charging Case

No

Yes
Yes
"Hey Siri"

Yes

Yes

Yes

Controls

Double-tap

Squeeze

Squeeze

Size (weight)

1.59"x.65"x.71" (4g)

1.22"x.86"x.94"(5.4g)

1.21"x.72"x.76" (4.28g)

Read more about Apple Products on Beard Blog

Next-Gen Showdown: Xbox Series X vs PS5

Xbox Series X vs PS5

The next generation of console gaming is here and it might be the biggest jump we’ve seen from generation to generation. PC gamers have been enjoying the next-gen performance for quite a while, but console gaming pushes game developers to implement new features and push the boundaries more widely. This generation we have the Xbox Series X from Microsoft and the Sony PlayStation 5.
I personally like console gaming because it’s an all-in-one package and ready to go out of the box. All the games are made for the current generation and you don’t have to worry about specifications or compatibility. Additionally, being able to sit down in front of my TV for a gaming session instead of in front of a computer (where I spend most of my days) is much more appealing to me.

The console wars have never been more tightly contested than now. We’re now at the point where Microsoft and Sony are buying up studios to get console exclusives and try to get an edge up on the competition. If you want to play all the best games, you need to have all the consoles (Nintendo included) because of the exclusives.

I’ve been lucky enough to acquire and spend the last six months with both the Xbox Series X and Sony PlayStation 5. It’s not an easy comparison with a clear winner so I’ve pitted the two against in each other in seven different categories. Read on to see who comes out on top.

Read more

The Best of 2020: Technology

One of my favorite categories to talk about and engage with others on is technology. Not only is it my day job but I would consider technology to also be a hobby and lifestyle of mine. Surprisingly 2020 gave us a lot of new technology; I guess that’s one thing that the pandemic couldn’t hold back. Some things were delayed, other things are supply constraint, but after it’s all said and done, nothing really got cancelled because of COVID. Good things come to those who wait so my top three picks this year were all released within a week of each other.

In order of release date, here are my three picks for best piece of technology sold in 2020:

Xbox Series X – November 10 | $499

The next generation of gaming is here! Finally we have solid state storage standard and get the amazing features like 120 frames per second and ray tracing. These are still really hard to find along with its counterpart the Sony PS5 due to high demand and low supply. Earlier this year I wrote about how you may want to put a new TV on your list as well to take full advantage of this new hardware.

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max – November 13 | Starts at $999

The iPhone design is all new this year and Apple finally brought back the flat edge design that the iPad Pro has had for a few years now. In addition to the great new design, all new iPhones get 5G, OLED displays, and new colors. The best of them all, the iPhone 12 Pro Max, includes major changes to the three camera system producing some of the best photos you can get out of a smartphone. Two really great things about the new iPhones Pro are storage and video. Apple starts the Pro Max out at 128GB which is the sweet spot of storage for me. Lastly, the new iPhones Pro take HDR (Dolby Vision) video which may not seem like much, but when you watch it on your phone or an HDR TV, you really see the difference. I don’t want to take any other kind of videos again.

Apple MacBook Air – November 17 | Starts at $999

Earlier this summer Apple mentioned they would be ditching Intel for their processors and moving to their own, dubbed Apple Silicon. Now we have the first set of Macs which include the new Apple Silicon processors, the M1. It’s crazy to think that for only $999 you can get a tiny little laptop that has all day battery life and is faster than 90% of the computers out on the market, right now. We’ll probably never see leaps and bounds like this in computers again, so we have to relish it while it’s here. Anyone who asks me what computer they should buy, before they can finish I blurt out “MacBook Air with M1”. It’s great for everything from web browsing to professional video editing. It’s truly a great computer at a great price.

Honorable mention:
LG CX OLED 65″ TV | April – $2199.99


Check out more of my ‘Best of 2020’ —> Here

Want Next-Gen Gaming? You Need a New TV!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
    • Supports HDR10+
  • Budget Pick: Vizio P Series Quantum X LCD 65”, 75”, or 85”
    • Great pick if you want a super-large TV
    • Supports both HDR10+ & Dolby Vision

If you’re interested in getting into the minute specifics of these details, it’s a great rabbit hole to go down, check out my favorite site, RTings, here: https://www.rtings.com/tv/reviews/best/by-usage/video-gaming

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.