Editing content usually means mastering plenty of keyboard shortcuts. There are many accessories that help make them clearer. Programmable keyboards however help you to customise shortcuts for as many different functions as you want, and use them for everything.
We discovered programmable keyboards whilst working on a live production, with a video mixer controlled on a MacBook Pro. The problem for us was that we were used to physical video mixers with real buttons, and didn’t fancy spending hours pressing shift every time we needed to control a camera. We invested in a small programmable keyboard called the Elgato Stream Deck, which we connected to the MacBook Pro as a second keyboard, with each key being a mini LCD screen that can have any action assigned to it. In this case, we memorised the shortcuts of the mixer and added the names of the camera operators to each key and inserted a headshot of each of them to make it be used as a real control panel as per the image below.
Programmable against customized
If we consider that when editing content, thousands of keyboard shortcuts are required with two or three keystrokes, therefore to have this type of accessory is extremely interesting. There have been the more traditional keyboards that can be customised by colours or signs as seen below…
The limitation to these however is that you cannot use your own shortcuts. In addition, if the editing software that you use decides to change its shortcuts, then that keyboard is effectively redundant. Another problem is that we sometimes forget certain key combinations because we use them less often, and therefore wastes time.The programmable one, on the other hand, eliminates all these constraints.
How does the Stream Deck work?
The idea of the Stream Deck is quite simple. The 15 keys display what you want, and can be assigned to any action i.e. a keyboard shortcut, the launch of a new application, the automatic entry of a recorded sentence and even successive shortcuts. The Stream Deck also stores folders, meaning that you can have a home screen from where the applications are launched, before pressing the ‘folder’ key on Premiere Pro to access another keyboard with shortcuts for that particular application.
You can create a folder for all your applications and switch from one keyboard to another. It’s magical. In our case and on Premiere Pro, the most tiring thing is to move from one window to another, such as the editing panel, project panel, effects options panel… Just as it is painful to systematically use CTRL + K to cut the planes under the reading head.
So we assigned as many “painful” actions as possible to the Stream Deck, which allows us to work more efficiently. Photoshop users will also be happy to group all their tools together using this keyboard. As with all cases of customisation, it’s up to you to find the right configuration for your uses
Programming a keyboard can be scary. Don’t worry, you don’t have any line of code to write! This keyboard is always controlled by a small and simple software.
When it opens, it shows the 15 keys on the screen. It is then sufficient to proceed as follows
1. Select the desired key
2. Choose in the drop-down list on the right the type of action to assign. What is of interest to us as professionals are the Stream Deck (to create a folder for example) and System (for keyboard shortcuts or launching an application) sections.
3. Drag and drop the action on the key.
4. Give a title (and that’s funny because the text is written at the same time on the real keyboard!)
5. Enter the key combination/action to be assigned
6. As an option, you can use an image to put it on the sidelines, or pick from the publisher’s online icon bank.
7. The Stream Deck can now be used. Indeed, you can save Profiles for each user. And it works just as well on Mac & PC.
Of course, if you didn’t know this device before then it is easy to live without it. However, for us it has helped no end to work more efficiently. It is a bit like going from working on one screen to two, and you can just not go back afterwards. It is also a mobile device, making it even more useful with a laptop with limited space (no keypad for example). Whilst we have used the Stream Deck in this example, there are dozens of references with more or less keys and more or less functions.