Getting ready for CQ160 SSB this weekend by upgrading the remote shack with a better way to control RX antennas and other remotely switched functions at SE0X. Introducing the Stream Deck, a very useful gadget from the gaming community!
For a long time I have bee using a LAN connected relay board to remotely control my RX antennas and the 40 meter vertical array. This switch has an onboard web server and at the beginning I was using its rather clunky user interface to switch the antennas. But a web interface is not fast and convenient enough when logging in the heat of a contest. When switching RX antennas there is always a risk to leaving the logger out of focus loosing important momentum when running at a rate. I soon realised I needed a hardware interface that wasn’t relying on being in focus to work.
The first solution I came up with was using a Flic Button, a small self adhesive hardware button which connect to the smartphone using Bluetooth. The phone has an app where you configure the action to be taken, in my case pulling an URL to switch antennas. The Flic button accepts three states; tap, double-tap and press-and-hold. This way I could change between RX antenna in my three most important directions, North West, North East and South.
But this wasn’t enough, I need more switching to be able to conveniently control the 40 meter array and to switch the Axtorp vertical tuning unit between 160 and 80 meter. And this is where the Stream Deck enters at SE0X!
The Stream Deck is essentially a hardware controller with 15 buttons. Each button has a small backlit OLED display is configured to perform a single task when pressed. A freely available utility is used for configuring the action and create customised icons for each button. Stream Deck was developed for the gaming community as a way to allow for quickly produce a video stream during live gaming and streaming. Its comes with support for software specialised in this area, but it also has support for basic functionality like calling an URL, sending hotkeys and other functions.
It was very quick to set Stream Deck up for my purposes. I basically use URLs to control my antenna switching. Stream Deck lets me do this in the background, great! This way I don’t have to worry about which program has focus in Windows during the heat of a contest. I used Stream Deck’s online utility to create my icons using a combination of graphics and text. The resulting layout is displayed in the images in this article.
Another neat feature of Stream Deck is the foldable stand which delivered with the controller. It can easily be set to different angels and it can hide the excess USB cable below it.
The installation experience has been very good, and initial tests show very little latency when accessing my web switch at the station directly. I also use IFTTT to control a few items, but these are not critical so the added delay is not a problem for me.
The Stream Deck is much more flexible than a regular USB hardware controller which usually is limited to sending hot keys to the software in focus. The visual appearance is very good and the controller is very user friendly because of its customisable buttons displayed by the bright and clear OLED displays.
The only downside is that I can not read the status of each antenna setting. The controller itself should support this, but it would require a separate software package reading the state of the remote switch and feeding the information back to the Stream Deck so out can be displayed on the button OLED.
I will be giving the Stream Deck a run in the CQ160 SSB contest and add any thoughts after the contest, so check back in a few days.
GL in the Contest, 73 de SM0MDG/SE0X!
UPDATE Feb 28, 2019: At first I considered the Stream Deck for remote operation to simplify antenna switching. What makes Stream Deck powerful for me is that it can send URLs in the background. I use this functionality to control some of my switches. In addition I also tried using AutoHotKey, a clever scripting utility for Windows, to catch Stream Deck shortcut keys even if an application is in the background or not running at all. AutoHotKey lets you script more clever actions based on keyboard hotkeys and it can check the status of and control programs even if they are running in the background or not at all (by starting them). After using the Stream Deck in the CQ160 SSB contest I realise its not only a good solution for remote controlling my switching, it’s a flexible controller that should be very useful also when operating at the station.