Firstly, what we need to look at is what do the words “gaming keyboard” actually mean. Well I will tell you that it is exactly what you think it is. It is a keyboard for gaming. Now with most people it stops there because they think that just because it is a gaming keyboard it can only be used for gaming and nothing else. They don’t realise that a gaming keyboard can be used for much more than just gaming. So this article is aimed at giving some advice in regards to choosing the right gaming keyboard for you. I remember my first programmable gaming keyboard (the Logitech G15) and how I struggled with it. The only reason why I wanted it, was because it was the best on the market at the time and I felt for that reason I needed to own one. I had absolutely no idea what to do with it or what I was going to use it for. I did however, almost add another feature to it’s already impressive list of pre-installed features by illustrating just how effective the keyboard can be in a game of cricket or anything involving a bat. It really irritated me because I did not need it for all the functions and because they were there, I felt I had to use them all. I did use them all in the end, but that was only because I advanced my game play and in doing so required more functions out of the keyboard.
So let’s take a look at some of the aspects that we will have to deal with when looking at gaming keyboards.
- The features installed on a gaming keyboard and what they actually do
- The terminology used in gaming keyboards
- What are the best types of gaming keyboards
- How do we know which is the right type of gaming keyboard for us
Now many people are already gamers, serious or not and know exactly what the features are and what they can do. But there are as many people out there that don’t know what the features are supposed to do and whether the features are in fact what they actually need. So I have put together a list of the features that you will find on gaming keyboards and below I will explain each one of them more clearly.
Here is a list of the features that you will find installed on gaming keyboards. I would like to add, that not every gaming keyboard has all of the features mentioned below installed on them at the same time.
- LCD Display screen
- Programmable G-keys (for macros and macros on the fly)
- Back Lighting
- In game mode switch
- Media controls
- Detachable Key Pad
- High Speed USB Ports
- Automatic Profile Switching
- Cruise Control
Now as we can see there are many features that you will find installed on a gaming keyboard, but the important thing now is to know what they can do and when to use them. Let’s take a closer look at the features and see how they can be used for gaming but also for outside of gaming.
The LCD Display screen is a screen at the top of the keyboard (typically in the middle) which displays a host of information to you during game play. An example of the information displayed is; vital game statistics, system statistics, VOIP communication data and you can even see what server your friends are playing certain games on, such as World of Warcraft. You can also watch photo slide shows on the screen as well as YouTube videos (this feature is only on the Logitech G19). So there we can see how good the LCD screen is. Outside of gaming you can still see system statistics displayed, but only on the Logitech G19 can you watch videos and photo slide shows.
Programmable G-Keys (or game keys) are keys that can be programmed to execute certain commands. You can program multiple keys to be executed with a single keypress. So in other words, if you have a command which you would like to execute but it has more than one keystroke required then you would program a G-key to perform all those keypresses for you. Now this is vital in game playing, especially in strategy and role-playing games. But programmable keys can also be used in everyday computing. I own the Logitech G19 Gaming Keyboard and I use the programmable key feature to program my passwords and small snippets of text which is normally login information. This is a great feature for those that work with databases or anything where numerous logins are required. It is also good for designers and editors where numerous keypresses are sometimes required.
Back Lighting is a really cool feature. This is standard on all gaming keyboards irrespective of all the other features mentioned above. Basically what this feature does is illuminate the keys from underneath. There are typically three levels of brightness for the back lighting, however all though back lighting is standard on gaming keyboards not all of them have the same colours or as many colours as others do. The Logitech G19 and G510 are gaming keyboards with a host of different colours, whereas others have only three or just one. This is not only good for gaming especially if games are played in low lighted or even dark areas, but also a great asset to changing the style of your workstation. There are people out there that just want a new look for their workstation and backlit keyboards do the trick.
Anti-Ghosting is a feature whereby missed keypresses are in fact actually recorded and not voided. This happens with multiple keypresses albeit not frequently but without anti-ghosting the keypresses won’t be recognized.
In game mode switch is a feature which disables the Windows/Context key during gameplay, so you don’t accidentally get kicked out of your game. Which I am sure has happened to all of us at some point.
Media controls, this feature is great as you can control volume, playback and mute from the keyboard itself. This feature works for headsets that are connected to the keyboard and also for the sound emitting from the computer itself. So there is no need to find the controls on the screen if you want to quickly turn down the volume.
Detachable Key Pad. This is also a really neat feature as you can move the keypad to either the left or the right side, depending which hand you are more comfortable using for operating. Again, this feature is another feature you can use outside of gaming.
High Speed USB Ports are a great advantage as you can Plug and Play with comfort. Also through this feature you can transfer data between devices, such as MP3 Players and Flash Drives and you can do all this while charging your devices that are battery-powered. Another great feature that can be used outside of gaming.
Automatic Profile Switching is a feature that allows you to automatically or manually change the profile you are in or want to be in. With the automatic function, the keyboard detects the application you are running and automatically applies the profile that you previously set for that application. Really cool feature especially if you like to play in different modes (Microsoft Sidewinder X6 had this feature).
The cruise control feature is also a really handy feature to have as it allows you to continue an action without having to hold down all the different keys required to perform the action. You can even use the cruise control function for up to four keypresses (installed on the Microsoft Sidewinder X6)
So as we can see all the features that are installed on a gaming keyboard can also be used for everyday computing, although the obvious design factor was initially for gamers in the first place. Another thing we must look at is the structural design of the keyboard. First thing we will notice is that some of the keyboards are slightly bulkier than a standard keyboard. Now this is to be expected as the keyboard itself houses more keys, requires more space for electrical components and other hardware utilities that are required for game play. But what is also great about the design of gaming keyboards, is that they are designed for ergonomic purposes. This is because gamers spend a lot of time in front of their keyboards and they are more prone to wrist, arm and hand discomfort than users of a standard keyboard. So the idea behind ergonomically designed gaming keyboards is to install some features that will reduce the risk of wrist discomfort overall. These features include; detachable and adjustable wrist wrest, keyboards with zero slope designs, different keyboard feet lengths for effective raising or lowering of keyboards for comfort and also keys that can accommodate softer keypresses.
Now I am not sure how familiar you are with the terminology that is used in the gaming keyboard field, but below is a list words that you will come across with regards to gaming keyboards.
WSAD – This is the four keys that you use to control movement which is typically your W, S, A & D keys.
ANTI-GHOSTING – Typically in a standard keyboard (or dome switch keyboard), the design is in such a way that the keyboard uses columns and rows of wires. Through this design the results that occur can be inaccurate when lots of keys are pressed at once. When this happens the dropped keys become “ghosts”. With keyboards that have anti-ghosting capabilities, they use a small dab of carbon at each switch site to prevent the contact of the keys from shorting the rows or columns of wires. In doing so, this allows the keyboard to decode each key press separately.
MACROS – A macro is a collection of operations and property values that can be applied to an existing visualization or visualizations. So in other words macros are not linked to the objects or visualizations to which they are applied but when they are used, the operations or property settings will be applied to the objects currently selected. This means that property settings can be applied to multiple visualization types, unlike property settings in styles.
OPTICAL – Optical is basically a device used for producing or controlling light. So if you took an optical mouse for example, it would be a mouse that produces light and in doing so uses the light to register it’s movement on your computer.
ULTRA POLLING – Ultra-polling in gaming mice increases the amount of times the firmware on a mouse reports it’s tracking data to the computer to 1ms (1000hz). In doing so, it reduces the interval between each transmission of movement calculations and therefore giving the cursor on the screen a smoother and more precise feel with increased responsiveness.
HYPER RESPONSE – On a hyper response button, there are two stages that go into the development of the button. This is basically to ensure that it can always be actuated no matter where it is pressed and also how quickly is it pressed. So therefore if you don’t completely press down on a button or don’t press hard enough, the button will still actuate and you will not lose response time.
ON-THE-FLY – This is basically just when you doing something in a hurry or to create something quickly when needed.
G-KEYS – These are basically game keys. The keys that you can program with macros.
ERGONOMICS – This is basically a study to see how things interact with the human body. So if you were to take a pen for example; holding it for long periods of time and writing with it could eventually cause discomfort to the hand and wrist. By making the design of the pen more ergonomically, it would allow for long periods of use without causing discomfort. This study is applied to everything that interacts or can interact with the human body
Now the only answer I can give you about which gaming keyboard is the best is simple. It depends entirely on what you want to use the keyboard for. The industry is lead to believe the Logitech G19 Programmable Gaming Keyboard is the best on the market and to a certain degree it is. It has all the features that other keyboards have but more advanced and it is designed with serious gamers in mind, therefore lending itself to being classed as the best gaming keyboard ever. But in my opinion a gaming keyboard, or anything for that matter is only as good as what you need it for. If you don’t need it for a lot of things then don’t buy one that can do everything.
With regards to what gaming keyboard is best for you, well again that depends on what you want out of it. If you are a novice gamer with little experience with programmable keyboards, then it is probably better to take a gaming keyboard with either no programmable keys or a keyboard with a limited number of programmable keys. However in saying that, many of the gaming keyboards have really good instruction manuals and CDs. But again, if you only need a few keys that can be programmed then don’t buy a gaming keyboard with massive amounts of programmable options. So it all boils down to what you need it for. If you take the time to think clearly about what will you want to get from a gaming keyboard and read all the reviews on the different types of gaming keyboards, then your decision won’t be wrong.