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PCSensor Keyfere LCD Button Box


Pfeil
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In searching for alternative input methods to mouse and keyboard for DCS, I looked into building a simple button box, however this has some limitations; Most importantly to me, the lack of flexibility when it comes to button functions and labeling for multiple aircraft.

 

I came across the Keyfere while looking at USB foot pedals to use for push-to-talk in FPS games. PCSensor, the manufacturer, has a number of niche products mostly intended for small scale industrial automation, including bare PCB keyboard emulators and a number of USB sensor solutions, which are quite affordable.

 

I'm not affiliated with PCSensor or anyone else that sells or otherwise promotes their products.

 

This "review" is intended for people like me, who like to research a product before they buy.

Aside from two short videos on youtube that are in chinese and offer little information, I couldn't find anything about the Keyfere. I hope to give you the answers you seek.

 

Hardware

 

The product itself consists of a thick slab of plastic(181*83*14mm) with 5 small blue soft-touch membrane buttons across the top for scrolling through profiles and pages, and 5 rows of 3 large soft-touch membrane buttons underneath 5 Dot-Matrix LCD panels.

 

The membrane buttons are adequate, but they don't offer a very tactile feel(they don't click, they just "squish"), nor do they feel very consistent(some require more force to press than others).

 

The displays consist of 3 different sections, one narrow in the middle, flanked by two wider ones above the left and right yellow buttons.

The narrow display fits 5 upper or lowercase characters(4 characters according to the manual).

The wide displays fit fits 8 upper or lowercase characters.

 

The displays are not backlit. The viewing angle of the displays themselves is reasonable, however the plastic covering them is highly reflective which makes them hard to read when the front of the device is not aimed straight towards the user.

A sturdy stand to place the device upright would probably help(see Unboxing. One may be included, but it's not sturdy)

 

Underneath the device are four rubber "nubs" to hold the device in place.

Two small feet are also available to tilt it slightly towards the user, however I found they tend to make the device slide because they are hard plastic and only two of the four rubber "nubs" will contact the ground when they're deployed.

 

I wouldn't call the casing flimsy, however it is worth noting my Keyfere appears slightly twisted, where it rocks diagonally on two of the rubber "nubs".

 

 

Quick Unboxing

Poor quality cellphone pictures ahoy, only thing I had to hand at the time.

 

In the hard cardboard, glitter(not the kind that comes off and ruins whatever it touches) encrusted box

 

Y8uy51Al.jpg

 

I received(this may vary depending on when and where the product is purchased, as the website shows differences to what I got):

 

MlSWGZ4l.jpg

 

A sheet of plastic presumably intended to use as a stand to keep the device upright(not tested, looks too flimsy to me)

 

iNo7cNxl.jpg

 

  1. A white, apple style Micro-USB lead (This smelled so bad coming out of the box I threw it in the trash immediately after taking this picture and used a cable of my own).
  2. Suction cups. Presumably intended to fit to the bottom of the device, yet I see no holes to attach them(I've not tried prying off the rubber feet, as they are glued down).
  3. USB OTG cable. Intended to connect the device to an Android device. As Keyfere identifies to the host computer as a HID keyboard, anything that supports a USB keyboard should support Keyfere(With some caveats. See the software section).
  4. Quick Start pamphlet. Chinese and translated English. The English is readable, but it uses screenshots from an outdated piece of software for changing the settings. See here(scroll down) for the updated version online.
  5. The Keyfere unit.

OvJIHu5l.jpgdnXLbWUl.jpgbN6A6K6l.jpg

 

 

Setup

 

Because it identifies as a HID device, there is no need for device-specific drivers. Any operating system that supports USB input devices should recognise the Keyfere when the USB cable is plugged in.

 

This is also one of the biggest benefits of a device like this over a traditional macro keyboard like the Logitech G13/G15 and many others: It does not require software to run in the background.

Once you have it configured to your needs, you can uninstall the software. The Keyfere will remember your profiles and macros, even on other computers.

 

At this point the device will display "Update Device Data", and a loading bar will start filling up, which takes about 11 seconds(stopwatch started when USB plugged in).

 

The device comes preloaded with a Chinese profile which, if you can read Chinese, is ready for use.

If, however, like me, you cannot, continue reading.

 

 

Software

 

The main idea behind the Keyfere is of course to customize it to your needs.

 

First, you'll need to download the setup program from the PCSensor software page(or use this direct link to V2.0, which is current at the time of posting).

The application needs .NET framework 3.5, which it will offer to download for you if you don't have it installed.

Note: If you'd like to get a feel for how the software works, you do not need the actual device to use any of the functionality aside from uploading profiles to it(obviously you need to connect the hardware for that).

 

Once you have followed the setup wizard(which I'll assume needs little explanation), you can run the "KeyFere" application(the setup will offer to do this when it finishes).

 

KeyFere_b1.jpg

You will be presented with this screen, note the small Keyfere icon on the bottom left. This will only appear when the device is plugged in and recognised.

 

You can select one of the included prebuilt profiles(listed in the spoiler):

 

KeyFere

3Dmax

AE

AI

Alt

Altum

Audition

AutoCAD

Cadence

Calculator

CATIA

CAXA

Corel VideoStudio

CorelDRAW

Ctrl

Dreamweaver

Excel

FlashCS3

Indesign

Keyboard

MAC

Mastercam

Pads

Pads_logic

Paint

Photoshop

PPT

Proe

Protel99SE

SolidWorks

UG

 

 

I have no idea what most of these are for. Presumably they contain often-used keyboard shortcuts, though they may be outdated(Flash CS3 for example).

 

Alternatively(And probably recommended), you can build your own profile(They're called templates throughout the settings application).

 

Click "Create template" and type in a name for your new profile, then select it in the list on the left, and click ">>" to mark it for editing and/or uploading to the Keyfere.

 

There is a progress bar to show you how much memory is left on the Keyfere to store macros.

The amount of space any one profile takes up is determined by how many macros it has, how complex the macros are, and how long the description texts are.

 

KeyFere_b3.jpg

 

Once you've selected the profiles you want, clicking next takes you to the profile overview screen; This will show you the text that will appear on the LCD screen over each button.

 

At the top, you can cycle through the different profiles you selected in the previous screen.

 

Also note the "+" button, which can be used to add up to 5 pages(Total) to the profile for a maximum of 75 macros per profile.

You can cycle through these pages using the two rightmost blue soft-touch buttons.

 

One of the many oddities in this application is the lack of a "remove page" button. If you add a page, but don't add any commands to the new page, it will not be saved to the profile. If you do, internally the application creates as many blank macros needed to fill up the empty slots between the spot you click and the last macro on the previous page.

 

Now, you would assume clicking on any random macro slot would place the macro you create right there, but for some reason, this is only true if there is more than one page in the profile.

 

Blank macro slots will be marked "XXXX", which can isn't as nice visually, so you may want to add a page with a single command just to have the rest of the LCDs blank on the first page.

 

Some of these quirks can be managed by editing the .xml file for the profile manually, more on that in the "Advanced" section.

 

More importantly, let's add a macro to this profile.

 

KeyFere_b11.jpg

 

This is an example of a simple macro. The Keyfere will hold Ctrl, press C, and release Ctrl(In theory. See "Issues").

 

There are a number of options on this screen:

 

Settings

Name(80 characters maximum): Name of the macro as displayed on the LCD

Shortcut: What the Keyfere will send to your computer when the button is pressed, depending on the "Shortcut Attributes" setting

smart identify: If this is unchecked, a virtual keyboard will pop up to select the sequence of keys to press. Otherwise, the utility will attempt to detect which keys you press and fill them in

SinglePress/LongPress: Whether the key is pressed once and released when the button is pressed, or the key is held down as long as the button is pressed(Not quite, see "Issues")

 

Shortcut Attributes

Keyboard: A single keyboard key(such as "m" or "Enter"

String: A string of 70 characters maximum, which will be typed out(Example: "Respectfully, Mr. Bubbles" to sign email)

Mouse move: Relative mouse movement. Pressing the button will move your mouse in the set direction(Possibly useful for view panning, haven't tested this)

Combine/Mouse: A macro consisting of keyboard keys and mouse buttons(Left, Right, Middle, scrollwheel up, scrollwheel down. No extended buttons. Only one direction of scroll and one mouse button can be part of one single macro at any time) maximum 30 keypresses in length.

Url(Windows): Not on the screenshot, but available in the latest software, presses Win+r to open a run window and enters a URL, which then launches in the default browser.

 

Option

LCD only Show KeyName: Only show the macro name, even when button is pressed(Recommended for performance, see "Issues")

LCD Only Show Shotrcut[sic]: Display the entire macro sequence. Every button press is listed

LCD Show Name,press button to show shortcut: Normally displays the name of the macro, switches to the macro sequence when pressed

LCD Show Shortcut,press button to show name: Inverse of the above

LCD display mode [static Display/Scroll to the left/Scroll to the right/Scroll up/Scroll down/Single switch]: If the macro name or sequence does not for the LCD, this setting determines whether the text is scrolled to display all of it, and in which direction if so. "Static Display" still seemed to scroll for me, whereas "Single Switch" did not.

 

Note that changing the Shortcut Attributes setting will make your macro dissapear, unless it is returned to the initial setting.

Checking or unchecking "smart identify" on the other hand, will permanently clear your macro(Exception, see below).

 

Should you make a mistake or undesired edit in this window, do not click "Finish". Close the window using the "X" in the top right-hand corner instead.

 

 

One of the single most important things to note about the Keyfere is this:

 

KeyFere_b4.jpg

 

ONLY the keys shown on this virtual keyboard can be set as a macro to work with the Keyfere.

Some keys, like MediaPlayPause will be detected when using "smart identify", and these will even be displayed on the LCD, yet no keypress is produced upon pressing the button.

 

Note that there is no numpad, no Right Ctrl, Right Shift or Right Alt, and no special keys. This rules out a great number of keybinds used in DCS(Though IL2 would be fine, as a side note).

 

EDIT: Correction, there is numpad input, however it is only available using "smart identify".

 

Additionally, any other layout other than qwerty(US, I believe), may produce the wrong keypress. For keyboard layouts that press shift to form numbers and don't to form symbols, these will be reversed(Because shift will be added to your macro). And any symbol you select on the virtual keyboard may not produce that symbol on your computer.

 

The lack of media keys is another downside, and for me personally, the inability to map F13-F24 is also a massive dissapointment(These keys aren't present on modern keyboards, but apps like Teamspeak and VoiceAttack allow you to bind them to functions, making them ideal for keybinds that don't interfere with anything).


Edited by Pfeil
Corrected numpad information
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So, if you're still interested after that, let's continue and upload our profile(s) to the Keyfere by clicking "Finish"(Make sure the Keyfere is connected and recognised by looking for the Keyfere icon at the bottom left of the utility).

 

At this point, depending on what you modified, an error may pop up telling you to reload your profile.

Don't panic, you've not lost any changes(they're saved to moment you click "Finish" in the macro edit window).

Simply click "Previous" and remove the profile you just edited from the list on the right by selecting it and clicking "<<", then select it in the left list and click ">>". Now you can click "Finish" on the next page, and proceed.

 

KeyFere_b7.jpg

 

Click yes(or equivalent) when prompted. The utility will now start filling the progressbar. While this is happening, do not unplug or press buttons on the Keyfere(I'm not sure if you can actually brick this device, but I wouldn't risk it).

The Keyfere will display an "Update device data" message on the LCD, together with the software version and the USB voltage(This data can also be displayed by pressing the center blue soft-touch button).

Once the upload is complete, the device should display the first profile on the list. Success!

At this time, you can close the utility as the settings are now stored on the device.

Note: If you need to edit your profile(s) at a later date, you need the .xml files from your local computer. Before uninstalling the utility(should you feel the need to), back up the profiles you created from "C:\Program Files (x86)\PCsensor\KeyFere\Shortcut\EN".

If you selected a different path to store your profiles, the uninstaller should not remove them, but make a backup copy just in case.

 

 

To cycle through profiles, use the leftmost two blue soft-touch buttons on the Keyfere to go back and forward through the list, respectively.

The name of the currently selected profile will be displayed on the upper leftmost LCD.

 

You can also cycle though the pages of your profile(Provided it has them), using the rightmost two blue soft-touch buttons.

 

 

Misc. Settings

 

The setup utility has a few settings that you can access through the cog at the top right corner of the main window.

 

KeyFere_b12.jpg

 

If you prefer Chinese, you can switch to it here.

 

The only change I've seen when unchecking "Startup animation effects" is that that the utility didn't show graphical glitches under Windows XP. This does not appear to affect the loading bar on the Keyfere itself.

 

KeyFere_b13.jpg

 

Here you can rotate the text on the Keyfere in case you're using it on its side. No 180° though, strangely.

 

KeyFere_b14.jpg

 

Apparently the application can update itself. For me this told me there were updates, and then promptly crashed the utility.

 

According to the PCSensor website, 2.0 is the latest version at the time of writing, so there's no real point in trying the updater.

 

 

Advanced

 

If you're familiar with XML, at least enough to understand the basic tag structure, you can manually reorder and edit your profiles.

 

The format is as follows(Excerpt from "3Dmax_EN.xml", showing some Engrish too):

 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<KeyFere>
 <Keys>
   <KeyName>Redo scenario</KeyName>
   <KeyShortCut>CTRL+A</KeyShortCut>
   <Combin>1</Combin>
   <LCD>2</LCD>
   <PressMode>4</PressMode>
   <DisplayMode>0</DisplayMode>
   <LCDWay>3</LCDWay>
 </Keys>
 <Keys>
   <KeyName>The child object selector switch</KeyName>
   <KeyShortCut>CTRL+B</KeyShortCut>
   <Combin>1</Combin>
   <LCD>2</LCD>
   <PressMode>4</PressMode>
   <DisplayMode>0</DisplayMode>
   <LCDWay>3</LCDWay>
 </Keys>
 <Keys>
   <KeyName>Cycle model choice</KeyName>
   <KeyShortCut>CTRL+F</KeyShortCut>
   <Combin>1</Combin>
   <LCD>2</LCD>
   <PressMode>4</PressMode>
   <DisplayMode>0</DisplayMode>
   <LCDWay>3</LCDWay>
 </Keys>
 <Keys>
   <KeyName>By default the light switch</KeyName>
   <KeyShortCut>CTRL+L</KeyShortCut>
   <Combin>1</Combin>
   <LCD>2</LCD>
   <PressMode>4</PressMode>
   <DisplayMode>0</DisplayMode>
   <LCDWay>3</LCDWay>
 </Keys>
</KeyFere>

Note that the names aren't as logical as they seem. Setting the macro to "LongPress" sets "DisplayMode" to 1, whereas changing "LCD display mode" actually changes "LCDWay" instead. "PressMode" stores the "LCD Only Show" and "LCD Show" options.

 

To reorder the macros and get rid of the giant "XXXX XX XXXX" displayed across the entire screen when there's no macro set on that location, simply add a "Keys" tag with all the values filled in, but leaving "KeyName" and "KeyShortCut" blank, as padding.

 

 

Aside from the simple XML stuff, I have attempted to find out whether it is possible to set different keys by circumventing the application.

Sadly, the limitation, if not in firmware, is in the parsing of the .xml profile, where strings like "Ctrl+F10" are converted to proper scancodes.

If the conversion is done through a native MS function, it may be possible to simply enter the proper name directly in the .xml file.

However, the case of "MediaPlayPause" getting recognised by the "smart identify" feature, yet not operating when uploaded to the device, makes me wonder if they're looking up the names in a hardcoded table they wrote themselves(Where the "smart identify" uses native functions to get the name, but the convertor for uploading does not).

 

There is an alternative explanation, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense from an efficiency nor flexibility perspective(To a novice like me at least), where they simply send the entire string to the Keyfere and let the firmware parse it into scancodes(Perhaps linked to low performance when repeating keys? See issues).

Decompiling the application did result in a function to convert certain characters which made me think the conversion was done on the PC side, but this may simply be to avoid sending invalid characters to the Keyfere.

 

 

Issues

 

In theory, "LongPress" should mean the Keyfere sends a "Keydown" event when the button in pressed, and "Keyup" once it's released. However, while Teamspeak still transmits continuously because I have a 300ms delay set on key release, I can see the Mic icon on shadowplay blinking when using push-to-talk using the Keyfere. It appears it just sends keypresses one after the other when the button is held down instead.

 

When "LCD Show name, press button to show shortcut" is enabled, keypresses appear to repeat slower, and there is a longer delay between multiple presses. With "LCD Only Show KeyName", this is much less noticeable.

 

Modifier keys may not be held down properly. It appears they get sent in sequence instead. Observed with a Ctrl+Alt+Shift modifier that had my ingame character crouching and going prone on after the other.

 

 

Final Verdict

 

While a very interesting concept, the execution is poor. The LCD can be hard to read, the buttons aren't very nice to press, the software is buggy(although consistent), and worst of all it's impossible to bind certain keys important for gaming/simulation.

 

One final argument against it from me personally is the cost. I got mine from what I believe to be the official Ebay seller, "discounted" to $45,68. However, this excluded shipping(Another $12), and customs and taxes, (around $28).

Obviously this varies depending on where you live, but for the total price($85.68), now knowing all its flaws, I can't say I'd have bought it had I known what I know now.

It's still cheaper than any other macro keyboard with displays built in, but you get what you pay for.

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Looks interesting, shame about the few problems you have pointed out. Maybe it will give someone the idea to make a better 2nd or 3rd generation.

PC:

 

6600K @ 4.5 GHz, 12GB RAM, GTX 970, 32" 2K monitor.

 

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