What Is An FPV System?
So here is a brief introduction on what an FPV system actually is. FPV stands for First Person View and it is (in my opinion) the most amazing, craziest way to fly a drone. We have dreamed about this for several years but we can now finally fly a drone from the pilots perspective.
Now, you would be correct in saying that affordable FPV systems have been around for about 10 years. As a keen drone pilot, this literally revolutionised the way that I flew my drone in a cheap fun and affordable manner.
With the rapid evolution of technology, new types of screens, goggles and glasses are constantly being put out onto the market for consumers like us to try. Video transmitters (and receivers) have become more reliable with less lag whist the antenna tracking systems on these devices have also improved. Indeed, drones can also use GPS and within the last couple of years GPS accuracy has also improved too. Many advanced drones also have incredible features too. For example, some of them have head tracking capabilities and return-to-home functions. There are even apps that pair with your drones meaning that you can use something like an iPad to view your video and GPS information.
RC stands for remote control. Learning to fly an RC drone along a line of sight (LOS) is a mandatory skill that you need to have and therefore I recommend that anyone who is new to the world of drones should learn to do this first.
What is flying along a line of sight? This is when you simply stand on the ground and let your drone fly in the air. You watch the drone from the ground and control it from there without the use of FPV goggles or video feeds.
After you have mastered LOS flying you should then explore first person view flying. FPV flying is great fun and will change the way you use your drones.
However, there are a few basic things that we need to understand about FPV flying. FPV flying involves a video feed coming black from your aircraft to whatever device you are using to display your video. Subsequently, you will have video flowing both ways – from your radio on the drone to the goggles or screen for the video.
For the connection between the radio and the RC control to work properly, you need to understand what exactly is going on between the two devices (e.g the frequencies used and how to avoid problems.) The last thing you need is your drone losing connection with your controller and therefore crashing!
So to boil this down to its basics. The way an FPV system works is like this:
You have a camera on the drone. This has a transmitter which transmits the feed to a receiver. The receiver then transmits this to a display device.
The Best FPV System For The Phantom
Here at DroneUplift, we like to focus on DIY drones (drones you make yourself) over commercial drones (drones you buy in the store.) However, commercial drones such as ‘The Phantom 4’ are by far the most popular quadcopters available today. Therefore I will focus some of this article on commercial drones.
Lets look specifically at the DJI Phantom. If someone ever mentions aerial photography, then most would think of the DJI Phantom 4. This is because DJI have created a sleek, reliable drone that is really easy to use yet is able to capture stunning videos and pictures with very little training.
Of course, there are many other commercial drones out there, but the Phantom range is by far the most popular. If you are looking to buy a commercial drone then I would recommend the Phantom 4 as a solid first choice.
There are currently four Phantom models on the market, namely, the Phantom 4, the Phantom 3 Advanced, the Phantom 3 Professional and the Phantom 3 Standard. Obviously you should buy whatever you can afford. You’ll probably notice that each of these drones are quite pricy which is why many people opt to build DIY drones (they are far cheaper but require a hefty drone knowledge.)
Each of these Phantom drones come equipped with a built in camera and therefore you don’t need to worry about purchasing an FPV camera. You just need to find a good pair of goggles – read more about FPV goggles here or scroll further down this page.
If the previous two FPV drones have been too expensive, then take a look at The Hubsan x4 Mini. It is a much cheaper quad that still has many features of its big brother.
Receivers – Goggles, Glasses or Screen?
This choice is all down to personal preference. My personal view is that I enjoy using goggles the most when flying in FPV as it immerses you in the flying experience. However, for some, this can be disorientating and they would rather have a screen to look at.
Two key terms that you need to know are the ‘line of sight’ (LOS) and the ‘field of view’ (FOV). The LOS is basically what you can see from the camera and the FOV is how much you can see from the camera/how big the picture is (i.e is the camera wide angle or not?) Bear these terms in mind because they will become important soon.
Goggles have a greater LOS and FOV than screens usually but the difference is minimal and for most they shouldn’t matter.
If you wan’t to get the full FPV experience then I recommend that you get a good pair of FPV goggles. To find out what the best pair of FPV goggles is, read this article. However, I have summarised most of that article in the space below.
Pilots have been using goggles for a long time. A few years ago, most of the systems offered 320×240 QVGA & 640×480 VGA resolution. With the drone community exploding in popularity, over the last two years there have been some proper advancements in the drone goggles. Now, before you buy your drone goggles, you need to look out for a few things.
Lets cut to the chase – here is what you need to consider:
- A big screen size with an FOV of 30 degrees or more
- LCD screens are fine but OLED screens are better
- A screen resolution higher than 640×480
- A video receiver that runs on the same Ghz as your drone
- Head tracking is a nice feature to look out for. It lets you combine the camera motion on the drone with your head in your goggles. It immerses you in your drone far more.
- Headset colour is more important than you might think. Darker goggles heat up more in the sun and become less comfortable to wear. Thus, if you live in a hot area, you may want to consider getting lighter coloured goggles.
- Some goggles have a front camera on them. This allows you to switch between FPV and the front camera which is great as when you fly in FPV you have no clue what is going on around you. So if a pair of goggles has a front camera, this basically allows you to switch between normal view and FPV.
- Of course you need a good pair of batteries for you goggles. However, almost all goggles have excellent battery life and thus don’t worry about this too much.
- The price is probally the factor that most of you care about. The price range on FPV goggles can vary from around $100 (not including the Quanum DIY FPV which costs $30 and is great) to up to $600. The more expensive goggles have more of the features listed above whilst the cheaper goggles limit your FPV experience. I think it is always worth investing at least $300 in a good pair of goggles as they improve FPV greatly. However, only buy what is in your budget and if your looking for a cheap pair of goggles then buy the Quanum DIY FPV goggles – you have to make them yourself but they save a heck of a lot of money.
So which FPV goggles should you buy?
I have created the most up to date list of the best FPV goggles on the market. Lets start with the best pair:
If you ask any experienced drone pilot “what is the best pair of FPV goggles” then I’m sure they will all give you the same answer – the Dominator HD V2s. They have a great resolution coming in at 800X600 and a massive FOV (field of view) which is 50 degrees. Indeed, it they work on numerous frequencies such as 1.3, 2.4 and 5.8 and also are a nice pale white meaning they heat up less in the sun. If you are someone who enjoys recording your flights then the HD V2s have you covered. They come equipped with a built in DVR meaning you can record your flight without the need of an action camera. If you have $520 to spend on a pair of FPV goggles then GET THESE! They are the best FPV goggles. Period.
Fat shark are clearly “dominating” the best FPV goggles list as the Fat Shark Dominator V3s come in at second best. These goggles are cheaper than the Dominator V2 HD’s (which may be a big plus for some of you) as they cost $320. I find the 16:9 wide screen format great but some FPV pilots think it distorts your image and thus stay away from it. It has a resolution of 600×480 and a FOV of 35 degrees. This wide picture will really immerse you in the flying experience. Much like the the Dominator V2’s , this pair of goggles has head tracking which is a great feature that I recommend.
The Headplay HD are quite similar to the Quanum’s (the option below this one.) However, its the next level up and comes with a big price jump. The main downside of this headset is their size – they are heavy and bulky meaning I didn’t find them comfy to wear nor did I enjoy enjoy packing them into my bag (the took up way too much space!) With that being said, all this bulk does equate to some key benefits. Firstly, they use fessel lenses and therefore make the picture bigger on the already huge 1280x800px screen. Next, they have a whopping 72 degree field of view. Other features include 40 separate channels, HDMI input, 5.8 Ghz frequency and a speaker.
The Quanum DIY FPV Goggle V2’s are a really cheap pair of goggles that you can build yourself. Now, the quality on these goggles is decent. They have a 3X maginifying lens and a 800 x480 super pixel display. The screen does not turn blue when signal is getting weak or lost (the v1’s did have this and it got really annoying.) Indeed, why should you buy these goggles then? Well they cost 30 bucks and if your doing cost-benefit analysis then these goggles win the prize. You get a decent FPV immersive experience but for a fraction of the price of the other goggles. Therefore, if you are new to FPV and don’t have much money to invest – buy these goggles and use them to learn. Then, when you can afford them, buy some of the higher range goggles shown above.
These goggles have been around for a while and, to be honest, they aren’t great. However, due to the fact that they are quite old, you can pick them up cheaply from various shops. In this way, if you are new to FPV, these goggles may be a great way to learn about how to fly in FPV before you go and invest in a more expensive pair. They have a good FOV (35 degrees) and have a a resolution of 640×480 VGA. Nevertheless, I would avoid these pair of goggles.
I bought a pair of these two weeks ago and they are hands down second to none. Sure there were seven hundred dollars and change, but you get what you pay for. I bought them only for FPV, but have found myself doing a lot of gaming and video watching besides. For all the people that question the reason why they made them white, those people probably don’t live in the desert where it gets a hundred 15 degrees in the summer time. A pair of fat short glasses will melt your face.
I got my Cinemizer Glasses in today and tried them out with the inspire 1 and I am very please how well and how easy they were to use. I was a little concerned if they would work for me because I have mono vision. but I was able to quickly adjust them for each eye. After playing around with them and the Inspire 1, for me the best set up is to use them on the slave controller. I am not brave enough to just fly the Inspire by FPV unless I am high enough in the air that I can’t run into anything.
Absolutely WAY overpriced 800 bucks that’s nuts, i don’t care how clear they are you can keep them for that price. i cant imagine many people ponying up that much for these, Sure they are nice and have allot of features and adapters for them (THAT YOU HAVE TO BUY SEPARATELY !!!) all the adapters should come with them for the 800 your asking for them. We need a decent pare of FPV Goggles couple of hundred dollars should be more than enough to cover the cost of producing and a decent profit for the manufacturer to make money and to be honest they would make more because more people would be willing to shell out 2 hundred dollars for a decent pair of FPV headgear, Fat Sharks are nice but they are in the same boat as Zeiss to expensive specifically when you cant relay tell what the picture quality will be like until you simply buy a pair. Sure there are allot of different reviews on youtube and other sites stating how great the FatShark and the Zeiss viewers are however everyone has different eyes and no 2 people see the same so back to my earlier statement you would get more people willing to risk they simply would not work for them if the price were more reasonable, Anyway i doubt the manufacturers care what i think just thought i should vent. maybe one of the manufacturers will see this post and consider what i have said before they build their next production line of FPV Product.
I bought the $800 Zeiss Cinemizer OLED Video Glasses boy what a disappointment, if it was $100 I would understand, they claim it’s HD cinematic view, far from it it was like looking into an old video camcorder view finder, I returned it Immediately, not worth it and would not recommend,, especially for that price it looks cheap and flimsy, not what was advertised, kind of like a fast food hamburger, looks good at the drive thru picture when you get it it’s crap! just my opinion.
And here is a review of them:
I personally would avoid buying these goggles given the price and the fact that there are better goggles out there. However, I do not own a pair and thus I cannot come to any solid conclusion.
Glasses for FPV Systems
Not everyone wants to be immersed in FPV and therefore they decide that buying a pair of glasses would be a better option. Although I prefer goggles, glasses do have some advantages such as being able to maintain a line of sight of your model and see a screen at the same time.
There is only one set of glasses that I recommend you buy which is the Epson BT 200. These are a decent pair of glasses that overlay video streaming onto your normal field of vision – pretty futuristic right? Buy them here.
These glasses use an android app to stream your video. However, I own a pair of these glasses and I would not recommend them. Why? Well firstly the video experience is below average and navigating the apps and changing the settings on the glasses through the trackpad is monotonous. Indeed, if we are really pedantic, I would also argue that the trackpad itself has indented knurled surface and I do not think it is nice to click. I think that Epson have tried to create something that is futuristic and new but with a price tag of $550 you should probably buy a good set of goggles.
UPDATE: They have released a newer pair of these goggles but they are still far away from being up to drone quality standards. Check them out here.
Ultimately I would recommend staying away from these glasses. But if you have a desire to buy glasses over goggles then get the Moverio BT-200.
FPV Transmitters and Receivers
Okay, so the next thing you need is a good transmitter and receiver. There are so many different types of transmitters and receivers on the internet – so which one should you buy? Let me break it down for you.
The most common type of frequency that you’ll encounter is the 5.8GHz frequency. There are other frequency bands out there but there are different legal requirements to use them, which vary from country to country. I’ll use the UK as an example for each of these frequencies.
900MHz has a huge range and really good penetration through intervening obstacles. However, this band is illegal in the UK as it is shared with and used by mobile phones. Also, having a really low frequency means the wavelength is long and thus the antennas are really long too.
This still offers incredible range and a pretty good penetration. However, in the UK this band is still used by other devices meaning that it is also illegal. Make sure you research the legalities in your country before buying your transmitters.
The range on a 1.3GHz transmitter and reciever is still very good. The penetration is also good but it is illegal to use in the UK.
This is my preferred frequency. It has a good range if setup correctly and the equipment is cheap and portable (no super long antennas.) There is low penetration however, so you need to be in an open space to use 5.8 GHz.
There is another legality that you need to consider – these are power limitations. In the UK you can have a maximum of 25mW! However, other countries are more laxed on these restrictions.
Please be aware of the systems you choose and consider the legalities. Power limitations apply! I know that in the UK you’re limited to only 25mW! Other countries aren’t quite so strict.
Action/Photography Cameras for FPV Systems
If your looking for a good action camera to capture some stunning drone photography then look no further than the GoPro. However, if you want to use your drone in FPV mode then using a GoPro can be okay, but sometimes it isn’t practical – it is too big, bulky and will slow your drone down. Therefore you may have a need to purchase the smaller CMOS or CCD cameras (which are also a lot cheaper too!) I’ll go into this in more detail.
However, I already have two detailed article on drone camera’s on this site so check them out too. You can click here for a complete article on the best FPV cameras or click here for an article on the best action cameras.
I have summarised these articles below too.
Types of camera
CCD stands for charge-coupled device. This goes back to the first digital cameras which used CCD sensors which were made to have high quality images due to the intense care taken to produce the sensors. They produce less noise (which is especially good in low light situations) over their CMOS counterparts. However, the CCD sensor requires lots of power when put in comparison to the CMOS sensor and thus it needs to be charged more frequently.
CMOS (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor)
COMS stands for complimentary metal oxide semiconductor. These sensors are cheaper than CCD sensors due to the fact that they are not produced in the same way. They have one main advantage, which is that they use far less power consumption than the CCD sensors.
NTSC or PAL
NTSC (National Television Systems Committee)
NTSC is a very common type of television broadcasting system that can be found in some parts of Asia and Africa. NTSC has a nice smooth video as it has a high frame rate of 30 frames per second (well 29.97 fps to be exact!) However, it has a lower resolution image than PAL.
PAL (Phase Alternating Line)
PAL is not very common in America and Asia, but is much more prominent in Europe. As explained above, it has a higher resolution that NTSC but has a frame rate of just 25 fps (which is lower than it’s counterpart.)
You need to decide if you prefer the high resolution of PAL or the smoothness of NTSC. I personally prefer PAL but its all down to personal opinion.
These five cameras are best for FPV racing (full article here).
If your trying to find a camera to take stunning areal photography then take a look at the list below (full article here):
Cameras – Built In Or Removable?
A decision that your going to need to make when flying in FPV is whether or not you wan’t to run off a dedicated FPV camera (any of the first five in the list above) or use the live video function on undedicated cameras such as the GoPro (or any of the three in the second list shown above.)
If you’ve been following the drone forums for some time, your going to have seen many people debating both for and against this. However, the answer to this question is based on two key things. Firstly your budget and secondly your intent.
I began flying in FPV using my GoPro Hero. It was great. I was able to fly high into the sky and carefully move around and land. The video was beamed back down into my goggles and I never experienced any issues.
However, I later started to use mini-quadcopters and began FPV racing where my drone flew at much higher speeds. I therefore tried out using a dedicated FPV camera (the Sony 1200TVL) and oh boy…it is so much better than the GoPro! This is because when you use non-dedicated FV cameras such as the GoPro, there is much more lag when compared to the dedicated FPV cameras. Why is this? Because you have to remember that dedicated FPV cameras are made for FPV where as a GoPro isn’t! This means that the GoPro’s internal circuitry has been changed and adapted to process the digital video into an analogue signal. This induces problems when flying in FPV such as the Hero 4 having a low frame rate thus poor quality video output. My Mobius video has this strange black border around the camera meaning you cannot be properly immersed in the FPV experience.
Nevertheless, dedicated FPV cameras not only have less lag, but also can adapt to different lighting conditions with haste. This is really good if your using FPV for racing as you are constantly changing your lighting conditions. You can also fly in darker spaces using dedicated FPV cameras.
Let’s summarise this then”
- Have more lag
- Not as good in darker spaces
- Adapt to lighting more slowly
- Work well when just flying slowly (not racing)
- You can use them as areal photography cameras too and produce stunning footage
- Have less lag
- Perform better in dark spaces
- Adapt to lighting quickly
- Are really good for FPV racing
- You can’t use for areal photography as poor quality camera
So basically, if you are just flying around slowly or you are looking to get some awesome areal photography shots then pick up a non dedicated camera. However, if your looking to do some fast FPV flying and you want a higher quality camera for just FPV use (not areal photography) then go for a dedicated camera.
FPV System Frequencies and Transmitter Compatibility
Okay, a common mistake that beginners make is not matching their transmitter and receiver frequency. You need to make sure that your transmitter and receiver have exactly the same frequency or they won’t work.
If two brands run on different frequencies then they are incompatible and wont work with each other.
The next thing you need need to remember is that you can’t ue the same frequency bands for RC control and video. Why is this? Because RC control is a digital output. Therefore it can take lots of interference. However, it cannot deal with a massive analogue video transmitter right next to it and thus the two don’t work together. Therefore, you need to choose different frequencies for your RC control and your RC video.
So which frequency is the best?
Tough question that.
The lower the frequency the better it is a penetrating through objects. This means that a tree will cause less disturbance in the frequency. However, you need big antennas and receivers for these low frequency.
You guessed it. The higher the frequency, the worse it is a going through objects. However, You don’t need long antennas and external receivers.
So which one? Low or high? To be honest, if your just going into the park and your just going to let your drone fly around within your sight – then a high 5.8Ghz frequency should just be fine. (The higher frequencies also have a more crisp image too.) They are also the easiest to setup.
Lower frequency bands like 900Mhz and 1.2Ghz (both illegal to use in the UK) are way better for long range flights where going through objects is necessary. The 5.8Ghz will go through a few trees but will fuzz really badly. The lower frequencies will get you signal around your entire neighbourhood without a single fuzz. Think of it the difference between AM and FM radio when you go under a bridge – it is exactly the same idea.
The next thing we are going to be looking at is Antennas – these are really important for any FPV system.
FPV video is almost always beamed across to your drone in analogue signal and therefore any little interference is emphasised. Digital RC controls, however, are not impacted so much by interference and thus you don’t need to worry about it.
Cloverleaf antennas are a good choice to put on your receiver. They reject certain types of interference, generally caused by signal reflecting off solid objects. However, this antenna is slightly older and the tbs triumph antenna is a more modern version.
Buy a tbs triumph antenna here.
As lower frequencies have a bigger wavelength, antennas designed for 1.2Ghz are much bigger. This can be impractical when you need to pack your antenna in your bag. It also means that they are more fragile and thus if you are FPV racing then your better off with the smaller 5.8Ghz antenna.
If you have chosen to buy FPV goggles from a popular brand such as Fatshark, Boscam or Skyzone, have built in receivers. In my experience, these receivers are very sensitive and thus are fine to use. However, if you wan’t even better reception, then you will need to invest in a separate receiver which will require its own battery. This will entail you attaching your receiver and its battery to your goggles.
The popular FPV goggles (Fatshark, Boscam and Skyzone) have built in receivers, but if you want the very best reception, or you prefer to use a screen or other goggles, you’ll need a standalone receiver. This will require its own battery and cabling to the goggles or screen.
You could also use a tripod to hold your receiver stationary on the ground.
FPV System Installation tips
Now we come to the real DIY section of this article. Some systems like DJI’s Lightbridge have been created to plug-in and play. This means that you literally have to do no extra work to get your FPV system up and running. However, other systems will require you to do some basic soldering to make the FPV system work.
So how does it work? Well, a normal installation will firstly require you to get power for the transmitter. Similarly, if you opted to have a dedicated FPV camera, then that will also need power. However, you need to be very cautious about their input voltage. Some cameras only run on 5V or 12v which means that if you give them too much power they won’t work. If you want to power your FPV system with a secondary smaller battery, then you need to make sure it keeps on tracking if your main battery fails.
Of course, it goes without saying that separate action cameras such as the GoPro have their own power source and thus you need to make sure that you have charged them up before flying. It is the worst feeling when you lose your video feed mid-flight.
One of my favourite plug in and play systems for the DJI Phantom 4 is by far the Epson Moverio BT200. They were review above and I did recommend that you stay away from these glasses. However, they do give you the option to immediately enter an FPV world with no soldering. The same goes with the FatShark products. No soldering is required which makes them a huge plus for most people.
Be Seen, Be Safe
Of course, it cannot be stressed enough that the most important thing that you need to do when flying in FPV is “be safe.” This is for your sake but also for the sake of everyone else in this hobby.
If too many people start breaking the rules then I fear that our art will be shut down.
Make sure that you comply with the governmental rules in frequency and voltage inputs. FPV systems are disliked by governments because they pose a threat to actual flying air craft such as planes as you can fly a RC drone a very long way away.
Also, make sure you don’t fly your drone into anyone as it could put their lives at risk.
Ultimately, I hope this article has given you the basic building blocks of flying in FPV. There is always more information on the web and I have merely scratched the surface with this one. The best way to learn FPV is to actually go out there and try it! Follow forums such as RC groups and do your research and make informed decisions before you buy your kit.
Thanks for reading this, well, very long article. If you found it helpful then please share it below. Also, please leave any feedback that you have in the comments section and I will reply to you as soon as I can. Thanks!