Welcome to 2019, drone racing. DJI just took drone racing technology from what often felt like a 1980s, analog blast from the past to the future.
Drone racing just got a massive update this week after DJI, which rose to fame through its Phantom and Mavic line of photography-focused drones, launched a new ecosystem of FPV (first-person view) products.
DJI this week launched its DJI Digital First Person Viewing (FPV) Transmission System, a “digital ecosystem” of sorts, made up of which FPV goggles, an FPV Air Unit Transmission Module, an FPV remote controller and an FPV camera. And the DJI FPV setup starts at about $800.
FPV has, for years, traditionally been done with analog technology because HD has had too much latency to be effective for drone racers (every millisecond counts in drone racing). But that’s changing. The new, HD video system has ultra-low end-to-end latency, as well as long-range transmission with anti-interference technology, packaged into a simple setup.
DJI said the new system was designed specifically to address the growing popularity of drone racing.
DJI also said they believe their product now makes them the only digital video transmission solution on the market that performs at the same level as analog.
“Even surpassing it in some aspects,” said Ferdinand Wolf, Creative Director, DJI Europe.
Though, this is not necessarily DJI’s first foray into drone racing. DJI in 2017 launched DJI Goggles, essentially their own brand of FPV Goggles. That same year, DJI iterated further with the DJI Goggles RE (RE is short for Racing Edition), designed to integrate with DJI’s OcuSync video transmission module and a high-performance camera module, which could transmit digital video signal from up to 7 km away with latency as low as 50 ms, in addition to analog signal.
Those goggles weren’t necessarily the most popular among racers, who largely since then have stuck to analog goggles from big FPV players such as Fatshark.
But that could change. Besides the new goggles being significantly smaller, lighter, and less bulky and cumbersome, there are a number of changes DJI’s made.
What’s inside the new DJI FPV Air Unit Module
The DJI FPV Air Unit Module uses DJI HD Low Latency FPV Transmission tech to deliver a signal connection. DJI says the latency is just 28 milliseconds, similar to high-performance analogue systems. The FPV system has a maximum transmission range of 2.5 miles.
There’s also a new “Focus Mode” to narrow down the signal bitrate to the center of the frame and counteracting interference.
Related read: Do I need a visual observer to fly FPV racing drones?
It’s equipped with eight 5.8GHz frequency channels, (so up to eight drones can fly simultaneously under one system). Each operator has their own exclusive channel to reduce cross-channel interference, but pilots can view other racers’ cameras connected through the “Audience Mode.”
Video on the new DJI Digital First Person Viewing (FPV) Transmission System
Footage is clear at 720p at 120 fps. The FPV system can record on both the FPV camera attached to the drone as well as to the FPV goggles using a micro SD card. Racers can capture video content on the FPV Camera in 1080p at 60 fps or 720p at 120 fps while the FPV Goggles can record 720p at 60 fps which can be instantly played back for quick review.
The FPV camera has three modes: racing, standard and LED. Racing mode delivers images at a higher saturation rate to distinguish brightly-colored objects such as course obstacles. LED mode enables racers to operate in low light settings by increasing the color saturation and reducing image noise.
Here’s a side by side comparison of what the video signal looks like on the new system, vs. a more traditional analog system:
The remote controller
The DJI FPV Remote Controller is responsive and customizable, using a 4-in-1 closed loop software allowing users to adjust parameters for the other three components remotely. Users can change settings on the controller and it will automatically sync the entire system in an effort to reduce operational error.
How much does the DJI Digital FPV Ecosystem cost?
The DJI FPV System can be purchased as a FPV Fly More Combo for $929, which includes the FPV Goggles, Air Unit, FPV Camera, Remote controller along with all the wires and antennas needed.
Racers on a budget can get the FPV Experience Combo for $819, which includes the FPV Goggles, 2 FPV Camera and Air Units along with all the necessary wires and antennas (note: no remote controller).
Related read: DJI is opening a drone arena in Tokyo, Japan