Drone racing is going HD, with new FPV gear from DJI and Fat Shark
Those who aren't involved in drone racing will probably be surprised to know that HD vision isn't already the standard in drone racing goggles. But that's set to change with some really nice new integrated gear from DJI, and an immediate counter-attack from Fat Shark for the DIY crowd.
First Person View (FPV) racing drones typically send analog vision back to their pilots' goggles, believe it or not. While camera drones like DJI's Phantom and Mavic series stream high-def vision back to their controllers, the systems involved have been too heavy and bulky to earn a spot on carbon-frame racers, so most pilots are looking at something sadly like an old CRT television when they fly.
Now, DJI has jumped into the field with a fully integrated digital solution that gives pilots 720p HD vision at 120 frames per second at very low latency, as well as 1080p/60fps video recording, with the easy ability to broadcast your view for spectators to tune in and follow along on their own headsets.
Up to eight frequency channels are supported, so that's the limit on how many drones can race side by side. And where range can be an issue on existing systems, DJI is claiming up to 4 km (2.48 mi) for this gear, which is small enough for racing use and can attach to most any drone.
There's also a controller that talks to the goggles and the drone to form an integrated system. No doubt it'll all work very well, as with most of DJI's industry-dominating gear. In this case, though, there will be a couple of hurdles to get over. Firstly, the price: US$819 without the controller, $929 with it. That's many times more than most pilots are paying for their entire DIY drones.
Secondly, while DJI's gear is beautifully integrated, such things go against the grain in what's very much a hobbyist sport, where people enjoy building and fiddling with their own gear outside any corporate ecosystem like DJI proposes.
Luckily, hobbyists got their own option almost immediately upon the DJI news release, when goggle manufacturer Fat Shark announced its own "Byte Frost" HD FPV offering (pictured above), promising 720p/60fps transmissions that work with existing Fat Shark HDO, HD3 and other goggles. No pricing is available yet, but you can bet your bottom dollar it'll be a lot less than the DJI gear.
Check out a video of the DJI system below.