FPV is revolutionising the way drones are used by both hobbyists and professionals. FPV drones can be used for fun, like racing or freestyle flying, or as a tool for everything from professional film making to delivering tube socks. But what is a FPV drone exactly?
If you are curious about FPV drones but find it hard to cut through all the noise, keep reading to see us answer the most commonly asked questions about what makes FPV drones what they are.
How do you define what a FPV drone is?
A FPV drone uses an on board camera and video transmitter to send real time low latency footage back to a pilot using a screen or set of goggles.
What does FPV stand for?
FPV stands for First Person View. This generally means using a camera to stream video back to a screen or set of goggles. FPV doesn’t mean that it can only be used on drones though. Most of the other RC hobbies like fixed wing, cars and even RC boats are using FPV these days.
Why is FPV mainly associated with drones?
When people mention FPV they are usually talking about FPV drones. FPV was around long before drones even existed – but drones presented the perfect platform for FPV.
This led to FPV drone building becoming very popular with hobbyists and the technology has been developed ever since to make it better and better.
There are now dozens of manufacturers dedicated to drone related FPV and the term FPV becoming associated with homemade racing and freestyle ‘quadcopters’. (Technically a FPV drone isn’t a drone at all because there is a pilot in charge).
Why is a DJI Mavic not a FPV drone?
Technically a drone like a DJI Mavic isn’t a FPV drone, even though it has a camera and screen you can use to fly it with.
A FPV drone is defined in 99% of cases as being one which uses a low latency video link that connects to goggles or a screen. The high definition cameras DJI uses on products like the Mavic have far too much latency to qualify them as a traditional FPV drone.
The low latency of an FPV drone is how pilots can fly them confidently through obstacles at very high speeds. Low latency also helps when it comes to slow flying, because it helps you to be more precise.
What parts make up a FPV drone?
FPV drones are actually pretty simple. You need a frame, motors, flight controller (FC) and electronic speed controllers (ESC’s), a camera, video transmitter (VTX) and a radio receiver (RX). Usually a FPV drone will also use a Go Pro or similar action style camera to capture High Definition video.
You can buy FPV drones pre-built, but a lot of hobbyists enjoy building their own FPV drones at home. A home built FPV drone starts at about $200 USD.
Buying a pre-built drone will save a lot of time and hassle, but you will learn more building your own.
(Check out our article on the best cheap parts of 2022 if you want to build your own. Or if you’re interested in buying a pre-built drone, check out our article on the best beginner drones)
How does FPV work?
We’re not going to go into great detail here, but the basic idea is the Video Transmitter (VTX) on the drone transmits a signal on a frequency like 5.8ghz. A receiver (RX) in your goggles or screen is waiting for that signal on the same frequency. When the RX picks up the signal from the VTX the video feed is established and you see the video feed in your goggles/screen.
Why are goggles essential for FPV?
Without goggles, flying a FPV drone just isn’t the same. Goggles make FPV feel like you’re playing a video game in real life.
Using FPV goggles instead of a screen makes FPV incredibly immersive and offers a pilot much more control compared with normal line of sight flying (where you have to fly the drone by looking at it in the sky).
Goggles prices can range anywhere from $50 USD for a beginner analog set, to $600 USD for a set of high end digital goggles. Check out our article on the best goggles for every budget here.
What is the difference between analog and digital FPV
FPV drones started with analog FPV. Analog is a simple and reliable signal that can travel incredibly far distances. Some FPV flights can even be over 100km! Analog offers low latency, but the picture quality isn’t the best. Analog FPV is technically just old security camera technology.
Analog will usually be anywhere from 480p to 720p, so it can be hard to see smaller objects in any detail. An analog image can appear with lots of static and interference also, which can be disorienting for some pilots. The good thing about this is analog will let you know when you’re flying out of range because the signal breaks up gradually.
Analog can be much cheaper than digital because the technology is much older and simpler to manufacture.
DJI released the first truly usable digital system for FPV drones in 2019.
Digital offers a higher definition picture and looks more like real life when compared to analog. The extra clarity of digital makes it easy to see things like wires and thin branches while you are flying, so it can often be safer as well.
Unlike analog, digital will break up by appearing more blocky and cloudy. Digital can be more susceptible to going from picture to nothing at all very quickly, which is why some pilots prefer the gradual breakup of analog.
The main disadvantage of digital at the moment is higher latency and shorter range than analog. Digital is also most expensive, but the price gap is getting smaller and smaller as more manufacturers are making their own digital system to compete with DJI, namely Walksnail and HDzero.
I want a FPV drone, how do I get started?
Ready to Fly kit for FPV – simply buy and fly!
If you just want to experience FPV without having to spend hours researching and learning how to fly on a simulator, buy something like the DJI Avata. The Avata is a Ready to Fly kit from DJI, designed with beginners in mind. It’s perfect for people who want to experience FPV and get some nice high definition footage.
DIY FPV – put together your own gear list.
If you are more interested in learning how to build, repair and manually fly your own FPV drones, start out by buying a radio and learning to fly on a simulator. Check out the EasyDrone article on How to Fly a FPV drone and then pick yourself up the RadioMaster Zorro or the cheaper Jumper T-Lite v2.
Once you can fly confidently in a sim you will be ready to choose some analog or digital goggles and then decide if you want to build or buy a FPV drone.
So now that you know all about what makes a FPV drone tick, you are probably ready to get your own and get flying.
EasyDrone has lots of other articles to help make you FPV journey easier, like a full round up of the best Action cameras or tips on how to fly over water. Let us know in the comments down below what else you would like to see covered by EasyDrone!
Good luck and happy flying!