DJI is making a fairly bold move into the world of first-person view (FPV) and racing drones with a new equipment kit announced today. The kit is mainly comprised of new FPV goggles and a small, high-definition camera and “air unit” (or transmitter) that can be attached to pretty much whatever you like. DJI’s promise for the new kit is the ability to basically “FPV anything,” from racing drones to remote-controlled cars or boats.
The focus is obviously on the drones, though, and what DJI is selling here could offer big benefits in resolution, frame rate, and flexibility. The company will sell two different versions of the kit starting today. The $819 “FPV Experience” combo doesn’t include a controller, but it comes with the goggles and two air units and cameras. DJI will sell a $929 “Fly More” version that includes a Phantom-style controller with new internals built to handle the low-latency transmission, the goggles, and just one air unit and camera. Both kits include all the “necessary wires and antennas.”
The big difference-maker here is that DJI’s using digital transmission technology, not the analog tech that a lot of other FPV cameras and goggles rely on. This means pilots can stream 720p footage (at either 120 or 60 frames per second) from a drone to the goggles with a latency of 28 milliseconds from up to 2.5 miles away. The air unit can simultaneously record the live feed as 1080p / 60 fps or 720p / 120 fps footage onto a microSD card. The goggles can also record the live feed to a microSD card (though only at 720p / 60 fps). In the event of a crash, the on-goggle recording allows for quick playback that can help a pilot determine where their drone went down and ensure they walk away with some footage in the event of a loss of the microSD card on the drone.
The faster frame rates and the increase in resolution mean pilots will be able to see obstacles that can get obscured by standard-definition FPV footage, like power lines or tree branches. Higher-definition footage and faster frame rates could also make drone racing more compelling to watch since pilots and viewers will be able to better make out competitors passing in front of (or being chased by) the live feed coming off a drone. (That said, drone racing leagues would have to adopt DJI’s tech as a standard for any of this to matter.)
The returns of those improvements were made clear during a short demo that DJI offered the press on Tuesday. I was able to make out the details of nearby trees as well as another nearby drone when using the new FPV goggles in “audience mode” (with a more capable pilot at the sticks). The live footage was crisp and clear, and I didn’t notice any stutters or loss of signal, though the drone never flew more than a few hundred feet away.
DJI also strapped the air unit and FPV camera to a few remote-controlled trucks, and as I drove one around the grass, I saw a bumblebee fly in front of the camera — a detail I probably would have missed with a standard-definition transmission at a lower frame rate.
DJI released an FPV headset back in 2017 that was compatible with a number of the company’s own drones, but the new goggles are far less bulky and cumbersome, with a squishy layer of foam to help reduce red marks. There’s a small joystick and a back button above the right eye of the goggles for moving through menus as well as a record button for quick access to capturing footage.
All this new equipment isn’t just for people interested in racing drones, though. Footage shot by lighter, more highly maneuverable FPV drones has started to show up in sports broadcasts, commercials, and other places where aerial photography has become mainstream. With that in mind, DJI’s new FPV camera can capture and transmit footage in a more cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio (some racers prefer 4:3 for a full view of their surroundings), and there are different color profiles to mess around with as well.
Drone racing and FPV piloting are both niches within a niche, and so it’s not surprising that DJI isn’t making a dedicated off-the-shelf, all-in-one product for these categories. Instead, the Chinese company has found what seems to be a clever way to enter these two sections of the market by solving existing pain points for drone racers and FPV cinematographers. If those customers latch on to what DJI is selling, maybe the company will go beyond what it announced today and offer an even fuller solution.
The technology involved in this new kit seems attractive enough to change how some people who are already involved in this slice of the drone market think about what they’re going to buy next. It might also make the idea of flying FPV drones easier and more compelling, which would add a little more fuel to the steadily burning fire of the consumer drone market.
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