FPV Radio Controller: Everything You Need to Know

Updated on
Blog cover: FPV drone radio transmitters and controllers

Are you ready to dive into the world of FPV (First Person View) drone flying?

Whether you’re looking to fly in a simulator or buy your first drone, one of the first steps is choosing a controller. But as you start your search, you’re overwhelmed by the many options available.

My name is Richard, and I am a drone trainer with five years of experience. I have spent a lot of time and effort putting together this FPV Radio Transmitter 101 guide.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about buying your first radio for FPV drones. You’ll learn:

What is an FPV Radio Transmitter?

A radio controller is the device you hold to fly your FPV drone. It communicates with a receiver onboard the drone using radio frequency signals.

When you move the sticks and switches on the transmitter, it transmits these precise movements through the signal so the quadcopter mimics them.

For example, pushing the right stick up on the controller tells the drone to increase throttle and ascend. Moving the left stick side to side commands the quad to roll in that direction. And so on.

This real-time control from the ground allows you to fly FPV drones completely by line of sight. The video from the quad’s camera streams back to your FPV goggles, so you get a first-person cockpit view as if you were sitting in the pilot’s seat.

In the whole radio control process, two parts are crucial: the radio transmitter (TX) and the radio receiver (RX).

rc radio transmitter receiver protocol tx rx esc fc communication signal.jpg
Image from oscarliang.com

When you buy a controller, you need to realize that you’re also locking yourself into which receivers you’re going to buy.

Different brands of controllers use different protocols to talk to their receivers. You can check this post to learn.

For beginners, you need to learn a certain amount of knowledge to find the right launcher with a reasonable budget.

But before that, let’s take a look at some of the best drone radio controllers on the market today.

The best radio transmitters in 2023

The BetaFPV Lite Radio SE could be your best bet for those operating on a tight budget. The RadioMaster TX12 falls on the lower end, whereas the TX16 or Tango 2 caters to higher-end setups.

These are some of the best radios on the market, excelling within their respective price ranges.

But what factors contribute to their superiority?

Why would one radio be worth 40$ while another cost 260$?

Cheap vs. expensive FPV controllers how much and why?

I’ll explain each of them next.

1. Ergonomics and Size

First, the most noticeable difference between controllers is their size. Depending on the size of your hands and personal preference, a smaller or larger controller may feel more comfortable.

In addition to the size of your hand, how you hold the controller will also affect which transmitter you choose. They are thumbing and pinching. 

Thumbing refers to the traditional way of using a video game controller, where your thumbs are solely responsible for your stick movements. A smaller controller may feel more familiar and ergonomic for someone who prefers to fly this way.

However, controlling an FPV drone is a bit more nuanced than playing video games and requires a lot of precise micro movements with your sticks.

Some people prefer pinching with their thumb and index finger instead, which can give a greater sense of control. For those who use this method, a too-small controller might feel slightly cramped and uncomfortable, so getting something bigger may be better suited.

I fly using what most people call the hybrid method, which still involves my thumbs but placing my index fingers along the top for extra support. In my opinion, this is the best of both worlds.

After you’ve comprehended the information above, I still suggest that you try out several controllers first. Otherwise, it will be difficult for you to determine what you genuinely enjoy.

Next, the quality of your sticks or gimbals can also make a big difference, and there are two main types: hall sensors and potentiometers.

2. Quality of sticks or gimbals

If you were to ask me which type of gimbal is more accurate? My answer would be: both are remarkably similar in their precision.

The sole divergence is that hall effect gimbals will maintain accuracy for longer, while potentiometer gimbals tend to wear out over time.

It’s also good to note the size of your sticks as well. A cheaper radio may have smaller gimbals, which can be less accurate than a larger gimbal with more surface area.

The next question is: How many switches does my radio have?

3. Number of switches

Some radios have a ton of switches, knobs, and buttons on them, while others might have only a few. For other types of RC hobbies, having a ton of switches could be really useful. But for FPV drones specifically, you don’t need that many.

Because there are only a few switches needed for an enjoyable flight, such as arming or activating your drone, turning on the buzzer to help you locate it, changing the flight mode from a stable mode to fully manual mode, or activating turtle mode (which flips your drone after a crash).

Generally, I enable three or four switches on most of my quadcopters.

4. Channels

An FPV Radio Transmitter transmits commands via channels. Each channel is an individual action. For example, any change to your throttle will be transmitted through one channel, yaw through another channel, roll using a third, and pitch using a fourth.

So, when you got those radios, one of the first things you had to do was assign a channel to every switch that you wanted to use.

For a beginner, eight should probably be enough, or you can look for one with more if you want more flexibility.

The more channels there are, the more expensive the radios become, 4-6 channel radios are usually the cheapest.

5. Receiver compatibility

The main point of a radio transmitter is to communicate with your drone, and it does that via the tiny radio receiver.

The issue is not all receivers are compatible with every radio signal. This is why when you’re purchasing most pre-built FPV drones, you’ll get a list of receivers.

A lot of times, the transmitter and the receiver that can communicate with each other will be made by the same company.

For example, the XM+ and RXSR receivers are made by FrSky and will work with FrSky radios. FlySky receivers will work with FlySky radios, and TBS Crossfire receivers require a TBS radio or a TBS Crossfire module.

My personal advice, though, would be to choose a radio and a receiver combo that is popular and widely available.

When your drone breaks down, you will have access to a very large number of tutorial videos and other resources that will make the troubleshooting process much easier.

6. Frequency and range

Several factors can affect the distance flown by radio control, the most important of which is the frequency used by your controller.

“Oh man, that seems complicated,” it doesn’t have to be. Just remember that 2.4 gigahertz is the standard for most radios these days, and all the ones I have operate on that.

Also, the lower the frequency gets, the more range you’ll most likely be able to get as well. Typically, one of these 2.4 gigahertz radios could get you around one kilometer of range without any obstructions.

But if you want to go further with a reliable signal, you will want to invest in a long-range system that runs on a lower frequency instead. The most recommended and popular option for that is TBS Crossfire.

They claim that you’ll be able to fly up to 30 kilometers away. You most likely won’t be able to go anywhere close to that, but it does make a really, really big difference.

7. Module bay

Since most controllers will not have a long-range system built-in, if that’s something you’re interested in, make sure that your controller has a module bay that can support it.

If it does, all you have to do is pop the module on and change a few settings. It’s as simple as that.

A module bay could help future-proof your radio as well.

Because even if a new protocol is developed in a few years, you don’t have to throw away your old radio to buy a new one, just put a new module with the latest cutting-edge technology in the old one.

But only if you have a radio with good, high-quality hardware.

It’s a pretty cheap investment that could save you more money in the long run.

8. Additional considerations

Alright, to recap, so far, a few of the main points you may want to consider when buying your first controller are: how does it feel in your hands?

What kind of sticks or gimbals does it have? How many switches or buttons does it have? Does it have enough channels for all the switches that you want to use?

What kind of receivers does it work with, and does it have a module bay?

What’s the Best Radio for You?

As you can see, there are tons of excellent entry-level FPV transmitter options in the $50 to $150 price range. Any of the ones we covered above would serve a beginner well for learning to fly.

Choosing comes down to your budget, priorities, and preferences in terms of size, ergonomics, features, and form factor.

The RadioMaster TX16S probably represents the top overall blend of quality, performance, and functionality if you’re willing to spend around $100-150. It’s the controller I personally started with and recommend most.

But all the picks highlighted give you proven reliable performance at reasonable prices. You really can’t go wrong with any as a newcomer to the hobby.

Once you decide on your ideal FPV controller, the next step is selecting a tiny whoop drone like the Eachine Trashcan or BetaFPV Cetus Pro to learn on. Then build your skills in a simulator like Velocidrone or DRL to get the hang of flying FPV.

Before you know it, you’ll be ready to graduate to shredding full-size 5” quads through bandos and racing tracks!

Final words

Your choice between a budget and a premium FPV controller hinges on your specific needs, budget, and flying style.

While budget controllers are a great starting point, investing in a premium model can enhance your flying experience significantly.

Remember, the right controller can make a significant difference in your FPV journey.

Once you’ve selected your new controller, be sure to check out our tips on how to set up your FPV drone radio. We walk through how to install the receiver on your drone, bind them, configure channels and switches, and more.

Let’s soar into the skies with confidence!

Did you like this article? Rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Photo of author

Written By Richard Hargrave

Hi I'm Richard. Since 2018, I've found my calling in the boundless sky, maneuvering everything from mini quadcopters to remote-controlled planes. Today, my favorite pastime is creating stunning commercial videos with FPV drones. I'm a drone instructor by trade, writer by passion.

Leave a Comment

RChobby Lab