What is FPV Video Systems?

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Blog cover: FPV video systems guide

If you’re a drone enthusiast, you’ve probably heard of the term FPV at some point. If not — no problem! This article will get you up to speed.

So, what are FPV video systems?

An FPV setup gives you a first-person perspective while flying your drone – as if you were sitting in the pilot’s cockpit. This is achieved with goggles that are similar to the ones you’d see on a VR system.

This method of flying is becoming more popular by the day, and the tech behind is changing just as quickly. Some think it will transform the landscape of drone flying within the decade.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about FPV, including:

  • What FPV is
  • The components of an FPV system
  • The types of FPV systems
  • Analog vs. digital FPV
  • The main brands offering digital FPV.

Let’s dive right in!

What Are FPV Video Systems?

FPV stands for First Person View, which basically means that you see from the perspective of the drone as you fly.

To do this, a camera is attached to the drone and sends live video to a set of goggles, which the pilot wears. This creates the illusion of being in the cockpit of your drone, rather than watching it from the ground.

This method of flying feels completely different. It can give a whole new level of control and be an amazing experience to boot.

Usually, people use FPV because they want tighter control over their flying, a better view, or a more “real” experience while piloting.

The Components of FPV Video Systems

Camera

The camera is the star of the show in an FPV system since it dictates the entire experience of flying this way.

Generally, the cameras used are tiny and affordable. They can’t hinder the drone while flying but still need to capture high-quality, fast footage. If they’re too expensive, costs can add up quickly — especially if you crash.

Video Transmitter and Receiver

The transmitter sits on the drone, taking the information from the camera and converting it into packets that can be sent back to the receiver.

Often, the receiver is inside the goggles. Once the data reaches it, the receiver decodes the information back into usable footage.

FPV Goggles

These look a lot like VR goggles and are worn by the pilot while flying.

They have high-quality, low-latency screens inside that simulate the viewpoint of the drone.

Antennae

These antennas receive the information being sent between the transmitter and receiver.

They’re essential for sending data across large distances, even if they look pretty silly on your goggles.

Types of FPV Video Systems

There are two main FPV systems. There’s the classic, long-reigning champion, analog, as well as the new kid on the block, digital — who’s quickly gaining popularity.

Analog Systems

Analog FPV has been around for a long time, and as such you’ll have tons of options to choose from.

They transmit data the old-fashioned way — as raw, analog data in the form of waves of varying amplitude and frequency. This is the same method as old TVs and radios.

FPV systems have been using this method for decades, without any competition until very recently.

HD Digital Systems

In 2019, the first digital FPV camera system was released.

These use the same camera, transmitter, and receiver setup as analog, but the data is packaged in a completely different way. Instead of the complex, varying wave types of analog, digital data is turned into simple 1s and 0s. 

Then, a lot like Morse code, this binary data is transmitted as spaced-out waves and decoded back into footage.

Analog vs Digital Systems

Main Features

There are numerous differences between analog and digital systems, with pros and cons for both.

One of the biggest is image quality. Analog tends to have much worse image quality than digital, but it also transmits data faster and with better consistency.

The main reason digital has better quality is because there are far more existing analog signals in the environment than digital ones, so there’s more chance for interference to get in the way.

Prices

At the time of writing, digital is far more expensive than analog devices.

Digital hardware is made of more expensive materials and hasn’t been optimized to anywhere near the levels of analog. In some cases, a digital setup could cost six times the amount you’d pay for a comparable analog setup!

However, the price of digital setups is steadily decreasing. As components are optimized and new methods are discovered, it’s becoming a more viable option for those on a budget.

Pros and Cons

AnalogDigital
ProsConsProsCons
Much more affordableMore vulnerable to noise interferenceGreat quality images, comparable to action camerasVery high prices compared to analog
Wide range of products to choose fromLesser quality videoLess vulnerability to noise interferenceBulky hardware, not suited for small drones
Hardware can be tiny, and suitable for lightweight dronesOlder tech that may be out of date soonCan have huge range if you can afford high qualityMore delicate hardware
Can manage large rangesWorse quality as the receiver gets further awayMore immersive thanks to the qualityGenerally limited range if you don’t get top-of-the-range
Low latency, almost half that of digitalDecreasing prices as tech improvesHigher latency
Consistent latency

Brands Offering Digital FPV Video Systems

There are three main brands offering digital FPV systems right now. They are DJI, HDZero, and a new player in the drone scene: Walksnail.

Each has its own pros and cons, and can all be a great choice for the right pilot. It depends on what you want from your FPV system.

DJI

ProsCons
The gold standard in digital FPV systemsVariable latency – not good for racing
Exceptional video qualityNo compatibility with products from other companies, only with other DJI products
Robust partsNo HDMI input
Comfortable goggles with a large screenBulky units unsuitable for small drones
Good customer support
Tried and tested, longtime player in drones
The first company to produce a digital HD FPV system
Stable signal with great latency
Lower price compared to other brands

Best for: freestyle flying, low budgets, or first-time FPV pilots

HDZero

ProsCons
Versatile, with many options in size, price, and performance to suit your needsLower image quality due to one-way system
Offers tiny digital setups that suit small dronesCan only get higher Hz by sacrificing resolution greatly
Goggles support analog receivers“Sparkly” static when signal is low
One-way communication, so latency is always stable and there is no stuttering
Smooth, clear video is great for racing

Best for: Experienced pilots, racers and fast flying through obstacles

Walksnail

ProsCons
Great image qualityVariable latency based on signal strength can produce stuttering or low quality
Compatibility with multiple other FPV goggles if desiredPoor real-time feedback in some cases, not good for racing
Great community and responsiveness from the development teamMore delicate parts
Budget-friendly optionsNo AV or HDMI input on the goggles for secondary video inputs
Lightweight transmitter options for small dronesSome bugs and issues with new tech that still needs testing and fixing
Low vulnerability to interference
Frequent updates and new features
Incredible range – up to 31 km, which is unheard of for digital setups
Goggle screens are high quality and crystal clear

Best for: Long-range flying, freestyle sightseeing, and modified drones

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the best FPV setup for you depends greatly on your specific needs.

For many people, digital is a no-brainer with better image quality and some amazing developments arriving each year. For others, analog remains king for its incredible latency and real-time footage.

As time goes on, the landscape of FPV is likely to change quickly. Digital FPV is still a very new technology and experiencing constant leaps forward.

For this reason, it’s worth keeping an eye on — even if you aren’t quite convinced yet! Analog still gives it a run for its money, but that may change in the coming years.

FAQs About FPV Video Systems

Will digital ever replace analog systems?

There’s no real way to know just yet. What we do know is that digital systems are becoming more affordable all the time, which may let them overtake analog sometime in the future.

What’s the difference between analog and digital FPV?

Analog FPV uses classic data transmitting tech, the same used in old-school radios and TVs. Digital encodes data as binary 1s and 0s before transmitting it, which has pros and cons in FPV drone flying.

What does FPV mean on a drone?

FPV means First Person View. When you fly a drone using FPV, you use a pair of goggles similar to the ones on VR sets that allow you to see from within the “cockpit” of your drone.

References

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Written By Marshall Abrams

My name is Marshall Abrams, and I am a filmmaker and FPV pilot who's been flying professionally for about four years now. Thanks to FPV, I get to travel to so many amazing places, and it's honestly completely changed how I run my business.

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