Review: Fatshark Byte Frost HD FPV System

Can the Fatshark Byte Frost HD FPV system challege the highly praised DJI Digital FPV system? While the Byte Frost has some great quality, there are things the DJI does better. In this review we will go through the pros and cons of the Byte Frost and how it comes to the DJI.

In A Nutshell

The Byte Frost from Fatshark is an update to our current analogue FPV system.

Unlike the DJI Digital FPV system, Byte Frost is still just analogue, but it promises to bring sharper, clearer and higher definition video to FPV than what we have right now. And the good thing is many existing FPV manufacturers would be able to make cameras, video transmitters and receivers for this system. More competitions is always good, unlike DJI’s proprietary system.

However the Byte Frost is still on beta, and can only be purchased from GetFPV (http://bit.ly/2WC38VV). It’s unclear if Fatshark will eventually bring it to the market, we do believe this would be a big step forward for HD FPV.

See my conclusion about the beta unit at the end of the article.

Byte Frost Camera and VTX

The Byte Frost VTX is just a typical 30x30mm board that can be mounted on top of the FC stack. It’s about the size of an 4in1 ESC. It has a MMCX antenna connector, the antenna is not included. But you can just use any 5.8GHz omni directional CP antenna you already have, so it’s not a big deal.

The VTX can take up to 28V which means in theory you can power it directly off your LiPo battery without voltage regulator.

The cameras are not the normal analogue cameras. They are designed specifically for the Byte Frost system, and not compatible with traditional analogue VTX. The good news is all camera manufacturers such as Runcam, Foxeer and Caddx will be able to make cameras for the Byte Frost system (as we are told).

Byte Frost Receiver

The Byte Frost receiver is also a screen. It’s kind of bulky, and it’s a shame they can’t make it into a module you can plug straight into an FPV goggles. But the good news is you can use it with any FPV goggles with HDMI input, like the HDO, HDO2 and Skyzone Sky03O, so you won’t have to spend extra to get the goggles.

Ideally you should mount it on a tripod and connect to your goggles with an HDMI cable.

We are also told that this screen can actually go into the Fatshark Transformer box goggles.

The receiver/screen can be powered from USB-C (e.g. power-bank) or 2S DC input via the barrel connector. You can actually use your 2S battery for the Fatshark goggles (2x 18650 Li-Ion for example).

It doesn’t come with antennas, so you’d have to factor the cost in when purchasing this system. Four antennas are required. It’s basically a diversity configuration between the two antennas on the left, and the two antennas on the right. The best antenna config is to run one directional and one omnidirectional antennas on each side.

OSD Still Needs Work

It doesn’t do full Betaflight OSD yet, just like the DJI system. By connecting the Byte Frost VTX to an UART on the FC, you can display flight information on the screen. But currently you can only display voltage, flight mode and a few other basic things, but still they slightly edge out DJI in terms of what you can display. This also means for those who run GPS systems, the Byte Frost is a no-go, for now.

Channels and Output Power

The Byte Frost operates on the 5.8GHz frequency, so it will interfere with traditional analogue systems. The number of channels depends on which mode you are using.

In High Quality mode, there are 4 channels:

  • CH1 – 5743
  • CH2 – 5779
  • CH3 – 5815
  • CH4 – 5851

In Low Quality mode, there are 6 channels:

  • CH1 – 5737
  • CH2 – 5761
  • CH3 – 5785
  • CH4 – 5809
  • CH5 – 5833
  • CH6 – 5857

The number of channels in both modes can be extended to 12! But that means you will be running in lower frequency which isn’t legal in most countries. Not to mention your antenna is probably not tuned to those lower frequencies.

You can change channel and also output power using the joystick provided – simply plug it into the VTX. The joystick has an digit LED to indicate what setting you are currently on. Overall, the user experience is not as good as the DJI.

You can also change camera setting with the same joystick, the menu looks just like a normal analogue cameras.

Available output power levels are 25mW, 250mW, and 450mW. Traditional analogue can go up to 800mW – 1W, while the DJI can go up to 700mW. Possibly due to the lower power, the Byte Frost’s range is lower than the DJI, and even lower than analog FPV.

How It Compares To The DJI

Byte Frost “Is Like Analogue”

Well, Byte Frost IS ANALOGUE, so it certainly has some if not most of the quality of the familiar analogue FPV system. This is perhaps easier to transition to. For example

  • latency is fixed
  • breakup is similar, but instead of lines, it appears as “blocks”

I prefer the way Byte Frost handles signal breakup. With the DJI, the whole image gets degraded and blurry, while with the Byte Frost, some bits of the image gets “blocked”, but it’s more likely to fly out of that. Same argument that goes between DJI and traditional analogue system really.

Also the consistent latency is more suited for FPV flying in my opinion. The variable latency with the DJI system can mess up your control, as it depends on signal quality.

Image Quality

Not sure if it just needs a better camera, but so far the Byte Frost looks like a sharper and cleaner analogue camera. It’s certainly not as impressive as the DJI in that regard, I don’t know if we should even call it HD in the year of 2019.

Range

DJI has better range just with omni antenna, with directional antennas it would perform even better.

The signal of the Byte Frost isn’t even as stable and consistent as the traditional 5.8GHz analogue, even on the same level of output power. Although the receiver has diversity between four antennas, it’s surprising there is actually more breakup. And the little “blocks” static in the breakup can be distracting.

User Experience

DJI’s user interface and features are truly on another level compared to the Byte Frost, much more polished.

And there is no recording capability in the Byte Frost “air unit” (VTX), which means you can only record in the receiver or goggles. That means the footage will include the break up too. For that, you probably won’t be replacing the GoPro with the Byte Frost any time soon, like you can to certain degree with the DJI system. But a lot of people flying the DJI system also carries a GoPro anyway, this might not be as big as an issue.

However, I really enjoy the form factor of the Byte Frost. It’s smaller, lighter and easy to mount, you don’t need a frame that is designed specifically for it. Also, the VTX only needs one antenna, so it’s easier to mount.

Cost

The Byte Frost could be cheaper for existing users because it’s compatible with FPV goggles with an HDMI input. However if you are buying a new pair of FPV goggles just for the Byte Frost, then it would probably cost you just as much if not more than the DJI system.

There will be more camera options from FPV manufacturers we know, which means we should be able to get the parts separately.

Remove Rapidfire!

If you are using the Byte Frost in the HDO with Rapidfire, take note.

It is a little known fact that when the internal/external switch that turns on an internal/onboard receiver module is switched to external or “off”, there is still power going to the pins of the module and that may cause “bleed” of video. This can be seen randomly, often times when there is a higher powered vtx closer to the powered-off vrx in comparison to the tuned vtx.

There are two things that can be done to combat this issue.

First, if at all possible, simply remove the module entirely.

Secondly, if that is not possible, perform “the Goggle Module Trick”.

1) power on the receiver module (select internal)

2) use the onboard channel buttons to advance up a channel or two, ensuring you hear a short beep each time.

3) use the onboard channel buttons to lower the channels until you hear a long beep, known as “channel zero”, but may appear as channel one on the band that you are on on the module. The main entity is the long beep.

4) power off the module by switching the switch on the bottom of the goggles to external.

5) plug in the groundstation cable.

This solves the “bleed” problem 99.99% of the time.

Pro tip, if you don’t have HDO and are powering your rapidfire through the aux bay, you must remove the rapidfire module. Or at least set the module to the same channel as the ground station.

It’s best to remove the module from the module bay entirely, even though the module is powered off, the AV pins are still connected in parallel to the external signal which changes the impedance, and therefore changes the signal quality.

Conclusion

The Byte Frost is basically an analogue system with cleaner and sharper image. It is certainly a step up from traditional analogue video if you compare them back to back. But when you look at the DJI system, I bet your the first reaction would be “wow it’s amazing”. With the Byte Frost you just don’t get that feeling at all.

I know there are people who are excited about this product anyway, an HD FPV system that isn’t made by DJI. People are scared of the DJI system for a couple of reasons as far as I know:

  • You need to register and give your info to DJI in order to use their products, not everyone is willing or comfortable to do so
  • If everyone switched to the DJI’s system, and when analogue system phased out, we would be left with no alternatives but DJI

It has some great quality for sure, but I just wish the image quality was better. Right now, the Byte Frost does give you better image quality, but doesn’t really offer enough for me to spend $400. Analogue system at the moment is good enough for what I do.

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