In this article we provide advice on how to choose the hardware needed for an FPV setup, some useful tips about flying FPV and explain the different common configurations of FPV systems used in FPV drones.
Setting up an FPV system for the very first time can seem a little complicated, but the concept is actually pretty simple. This guide contains most if not all the information you need to setup and fly FPV for the first time.
What is FPV Flying
FPV stands for First Person View. In FPV flying, a camera is used to stream real-time video from onboard the quadcopter (or other remotely operated aircraft) to the pilot on the ground. This allows the operator to see as if they were in the ‘cockpit’ of the craft.
Other than FPV, there is also what we call “line of sight“, or LOS. Line of sight is the traditional method of flying RC models, just by looking at your craft while controlling it.
Flying FPV can feel a lot like playing a video game. But if you crash in the game, your PlayStation isn’t going to hit your lounge wall at 90MPH! Believe it when we say, replacing a top tier FPV drone can be just as expensive as a new PlayStation (if not more).
The level of focus required while flying FPV is intense, and the speed and maneuverability of an FPV drone make it a truly sensational experience every time I fly.
Benefits of FPV
In addition to the excitement and addictiveness of flying FPV, there are many practical advantages as well.
Having an on-board view from your quadcopter eliminates many of the problems encountered while flying LOS, for example:
- losing sight of the aircraft by flying behind obstacles or into the sun
- when flying ‘nose in’ (towards yourself), left and right controls are reversed and it can be disorientating for new pilots
FPV makes precise control over the drone much easier, this really helps to take further advantage of the space you are flying in. FPV is allowing pilots to fly further, faster and more aggressively than ever before, it’s a much more interactive way to experience your whole environment, making the experience far more engaging for the pilot.
To summarize, FPV has the following advantages:
- Allows you to fly behind obstacles
- Fly further and faster
- More precise and agile flying
- More fun!
How Does FPV System Work
An FPV system is actually quite simple – video is transmitted from your FPV drone, and received by the FPV goggles.
Inside the FPV drone, there are a camera and a video transmitter (VTX).
And the FPV goggles is basically a display with a video receiver. Many FPV goggles have built-in video receivers so you don’t have to worry about it. But some require receiver modules, and that gives you flexibility based on your unique technical requirement.
In a nutshell, there are 4 main components in an FPV system:
- FPV Camera
- Video Transmitter (VTX)
- FPV Goggles (with Video Receiver)
An image from the camera is sent to a VTX. The VTX sends that image through the air with antennas to a VRX. Then the VRX feeds that image to a screen, or FPV goggles.
How Much FPV Setup Costs
The price for getting started with FPV flying can vary. Assuming you already have a working quadcopter, you can pay as little as $80 to get a basic FPV system. But if you want something with extra features and benefits, the cost can go up rapidly.
Here is the rough breakdown of the cost for each components:
- FPV Camera: $10 – $60
- Video Transmitter: $10 – $80
- FPV Goggles (with video receiver): $50 – $600
- Antennas: $10 – $100
- Total: $80 – $840
Analogue and Digital FPV Systems
The FPV systems we used have mostly all been analog because of the latency issues and image dependability that came along with digital systems.
Only until 2019, the FPV hobby has seen a massive move into the digital era with the help of DJI introducing their Digital FPV systems. You can learn all the info, pros and cons comparing to analogue in my DJI FPV system review.
I have been flying the DJI FPV system for over a year, and it’s awesome in my opinion. The video feed is much clearer and sharper, more robust against multi-pathing interference, and the range is actually comparable to analogue if not better.
To give you an idea, this is the video recorded in my DJI FPV goggles, it is what I was watching in my FPV goggles:
It is not cheap, especially for those who already own the analogue setup, they would be reluctant to buy everything again. But if you are just starting, you should seriously consider the DJI FPV setup :)
Analogue FPV Camera
Originally, FPV cameras were just re-purposed CCTV security cameras. They were generally small, lightweight, and easily fitted to compact unmanned aircraft.
Modern FPV cameras these days are purposely designed for the hobby with extremely low latency, while also providing the best possible wide dynamic range (WDR) for the rapid changes in lighting conditions that come with flying FPV.
Comparing to the DJI digital FPV system, analogue FPV cameras have lower, more consistent latency, which is preferred by racers. However it’s not capable of capturing the high quality HD footage that you see on Youtube, this normally comes from an additional action camera mounted on the drone, such as the GoPro, or Insta360 GO.
When choosing any cameras, the first thing we tend to look at is the resolution. But with FPV cameras, resolutions are more or less similar. Even when the manufacturer tells you their camera has higher TV lines (TVL – a measure of resolution in FPV camera), it’s usually just a inflated or purely made up number. There are other far more important factors to consider, such as latency and wide dynamic range.
Check out this comprehensive guide on selecting an FPV camera.
Analogue Video Transmitter and Receiver
If the FPV camera determines the image quality, the transmission system would determine your range, which comprise of VTX, VRX and antennas.
The most popular frequency used in FPV is 5.8GHz. Lower frequencies such as 1.2GHz and 2.4GHz can be used for FPV too, but the higher 5.8Ghz allows much smaller antennas.
- What are the common frequencies for FPV – this post explains the advantages of different frequencies, and why 5.8Ghz is the most common for FPV drones
- All the Channels in the 5.8Ghz frequency band – each frequency has a number of channels, which pilots can choose so they do not interfere when flying in groups, but it doesn’t mean you should use all of them
- It’s possible to allow more people to fly together by following these practices, such as utilizing more frequency bands and adding more frequency separation
Antennas are extremely important for reliable signal.
Without repeating myself, here is my tutorial on the basics of FPV antennas, and how to choose the best FPV antenna for your FPV drone. In this guide we’ll cover:
- The different types of FPV antennas
- How to read antenna specs
- The Pro’s and Con’s of Linear and circular polarized antennas
- Antenna Connector types
VTX and VRX are often supplied with cheap linearly polarized antennas (LP). These are simple and generally are durable in a crash. However they are not the best choice when it comes to range and signal reliability. We recommend getting some aftermarket circularly polarized antennas (CP) for your FPV system for optimal performance.
Check out this tutorial on why circular polarization is better.
Directional antennas with high gain allow longer range at the expense of a narrower angle of reception. A directional antenna must face towards the drone in order to get the best signal reception. The performance of directional antennas quickly decreases when the drone moves outside of this narrow angle.
For more information, here is an article on how antenna gain affects range in FPV.
The experience of flying with a pair of FPV goggles is hard to beat, on top of the immersed experience, the image is clearer, and the view is not affected by sunlight. They are also more compact and easier for transportation.
You can also use a monitor to fly FPV, with some advantages apart from just cost, such as allowing the pilot to easily switch between LOS and FPV. A monitor can also make it more convenient for those who wear glasses, though some manufacturers of goggles now offer diopter lenses, even catering to specific prescriptions.
I’d whole-heartedly recommend getting a proper FPV goggles over a monitor, but if you insist on a monitor, here are the things to consider:
- Correct video Input: Make sure the monitor supports an AV input that is compatible with your video receiver
- Size: In my opinion, the minimum screen size for an FPV monitor is 7 inch, any smaller and it becomes difficult to see clearly
- Brightness and Backlight: It’s important to be able to adjust the brightness of a monitor, and one with a backlight will serve you better. Flying in sunny conditions can wash out the colour and make it difficult to see the screen, even if you use a sun shield
- Non-Blue Screen: When receiving weak or no video signal, some monitors revert to a blue screen (or black). This is unsuitable for FPV, because when you’re on the verge of losing signal the screen will simply go blank, your quad will usually be far away at this point and invariably heading for the nearest puddle too! A screen that shows static when there is no signal is ideal, you might still recognize a vague image, allowing you to return to an area with better reception and avoid the dangerous zone. You can however, “fix” the blue screen issue by adding a DVR in between the VRX and monitor.
How to Calculate FPV Range?
By knowing the “dB” of your equipment, you can estimate how far your 5.8GHz FPV link can go.
To ensure you have the best possible signal your VTX antenna should be within the line of sight of the VRX antenna at all times.
When you fly behind a tree, or a hill, your signal will weaken or even drop completely as you are outside of the Fresnel Zone. When this happens you might have video breakup or static on the screen. The problem becomes more pronounced with higher transmission frequencies. That’s why your 2.4GHz radio signal normally has longer range than your 5.8GHz video feed (given the same power).
Remember that since most mini quad frames are also made of carbon fibre, it’s important your antennas avoid having the signal blocked by the frame or other electronic components such as your HD camera. Antenna positioning and placement are key.
Antenna Diversity & Receiver Diversity
A diversity system allows multiple antennas to be used at the same time, but be aware of the difference between “antenna diversity” and “receiver diversity”. They might look the same from the outside, but perform differently.
“Antenna diversity” only uses a single receiver so the 2 antennas aid one another with signal reception. “Receiver diversity” is a better system as it has 2 (or more) individual receivers, each is equipped with an antenna and it will always switch to the receiver with the strongest signal.
Using diversity allows pilots to combine “omni-directional antennas” with “directional antennas” to get the best of both worlds.
OSD – On Screen Display
An OSD is basically flight information overlayed on top of your video. OSD is optional but crucial, having flight data available to you such as battery voltage, timer, battery consumption, speed, altitude etc. can be very useful.
Most Betaflight flight controllers these days have OSD capability built-in, so it’s just a matter of wiring and configuring in the software.
This is my Betaflight OSD setup for all my freestyle quads, simple but effective.
Noisy FPV Feed
Motors generate a lot of noise in your power system. If you are powering your FPV gear (e.g. VTX and camera) with the same battery as the one powering your motors, that electrical noise can get into your video feed, which results in jumping white lines across the screen. This is especially noticeable with sudden changes in throttle.
This is not something you should worry about right now, but it would be handy to know this if you encounter issues with FPV video noise.
- Adding extra low ESR capacitor to reduce noise in power
- How to fix FPV noise – wiring, filter and power
The latency in an FPV system is the amount of time it takes from your FPV camera capturing an image, to that image being displayed in your FPV goggles. The faster you are flying, the bigger impact latency is going to have. Each component in an FPV system can contribute a certain amount of latency, but for the components available today, latency is generally not something we worry about. But if you need more information regarding the subject, check out these articles.
FPV Tips and FAQ
If you are running multiple cameras on your quadcopter, like an FPV camera and a GoPro, you might consider using a video switcher, so you can switch between these feeds on your FPV goggles or monitor by using a switch on your radio transmitter.
This is useful for those who are flying with their FPV camera, but also want to occasionally check what you are filming in the HD camera.
There are a couple of options I’ve tested recently:
Video frequency conversion
Some FPV goggles have a built-in VRX that only supports 5.8GHz, if you want to run 1.3GHz or 2.4GHz, you could make a “repeater” that receives the lower frequency signal and then re-transmits a low power 5.8Ghz signal to the VRX in your goggles.
Can I use my iPad, smart phone or tablets for FPV?
You certainly can!
You can either send your live video via wifi, or use an analogue to digital video converter to display the footage on your mobile device.
However this is not recommended for piloting a fast moving quadcopter. Because the latency of the video stream will be so bad you could probably crash your drone before you even see it crash on the screen. For spectating this is probably okay.
Where do I place FPV components on the quadcopter?
Generally speaking, place your VTX antenna as far away from your GPS and radio receiver antenna as possible. You should also try to keep the wires for the FPV system away from motor/ESC wires, this helps prevent unwanted interference.
What is this “Jello” I hear all the time?
“Jello” is the vibrations from your motors and propellers passed through the frame and to the camera, causing blurry and shaky video.
You might not observe as much jello effect through the FPV camera as your HD camera due to the different camera sensors and how their shutter works. Generally speaking the rolling shutter in CMOS is far more vulnerable to vibrations and more prone to jello than the global shutter in CCD sensors. Some FPV cameras use CCD sensors, but nearly all HD cameras use CMOS sensors.
What to do with FPV camera audio?
Drone motors make a lot of noise, but some people actually prefer flying FPV with audio and feel that it gives a greater sense of being “connected” to the aircraft. Like a professional auto racer listening to their vehicle’s engine revs. If to you, all you can hear is the annoying sound of the motors and rushing air, you can just leave the audio wire disconnected. It’s a personal perference.
How do you learn to fly FPV?
I often get asked “what is the best way to learn to fly FPV?”. Some might assume they have to become really good at flying LOS (line of sight) first before they try FPV, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
LOS and FPV are two very different ways of flying. However, it is tremendously useful to master the basic LOS flying. Remember that your FPV system can fail, so having at least some skill at LOS flying will help you get your craft back in control in an emergency. Once you start to feel comfortable with how to move the quad around in line of sight, you can move on to FPV. With that said, this is just a safe way to go, you can start FPV without ever flying in line of sight, it’s all up to you.
Most pilots fly the ‘maiden’ (1st flight) of a new quad in LOS, before putting on their goggles, it is easier to see if any drift needs trimming out and helps to give an idea of how it responds to the stick inputs. Here is a discussion about when you are learning, sometimes something just clicks.
Finally, I cannot stress enough how useful FPV simulators are. They really help beginners pick up the basic skills needed very quickly. Sims can dramatically reduce the cost of broken parts as well due to trying maneuvers or tricks that are beyond your capability and just other pilot errors. Here is a list of popular FPV simulators.
Laws Governing the Use of FPV Frequencies
Different countries have different laws in place, restricting the frequency and amount of power you are allowed to transmit. Please check your local restrictions, and fly safely and lawfully. Here is a discussion on our forum about flying around the world legally.
Hopefully this article has helped you understand the basics of an FPV system and provided some useful tips about flying FPV. Feel free to ask questions in the comment below, and join our forum, IntoFPV.com if you want to stay connected with the community :)
- Jun 2015 – Article created
- Sep 2017 – Updated, added several new topics
- Sep 2020 – Updated, added info regarding DJI