If you are new to the hobby, you might be confused by all the different FPV systems, and not sure which system is the best for you. It’s important to understand what each FPV system is designed for, the cost associated and their capabilities before making your decision.
In this buyer’s guide, I will try to be as concise as possible. But there are simply too much to say about each system, so if you want to learn more about a particular system, you should definitely check out my reviews.
What is an FPV system?
An FPV system allows you to stream real-time video from the camera on an FPV drone to your FPV goggles. It gives you the experience as if you were sitting in the cockpit of the aircraft while controlling it on the ground.
There are 4 main components in an FPV system:
- FPV Camera
- Video Transmitter (VTX)
- FPV Goggles (with built-in Video Receiver)
The FPV camera is connected to a video transmitter. The video transmitter broadcasts the video feed wirelessly to a video receiver which is either built into the FPV goggles, or added to them as an external module.
What FPV systems are available?
There are 4 FPV systems available for FPV drones:
- Walksnail Avatar
Choosing an FPV system can be overwhelming for beginners. I will try to explain the cost, pros and cons of each FPV system, and at the end of the post I will make some recommendations based on the different applications and flying styles.
Analog FPV System
This is the original FPV system that kicked started the hobby. The technology is decades-old and does not belong to any particular companies, basically anyone can make components for the Analog system, that’s why it’s the most widely available system out there.
- Camera: US$20 – US$40
- VTX: US$20 – US$40
- FPV Goggles: US$80 – US$500
- Widely available
- A huge amount of hardware to choose from when it comes to Camera, VTX and Goggles from multiple manufacturers, you are not locked into a single brand
- Different feature-sets and price points
- Low image quality, it’s like watching TV from the 70s with bad signal
- More sensitive to interference and electrical noise
The Best Analog Hardware
There are so many brands and options when it comes to analog hardware, it can be difficult to decide. Here are the analog FPV components I recommend:
- My recommendations on Analog FPV Goggles: https://oscarliang.com/fpv-goggles/#best
- The best analog FPV cameras: https://oscarliang.com/best-fpv-camera/#the-best-analogue-fpv-camera
- The best analog VTX: https://oscarliang.com/top-5-best-vtx-mini-quad/
- My recommendations on FPV antennas: https://oscarliang.com/best-fpv-antenna/#the-best-fpv-antennas-for-mini-quad
DJI FPV System
- Camera/VTX: US$140 – US$229
- FPV Goggles: US$429 – US$649
- Tried and tested, probably the most reliable digital FPV systems out there
- The latest O3 Air Unit offers unparalleled image quality (arguably the best image quality)
- More robust against interference than analogue
- DJI’s V1 and V2 FPV goggles have AV input, so you can use them with analog system (requires an adapter and a video receiver to work), however their latest Goggles 2 does not have AV input
- You are locked to DJI’s eco system
- Variable latency, not the best for racing, but not really an issue for ordinary pilots who fly freestyle or just cruise around
- No small video transmitter available, not suitable for small FPV drones
- No video receiver module available, you have to purchase DJI’s FPV goggles and you cannot use your existing goggles
- All DJI goggles do not have HDMI input, so they don’t support other digital FPV systems
Here’s a slightly confusing detail about the DJI FPV system. There are now two “versions”, but it’s pretty difficult to draw a line what is the new version and what is the old version, as the new hardware is also compatible with the old hardware. But it’s safe to say the latest hardware gives you the best image quality (DJI Goggles 2 with O3 Air Unit).
- Here’s my original DJI FPV System Review (DJI FPV Goggles V1/V2 with Vista and FPV Air Unit): https://oscarliang.com/dji-digital-fpv-system/
- Here’s everything you need to know about the new DJI Goggles 2 and O3 Air Unit: https://oscarliang.com/dji-o3-air-unit-fpv-goggles-2/
- Camera/VTX: US$100 – US$150
- FPV Goggles: US$240 – US$495
- Image quality is better than analogue and yet latency is equally good if not slightly better. HDZero has only half the latency as other digital FPV systems in 120fps!
- Latency is fixed regardless signal strength and distance
- Great performance in low light compared to other digital FPV systems
- There’s a light weight video transmitter available, which is designed for micro FPV drones
- HDZero offers FPV goggles as well as a video receiver module, so you can use your existing goggles with HDMI input
- Their HDZero FPV Goggles has HDMI input, so it supports Avatar system, they also support analog since there is a video receiver module bay as well as AV input (it requires your own analog video receiver)
- Image quality is not as good as other digital FPV systems
- Only up to 90Hz refresh rate
- Personally, I find it not as intuitive to use as other systems
- It has similar static when signal strength gets weak which can be distracting
My HDZero Review: https://oscarliang.com/hdzero-digital-fpv-system/
- Camera/VTX: $109-$150
- FPV Goggles: $279 – $599
- The closest competition to DJI when it comes to image quality
- They offer an FPV goggles as well as a video receiver module, so you can use your existing goggles with HDMI input
- There’s a light weight video transmitter available designed for micro FPV drones
- More robust against interference compared to analogue
- Same as DJI, signal breakup can cause video to stutter or even freeze, but it shows a red linking warning on the edges of the screen when signal gets low which is really helpful
- Similar performance to DJI (some would argue DJI has slightly better image quality and video link), however Avatar costs more for the goggles (compared to the DJI FPV goggles V2), not to mention the extra cost on new antennas!
- VTX is not as robust as DJI in crashes
- Their FPV goggles do not have HDMI input nor AV input, so they don’t support any other FPV systems
Here’s my Walksnail Avatar Review: https://oscarliang.com/walksnail-avatar-digital-fpv-system/
I wish I can just tell you which FPV system is the best and everyone should just buy it, unfortunately none of the FPV systems is perfect, in my opinion they are different tools for different jobs.
The Cheapest FPV System
If you are debating between digital and analog, it generally comes down to price. All digital FPV systems are proprietary, so they all make their own goggles, VTX and camera, you don’t really have a choice when it comes to hardware. Yes, DJI and HdZero do have a couple of cameras made by Runcam and Foxeer, but that’s about it. Anyway, if you want the full FPV experience, I would personally recommend going with digital FPV system. It does cost more, but it will give you a more immersive flying experience thanks to the higher definition video transmission.
But if you are on a budget, analog is the way to go.
Furthermore, analog VTX tends to be more compact in size compared to digital, making them easier to install in drones (especially in tiny drones).
Between digital FPV systems, the price difference is small but I think DJI comes out ahead because antennas are included. Avatar also comes with antennas but they are known to be unusable (confirmed by many reviewers) and need to be replaced by aftermarket antennas. I bought the Fatshark version and they don’t even come with any antennas. HDZero also doesn’t come with antennas.
Image Quality and Video Link
Between DJI, Avatar and HDZero, I think DJI is superior when it comes to image quality and probably the safest bet for link reliability. This is especially true for the latest O3 Air Unit and Goggles 2, hands down the best image quality, it’s like flying through an action camera. Avatar is second in that regard in my opinion. HDZero video quality doesn’t look as crisp and sharp as DJI and Avatar, but rather look like upgraded analog.
For Micro Drones
DJI is not great for micro drones due to the lack of small video transmitter available. Even its smallest VTX (The Runcam link aka Vista) is way too heavy and bulky. You can remove the heatsink and turn it into a “naked vista” but you risk overheating it, while it’s still too heavy and has a noticeable impact on flight performance! Not to mention the new O3 Air unit is even bigger and heavier than the Vista. I think the smallest drone that can comfortably carry a Vista would probably be a 2″ drone with 4S (such as the GepRC Rocket).
Both Avatar and HDZero offer video transmitters that are specially designed for Micro drones. They are small and light weight enough even for 1S Tiny Whoops! Of course, analog is also a great choice for small FPV drones.
The Most Versatile Goggles
If you want the most versatile FPV goggles, the HDZero Goggles is probably the best in that regard, because it supports 3 out of the 4 FPV systems. It has a built-in HDZero receiver module, and it has an HDMI input so you can use it with Avatar receiver module, the built-in receiver module bay can be used with analog. But getting all those extra modules will be pricey, not to mention all the antennas you have to get as well. It’s also gonna be a messy setup when you have all those modules mounted on it.
The next up would be the DJI FPV Goggles V2, it has AV input which allows you to use it with analog FPV system, and it’s also compatible with DJI’s latest O3 Air Unit. The Avatar FPV Goggles and the latest DJI Goggles 2 both don’t have any video input (no HDMI, no AV input) so you can’t use them with any other FPV system.
It’s worth knowing that most mid/top tier analog FPV goggles have HDMI input, so they can be paired with the Avatar and HDZero VRX module. DJI doesn’t offer video receiver module so you can’t use DJI on any other goggles except their own.
However, having used video receiver modules in the past, I find it extremely cumbersome to use. The cabling is messy and it’s heavy as it’s normally mounted in front of the goggles. Perhaps it’s a cheaper solution if you already have a pair of compatible goggles, but I’d strongly recommend getting a pair of goggles with onboard receiver for the digital FPV system you intent to use.
But video receiver modules can be useful if you want to fly with a screen instead of FPV goggles (some people get motion sickness for example), they work with most monitors with HDMI input.
There are also displays that are designed for analog FPV systems if wearing FPV goggles make you sick (they have analog receiver built-in): https://s.click.aliexpress.com/e/_DFu2Hmf
You want the lowest possible latency for racing.
Analog is still the most popular choice for racers, because it has extremely low latency. It’s also cheap, light weight and robust since you will crash a lot in racing, so you will be saving money in the long run.
HDZero is also very good for racing because it has just as low latency as analog, if not lower. The higher resolution allows you to see the racing course and obstacles better. Therefore it’s also a strong contender for racing.
DJI and Avatar both have higher latency, but we are talking about 10-20ms difference here, so it might or might not make a huge difference depending on your reaction time . The other disadvantage of DJI and Avatar is the variable latency which is affected by signal strength, so it’s probably not the best for time-critical tasks. But for cruising around and flying freestyle, DJI and Avatar are absolutely fine.
For Low Light
With the cameras available currently for each system, HDZero seems to perform the best when it comes to low light. However most of us fly only during the day, even at sunset, all FPV systems can cope pretty well with the correct camera settings. But if you want to fly mostly at night, then HDZero is a great choice. Analog is also great for low light with the right camera since there are so many hardware options.
Ease of Setup
Analog is probably the easiest to setup because it uses the oldest technology, and it has the biggest user base so getting help online is also relatively easier. To setup it’s just a matter of connecting the correct wires, power everything on, select the right channel in your Goggles, and viola, you got video! And you don’t need to worry about the constant firmware updates!
For digital FPV systems, they usually requires additional configurations, and understanding of the settings before you can begin flying. And you also need to keep track of new firmware and decide if you want to update. I’ve published detail tutorials for each FPV system to help you overcome the steep learning curve:
- HDZero: https://oscarliang.com/setup-hdzero/
- Avatar: https://oscarliang.com/setup-avatar-fpv-system/
- DJI: https://oscarliang.com/dji-fpv-system-setup/
If you are using the older DJI system (Before Goggles 2 and O3 Air Unit), you should “root” the hardware to get full Betaflight OSD support.
A rather rare question, but I do occasionally get asked about which FPV system supports onboard audio as they want to listen to the motor RPM changes. It might sound like a strange thing to desire, who wants to listen to motor noise, right? Well, for some people it makes them feel more connected to the drone when they are flying really far away and they can’t hear the drone.
Currently only analog supports onboard audio (if the VTX has an onboard microphone and the FPV Goggles has audio output). All digital FPV systems are not designed for audio, most VTX don’t even have onboard microphone (with the exception of the DJI FPV Air Unit and FPV Goggles V1, you can enable real time audio after rooting them, install WTFOS and the required package, however audio has some delay which might not be ideal).
How about you, Oscar?
So which FPV system do I prefer in 2023?
If you ask me, the answer would be highly subjective because everyone has different requirements, flying style and preferences.
I mostly fly freestyle on 3″, 4″ and 5″ quads, and sometimes just cruise around enjoying the scenery. I occasionally do cinematic flying too, and I don’t really do racing. I have all 4 FPV systems, but I have been mostly flying DJI (probably 90% of the time). That probably answers the question. I still fly analog on my tiny whoops and micros using the DJI V2 goggles and it gets the job done.
Between the new and old versions of the DJI FPV system, you get the best image quality with the new FPV Goggles 2 (thanks to the better OLED screens) with the latest O3 Air Unit (better camera module). The older FPV Goggles V2 is still a really good purchase because it’s much cheaper at only around $430. Both goggles support all the VTX (the new O3 Air Unit and the old Vista and FPV Air Unit), so you can’t go wrong with either. See my review to find out all the differences and compatibility between the new and older hardware.