Flying drones in FPV mode is one of the most coveted experiences among drone pilots. It allows you to see what the drone sees or take a seat at the drone’s cockpit.
The drone camera’s footage was only visible from a smartphone or a controller’s screen, but now most drones support FPV. So, how do FPV goggles work?
FPV goggles and the drones communicate through receivers and transmitters. A strong Wi-Fi connection connects these transmitters and receivers. As the drone’s camera records, the transmitter collects the footage and sends it as a signal. The receivers within the FPV goggles receive the signals and convert them to a viewable format, which you can view on the LCD screen.
Please keep reading to learn more about FPV systems and how to choose the best FPV goggles for your drone.
What Is FPV System?
FPV means First Person View, and it’s a system that allows the drone pilot to view the drone’s footage like they’re “in” the drone.
An FPV system comprises FPV goggles, video receivers, and video transmitters. Over the years, video receivers, transmitters, and antennae have been improved to eliminate lags and enhance the resolution.
Now an FPV pilot has more control over several aspects of the FPV system.
What Are FPV Goggles?
These are portable screens that enable the FPV pilot to view the drone’s footage in real-time.
They have inbuilt LCD screens and antennas. And they fully immerse you into the drone, just like Virtual Reality goggles do.
FPV goggles come in several types and sizes. Are you long-sighted or short-sighted? Some FPV goggles also allow you to adjust the focal length, IPD, and even keep your glasses on.
How Do FPV Googles Work?
As mentioned earlier, FPV goggles are one piece in the FPV system. The other components are the cameras, video transmitters and receivers, and antennas. And all these components work together to bring the live feed to your eyes.
FPV goggles work like TV sets. The FPV drone usually has a camera and a video transmitter (VTX). So, once the camera records the video, it sends it in the form of a signal to the FPV goggles. On the other hand, the goggles have a video receiver (VRX) or an option to plug in one.
Once they receive the signals, they convert it to a video feed, which you can view on the LCD screen. The transmitters currently communicate through 5.8 GHz Wi-Fi frequencies, and they send the signals at high speed (25 to 30 frames per second) to ensure a continuous live feed.
Some FPV goggles also have head-tracking features. This is where they sense the head movements and transfer them to drone’s camera or to the gimbal. You can pre-program the drone’s flight and use the head-tracking features to observe the sceneries.
FPV goggles are quite common in drone racing. They allow the pilot to see other drones and view the track they are flying on. In such a case, an uninterrupted high-speed connection is required to prevent accidents.
The drones are usually flying at more than 100 miles per hour. A slight lag, and the drone comes crashing. Since most FPV goggles also support an audience mode, spectators and judges can also view the pilot’s footage in real-time.
What to Look For When Selecting Your Googles for Flying FPV?
Just like glasses, FPV goggles are unique to the user. So, you may have to try several of them before finding the best one.
Below are all the factors you can consider when choosing FPV goggles.
There are three form factors of FPV goggles that you can choose from.
Low Profile Goggles:
This type of goggles uses an LCD screen for each eye. They are the most common among FPV pilots since they are smaller, comfortable, and easier to carry around. Besides the 2 LCDs, they also have a magnification lens that helps enlarge the pictures.
However, you have to align both the screens with your eyes, also known as IPD adjustment (we will discuss IPD later). And this is quite a challenge, especially when you’re doing it for the first time. Low profile goggles are also expensive.
Instead of using two small screens, box goggles have one large LCD and a magnification lens.
All components are enclosed in a large box that also protects the LCD from damage by sunlight.
Box goggles are larger, easier to use, and perfect for beginners. You also don’t need to adjust the IPD.
With the latest developments in FPV technology, it’s possible to find box goggles with a very high resolution, but you’ll have to pay more for them.
Their large size makes it challenging to pack, but considering the experience they give that shouldn’t be a problem. You can also wear them over your prescription glasses.
These are traditional screens with built-in video receivers. Instead of wearing them over your eyes, you place the screen next to you. And monitor the drone from the screen and by viewing it if it’s in the line of sight. Some box goggles can also work as FPV monitors.
Field of View (FOV):
This is how large the screen appears to your eyes. You can estimate the FOV by drawing a diagonal on the screen and measuring the angle from the center of your eyes.
FOV ranges from 25 to 80 degrees, but whichever FOV you choose depends on your preference.
A large FOV may seem appealing, but it’s not the best, especially when racing. All the features of the scene will not be readily visible, and the edges may be blurry.
Unless its necessary to have a very small or huge FOV, always keep it between 25 and 50 degrees.
Inter-Pupillary Distance (IPD):
This is the distance between the centers of two eyes or two lenses in low profile goggles. IPD is unique, so there’s no preferable distance.
Luckily, most FPV goggles will allow you to adjust the FPV until it fits you. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have to settle for slightly blurry images at the edges or switch to box goggles.
Measuring the IPD isn’t that complicated. Just stand against a mirror, and place a ruler from one center of your eye to the other. If you wear glasses, your optometrist should have your exact IPD measurement.
FPV goggles come in 4:3 and 16:9 ratios, but the 4:3 has been around for a bit longer. Most drone cameras also have a 4:3 ratio, so if you use a 16:9 aspect ratio, the image will appear stretched.
If you could get FPV goggles that can output the actual 16:9, you get to enjoy a broader view of the scene.
You have to make sure both the camera and goggles are in the same ratio. An FPV with an adjustable aspect ratio is also beneficial when you need to switch between both ratios on various occasions.
Resolution is represented in pixels, and it helps a pilot get more details from the footage.
A low resolution can be dangerous since you may not see obstacles until they’re too close to the drone, and avoiding the crash is impossible.
That’s why I recommend a minimum resolution of 640*480 pixels. The higher the resolution, the better.
As mentioned earlier, most FPV goggles have built-in video receivers, while others allow you to install external modules.
The Built-in receivers are easier to use and are often affordable. However, you’re restricted to that receiver and can’t upgrade to a more powerful one. External modules, on the other hand, give you more flexibility.
An HDMI input is instrumental when you need to connect the goggles to your PC. It also helps when you’re training on using FPV goggles with simulators.
Simulators bring you closer to reality, making it easier to fly FPV drones in the real world.
If you want to pick up on the sounds within and around the drone, you can consider installing an audio system on the drone. It’s unnecessary, and some people may prefer not to install them, but I find it a great way to be fully “immersed” into the drone and its surroundings.
DVR (Digital Video Recorder):
DVR’s record the FPV footage and save it in an SD card for viewing later. This footage can help you understand why and where the drone crashed. You can even review your races and see what you did wrong.
You can install a 3D camera and view the scenes in 3D mode. However, it’s not very common since the 3D cameras are costly.
FPV drones crash a lot. You do not have one of these cameras on board when you crash. But if you have the budget for it and are an excellent pilot, 3D FPV is fascinating and addictive.
Diopter Lens Slots:
When wearing glasses, it can be quite challenging using low profile FPV goggles and some box goggles. Diopter lens slots minimize any blurry images, and you will not have to wear contact lenses when using them.
These are special fans that prevent the LCDs from fogging. They are instrumental, considering LCDs are prone to fogging, especially when flying in humid climates or sweating a lot.
FPV goggles are powered by their own set of batteries and not the ones on the controllers. There are three types of battery systems you can consider.
- Built-in – I think these are the most convenient since they are within the goggles, and you can charge them with a portable power bank.
- External Li-Po batteries – These batteries are connected to the goggles through long cords, and you can place them in your pocket as you fly the drone. They don’t always last long and can be quite challenging to use.
- 18650 Batteries – These are rechargeable batteries that are commonly used in an e-cigarette. You can place several of them in a case to ensure the FPV goggles last longer.
There is a lot of debate on whether to use dedicated or non -dedicated camera for FPV flying but suppose you are looking for FPV googles for racing then what?
In that case, you should have a dedicated camera such as Crazepony RunCam Swift 600 TVL, Aomway Sony CCD 1200TVL FPV and the Spektrum VA1100 Ultra Micro FPV Camera.
If you are flying FPV taking videos and photographs, non-dedicated cameras such as GoPro Hero 4 and the Mobius ActionCam V3 are an excellent fit.
TIP: When you’re not using the FPV goggles avoid exposing them to the direct sunlight. This is because sunlight will easily damage the LCD screens.
How do you connect your FPV Goggles to your drone?
Most FPV goggles don’t require a lot of setting up. After powering up the drone and the goggles, you need to make sure they are on the same channel. At the receiver compartment, there are push buttons that allow you to set the frequency.
The FPV goggles also have channel buttons that allow you to search the channel the goggles are on. Regardless of the drone you own, it would help if you also had a frequency chart to guide you in aligning both the drone and the goggles on the same channel.
Below are some useful videos I found;
Can I Use VR Googles for FPV?
Yes, you can use VR (Virtual Reality) goggles to fly drones in FPV mode. However, they are not compatible with all drones. Even though FPV and VR are often interchanged, they are slightly different.
As we’ve already established, FPV goggles are usually bulkier, have higher resolutions, faster transmissions, and are perfect for racing and other professional and hobbyist activities.
VR, on the other hand, is a cheaper option. VR goggles work like low profile goggles where they split the screen into two. They also don’t always connect directly to the drone.
You may need a third-party app. They have lower quality images, they don’t give you much control over the settings, and some drone warranties may not cover damages caused when using VR.
Top 5 FPV Goggles 2020:
Now let’s look at some of the best FPV goggles available today and how they compare to each other.
DJI Goggles Racing Edition:
DJI is the leading manufacturer of drones worldwide. And considering their drones cut across all sectors, i.e. beginners to high-end drones. I am glad they ventured into FPV goggles.
This Racing Edition works with the Phantom, Mavic, Spark, Inspire drone series and several other third-party drones. You don’t need to do any configuration when connecting to the DJI drones.
For starters, it has a 148 degrees field of view. Not that you’re going to need all of it, you can adjust to the most suitable one based on the activities you’re into.
The screen has a 1080p/2K resolution, which is quite commendable for an FPV. However, the image quality is also determined by the drone’s camera, so make sure you’re using a high-quality camera.
The 50MS Wi-Fi latency is excellent, and it has 12 channels, which makes it compatible with most receivers. It also has head tracking capabilities. The only downside is that it doesn’t support 3D images.
Fat Shark Scout:
Fat Shark is among the first companies that introduced FPV goggles. The Fat Shark Scout goggles are cheaper and beginner-friendly, and they come packed with several features.
For starters, they have a 50 degrees field of view, which is sufficient for most applications. It also comes with 18650 2600 mAh batteries, which last quite long.
The goggles have one external antenna, one built-in antenna, an SD card slot, and conveniently placed control buttons.
The 1136*640 resolution is more than enough. It also has a fan and removable foam that allows users to keep their glasses on as they view the footage.
The 5.8GHz and 60 fps transmission speed also ensure there’s no lag in the video. It also has head-tracking features. And it’s suitable for racing, or for just having fun outdoors.
EACHINE EV800D FPV Goggles:
Eachine is another reputable manufacturer for FPV goggles. This EV800D is a box goggle that’s cheaper than the Fat Shark and DJI models I just mentioned.
I mentioned earlier that you should look for a drone with an adjustable aspect ratio. Well, this goggle does allow you to switch between 4:3 and 16:9.
It also has a DVR that records at a 720*560 resolution, a 5-inch screen, and a 5.8GHz receiver. It comes with a 1200mAh battery, but you can purchase 2S and 3S batteries as backups.
Weighing 375 grams, you can comfortably wrap it around your head for hours without feeling any fatigue.
DJI Immersive FPV:
If you’d love to experience a fully immersive experience with your DJI drone, then you’ll love these goggles.
The 1920*1080 pixels resolution sets it apart from the rest, while the OcuSync makes it possible to connect to 4 devices simultaneously. OcuSync is a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi for long distances.
You can also choose to view the video in 720p or 1080p based on the speed. These are low-profile goggles that split the screen to both eyes. And it does this while maintaining a very high 2K resolution. It also has head-tracking features.
I recommend this drone to anyone seeking to view videos at very high resolutions. It’s also suitable for racing and other professional and hobbyist activities.
The only downside is that it’s not compatible with all DJI drones. It also has no diopter lens slots.
Makerfire Mini FPV Goggles:
If you’re a beginner and are looking for cheap entry-level FPV goggles or are looking for an inexpensive model for your kids, you should consider this Makerfire model.
It costs less than $50, but it has useful features such as 5.8GHz receivers, 20ms latency, and a built-in 1200mAh battery. It has no in-built DVR recorder, but you can connect a third-party DVR through the AV port.
These goggles also comes with a frequency chart/table that makes it easier to manually align the frequency on the goggles and the drone. It also has a 480*320 resolution, which is suitable for a start. And it has a 3-inch screen.
One major downside is that it’s not ideal for those wearing glasses.
The Future of FPV Drone Racing Scene:
FPV drone racing started roughly around 2014, and it involves drone pilots racing across 3D tracks. It’s also one of the reasons FPV goggles became popular since both pilots and spectators experience the “cockpit” thrilling experience.
The tracks often have ramps, flags, and other obstacles. The judges award points based on the time taken to get to the finish line. And skills exhibited by the pilots to go through the barriers.
Even though it’s a very young industry, FPV drone racing has grown tremendously, and now drone pilots are making thousands of dollars from competition prizes and sponsorship deals.
For instance, Luke Bannister won $250,000 in the first ever FPV racing World Championship. The Drone Racing League was also started around the same time.
Considering how fast it has grown in just a few years, I think this sport is here to stay.