Review: DJI FPV Drone – Part 1

Coming to grips with a new tech device is rarely easy; there are always some quirks that cause initial hiccups and they can be extremely frustrating to say the least.

In my experience, DJI products have always been solid performers when all the crinkles have been ironed out, but I don’t think – with the possible exception of the still-in-progress RoboMaster STEM based robot – I have yet come across a DJI product that at the start, didn’t have some, ahh, distractions.

Take the Pocket 1. Like all DJI products it needed to be activated by the DJI Mother Ship, and this meant using the DJI MIMO app. The hangup at that time was that my Samsung phone didn’t have USB-C, and this was required.

This time around, I had issues with the new DJI FPV drone. And it drove me nuts!

You see, again you have to activate the DJI FPV Drone via your smartphone, and simultaneously update the firmware for not just the drone, but the battery system, controller and FPV goggles. But when I fired up the DJI Fly app and tried to “Connect” the drone, the supposed option of FPV  Drone is not there. Instead, you only get DJI Mini, DJI Mini 2 and MAVIC Air 2.

There were lots of folk online with the same issue, and supposed fixes included downloading the DJI Fly app from DJI’s website as against the Google Play Store, and making sure all devices were charged beyond 50%. Some reported success with these, other suggested different model phones worked, but not others, yet more criticised the version of Android and so it went on.

Thankfully, deep down in all the rants, discussion and helpful (and not so helpful) hints was a single gem of information that DID work for me.

As mentioned, the DJI FPV, unlike other DJI drones, utilises a pair of FPV (First Person View) goggles,  and, while like all other DJI drones you can see what the drone’s camera sees  on your smartphone, this is achieved by the smartphone being a “Slave” unit to the goggles. This is accomplished by connecting the smartphone to the USB port on the goggles using an OTG (On The Go) USB adaptor cable that lets you plug a standard USB-C cable into it from your smartphone.

The trick is to make sure the OTG cable is plugged into the FPV goggles and the USB cable from the smartphone then plugged into that. Plugging the OTG into the smartphone and then running a USB-C cable from it to the FPV goggles will not work.

Once I had this worked out, the DJI Fly app bypasses the drone choice section, identifies the FPV drone and goes straight into the Go Fly option – which leads to activation,  firmware updates etc.

And from experience, it is best to get all this done, which can be tedious, in the comfort of home with access to a fast internet connection, as against out in the field.

Actually Flying the FPV

Let me lead into this bit by mentioning one very important point. As I have said, the DJI FPV drone relies – and almost insists – that you use the FPV goggles. In fact, this is the whole point of the design of the beast. Sure, you could just use the “slave” smartphone system, but this negates having goggles in the first place. The smartphone is there really only so a third party can also watch the action.

So what’s the problem you ask? Well, if you wear glasses, I do not vouch for the ability of a spectacles wearer to keep their glasses on under the goggles. Mine for certain will not fit, and while you have some fine tuning of the lenses to personal preference, in my case I could not get a perfect focus.

Sure, the actual scenery was clean enough, but the HUD portion of the goggles with all the drone information such as speed, height, battery remaining and a swag of other messages was just slightly out of focus enough to be annoying.

Having said that, DJI do say that ophthalmic customisation of the goggles is possible, but I have no idea of the cost of that or how you would go about it at this stage, although I have asked and will relay the answer as soon as I know.

Update: with a bit of playing around with the headstraps, I WAS later able to position the goggles over my glasses….. it just takes some fiddling. Give it a go.

Another issue I came across related to using SD cards. Of course, you want to record your flights, and the DJI FPV drone allows recording to an in-drone SD card as well as one in the goggles. And this bit was a major frustration I have yet to totally solve.

All my SD cards are high-speed Verbatims I get through Jaycar, and I have a selection of 16GB, 32GB and 64GB cards. No matter what style I formatted them to (FAT32, ex-FAT, NTFS) the drone camera insisted the card needed formatting and refused to record.

Eventually, using the blurry in-goggle menu system, I discovered you could format them in the drone, and then all seemed OK (you get the option of formatting either the drone SD card or the goggles inserted one).

This is another issue I have flagged with DJI Tech Support, who by the way from experience, are damn good!

During all this, of course the fully charged battery in the DJI FPV decided it had had enough, and the dulcet tones they use to inform of such things told me an exhausted battery was imminent and Danger Will Robinson…

Thankfully, DJI had also sent me their “Fly More” pack which includes an extra two batteries and a charging station that will accept three batteries. I also keep a Powertech 1000W inverter in the Monaro for just this eventuality.

Finally, I got the DJI FPV in the air over the foreshore here at Australind, and flying using the goggles. I only did a quick 5 minute flight to get used to the system, driving with the goggles and the hand held controller (as against the optional single joystick based “motion Controller which I have yet to pair to the drone).

It takes a bit, but when you become accustomed to viewing the world from the drone’s Point of View (POV) as against peering at a smartphone screen in bright sunshine or scanning the sky to keep track of the drone, then I have to say it is an exhilarating feeling.

At one point, flying in the “normal mode” as against Sport which will allow up to approximately 102 kph, I realised I was headed straight for some wires strung across its path. Under normal circumstances, I would probably have hit them, with the accompanying damage, but in FPV and with the 4K camera, the image was so clear it was a snap to simply control the drone up and over.

One major difference between the camera system of the DJI FPV and other drones, is that camera control is limited to the vertical axis only – ie up and down. I thought this might be a limitation, but the angle of view is so wide I didn’t find this an impediment in any shape or form.

Conclusion

The only thing I did find disconcerting is when the drone is close and above you, it is  hard not to get a feeling you might suddenly have drone blades giving you a savage haircut. The natural tendency is to look up, but with the goggles on, this is of course somewhat pointless! So, when bringing the drone “home” I found the best way for my own peace of mind was to make sure that my starting point for flying was around 3 metres from me, and then using the Return Home button and trusting the onboard GPS was pretty accurate.

Which it is.

On playback, the footage is breathtaking, my clumsy initial flying besides. I cannot wait for the next flight(s), hopefully using the Motion Controller this time, and learning more about what this marvel from DJI is capable of.

Since the early days of the DJI Action Cam and Pocket Cam 1 and 2 to the latest Ronin gimbals, the original MAVIC Mini and now the Mini 2, I am deeply impressed with DJIs engineering and software skills. The RoboMaster took them in a different direction, but on the way through with all these products, the company has found some serious expertise in designing and manufacturing excellence in the DJI FPV.

In terms of drones at least, no-one comes even close in my opinion.

The DJI FPV retails for AUD$2099 approx and the Fly More pack (2 extra batteries and 3 port charging station) is AUD$429. They can be purchased from the DJI Store Online at https://store.dji.com/au/category/dji-fpv

 

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