The latest craze to hit the RC world is FPV or First Person View. For those of you who haven’t heard of FPV (where have you been?!), it involves strapping a pair of video goggles on or using a remote screen to view a live, pilot’s eye view.
FPV is now used extensively with quadcopters/drones, but thanks to the compact plug-and-play systems now available, it is very easy to set this up for your RC car too! I have spent the last two years building and flying my own custom drones with FPV systems and have recently started a website providing FPV Drone Reviews, Guides & Videos.
In this post I’ll be going through how the kit works and the different options available to you – learn everything you need to know about FPV RC cars.
How does FPV on an RC car work?
The first thing that is important to understand is that for the most part we are dealing with analogue video here. Think that old TV quality from when you were growing up! There are some HD systems out there, like the Connex Prosight, but these are costly compared to the analogue options. This means that the video quality viewed live is a lot lower than the HD YouTube videos that may have initially attracted you to adding FPV.
The principle is fairly simple and involves four main parts:
- FPV camera – to capture the action! There are two main options here, CMOS and CCD sensors. Both are compact and lightweight, but CCD typically has a higher dynamic range and can cope with changing conditions better, producing a better overall image. CMOS on the other hand is much cheaper and beginners to start with a reduced initial investment.
- VTX/Video Transmitter – receives the video from your FPV camera and transmits it via a wireless signal. Popular systems now use 5.8Ghz, but there are 2.4 and 1.3 GHz options. The higher the frequency used, the more compact the kit and the higher quality the video, but the sacrifice is reduced range and penetration. You will typically be operating within direct line-of-sight only, going beyond this or behind objects will reduce the video quality or cut it entirely. Important note: your VTX must not be powered up without the antenna attached!
- VRX/Video Receiver – receives the wireless signal from your vehicle. You will need to match the frequency of the transmitter/”tune” into the same channel.
- Video goggles or screen – to display the feed from your VRX. Unless you are using an HD system, this will need to be compatible with your VRX and probably needs to be analogue or at least have an analogue input. We are looking at the two popular goggle options today, which give an immersive feel and really add to the experience.
How can you add FPV to your RC car?
Here you have a few options as touched on already. We won’t be discussing the HD video option, as the how-to is the same as the more expensive of our two options. So instead we will look at:
- A budget option
- A performance option
Get Your RC Car FPV’d On the Cheap
Our recommended budget option uses an all in one camera & transmitter and a set of all in one goggles. The camera has a CCD sensor, but don’t let this put you off! You are rewarded by a very simple install on your vehicle and low cost. Equally the goggles are an all in one but fairly bulky option, however they provide incredible value for money. This means you are able to get started without investing much money.
I recommend using the Eachine TX03, as the FPV camera and transmitter come as a neat compact unit that just requires 2.5-5.5V. You can take the voltage from a 5V regulator, as there should be one already powering your RC receiver. All there is then left to do is attach the unit to your vehicle. This could be on the bonnet, or inside the cab for a driver’s view! The Eachine TX03 is a good choice because it provides an easy to use push button interface and has a long feature list for such a cheap all in one system. You are able to select both the power output and channel, whereas most cheap systems give you the one low power option and are limited on channel selection.
For budget goggles I recommend the Eachine VR D2. These are some stupidly cheap goggles for the features they pack in. For your money you get a 5″ screen, built in DVR as well as built in 40 channel receiver. The goggles come with a battery, but it’s not built in. Personally I see this as a good thing, as it means that you can get additional batteries and use the goggles for even longer before having to recharge! The goggles are bulky because of their screen box format, but come as a polished product rather than the DIY systems the community has been used to until now. The upside of the large size is that you get a very good field of view without having to pay a lot of money for it.
If You Have Some $$ To Play With, Get a Performance FPV Setup
Here we will be using the best of the best to give you better performance, portability and features. I recommend taking a look at either the Runcam Swift 2 or Runcam Eagle FPV cameras, as they both provide great image quality. The Runcam Swift 2 also provides a built in OSD (on screen display) to provide battery voltage, run time and a customisable text/name overlay. The downside here is that in order to achieve better dynamic range and light/dark performance, we are using a separate camera and VTX. This means there are extra things to connect and mounting is not as straightforward. I recommend using an LC filter from your battery power, but both of these cameras can accept voltage straight from your LiPo.
For the performance VTX I recommend the FT48X. This is a compact unit with a nice wide voltage range like the Runcam and provides a higher power output than the budget option above. It can therefore be powered straight from your LiPo or through an LC filter. The higher power output means more range and more importantly, more penetration. This will allow you to go further behind trees for example, without losing your video feed. The
Selecting goggles is a lot more personal and I recommend researching different types before spending too much cash. A good option at the moment are the latest FPV goggles from Fatshark, the Dominator HD3. They provide a good field of view, both analogue and HDMI input (so you can use them with HD systems, or even your PC) as well as having built in DVR. What they lack is a receiver and antenna, so you will need to buy one of each separately. Fatshark goggles are expensive, but as you’ll know by now, in the RC world you get what you pay for. They are incredibly comfortable and will allow you to run for hours without issue. The screen box style on the other hand can be uncomfortable and leave you wanting to stop after 10 minutes.
Final tips for FPV’ing your RC Car
A few final tips to help you get the most of adding FPV to your vehicle:
- Install the antenna so that it is as high up above/away from the vehicle as possible. This will improve your video feed.
- If you are using linear antennas, make sure you position both your transmitter and receiver antennas the same way for best reception. This isn’t an issue if you are using a circularly polarised antenna.
- For the longevity of your gear, try to position the camera and VTX somewhere they will be protected in the event of a crash.
Have fun and leave a comment if you need any help or have a general question! Hopefully this guide on FPV RC car options was helpful to you.