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Hobby Lobby PilotView FPV 2400 Review

In an exclusive RCGroups.com review, Vic and Quinn Walton check out the view from the pilot's seat with the Hobby Lobby Pilot View First-Person Video system.

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Introduction


Camera:510 x 492 pixel color camera with Sony 1/3" CCD, auto gain control, contrast, BLC
Onboard transmitter:2.4 Ghz 10 mw
Goggles:640 x 480 (VGA) 24-bit with built-in 100 mAh lithium battery
Retail Price:$549
Available From:Hobby Lobby

"That might be the coolest thing I've ever done," Quinn said with a huge grin after his first full flight with the Hobby-Lobby PilotView. This of course could simply be a reflection on the lack of coolness in Quinn's life, but no - it's been pretty cool, being an RCGroups reviewer and all. The PilotView is really that cool. It's a realtime FPV camera, transmitter, and receiver. FPV means First Person Video, and realtime means you see what the airplane sees, while the airplane is in flight, through full-color goggles with tiny video screens for lenses. It's like those Virtual Reality games that were supposed to be the future of computing (and apparently always will be). We've tried it, and there's good news to share:

It works. And it's cool. Have we said that yet?

Package Contents

  • Camera w/ mounting bracket
  • Integrated transmitter and power supply
  • Color Video Goggles with built-in battery
  • Light blocker, spare nosepiece, control cable, adapter cables, earphones, charger, remote for goggles
  • Receiver unit with RCA cable and antenna
  • Headphones
  • Connecting cables

Required for use

  • 72 Mhz radio required
  • 2S or 3S battery for onboard transmitter (2S preferred for lighter weight)
  • 2S or 3S battery for receiver
  • Computer with USB to charge goggles
  • An airplane - the slower the better (at least to begin with).

Features:

You might have noticed that bold "72 Mhz radio required." This is because the PilotView works in the 2.4Ghz spectrum, and as such your 2.4Ghz transmitter will cause enough interference on the video receiver to render it unuseable very quickly. Once the plane gets twenty or thirty feet away, its 10mW signal is going to get pretty weak, while the signal between your 100mW (or so) RC transmitter and the video receiver at your side remains very strong. This will severely impact the reception of the video signal, thus the need for 72 Mhz.

The PilotView also includes an audio feed, but audio from a plane in flight is nothing more than motor and wind, or just wind, so we chose not to use it.

Installation

Upon opening the box you are greeted with an impressive collection of wires, adapters, and other intimidating stuff. There is also a manual telling you what all these wires are for, and if you're a girly-girl, you'll read it. We, being manly-men, lost it.

No matter, it actually isn't that hard. The camera and transmitter go together only one way - plug the 2S in-flight battery into the camera, and the camera into the transmitter. Orient the antenna vertically (either facing straight up or straight down depending on how you prefer to fly) and use the included Velcro to stick it to the outside of your plane.

We chose the venerable MultiPlex Easy Star for our platform. We wanted electric (vibration-free and clean) and a light, stable, slow-flying platform. After taking a scant 20 minutes to put the Easy Star together (the receiver-ready version) we mounted the camera behind the cockpit by digging a little flat spot in the top of the fuse and gluing it in with hot glue. Hot glue holds just fine, and has the advantage of potentially allowing the camera to pop free in the event of an "event," possibly saving it from damage.

As for the receiver side of things, we'll work our way down from the top. The goggles (which we quickly started calling our Geordi Goggles) go on your face. (No, not now - you'll be wanting your eyes for the next few steps.) Plugging in to the left side of the goggles is the small flat connector coming from the goggle control unit - that's the silver and black box with two wires coming out either end.

There is a small piece of velcro attached to this cable; that goes around the goggles to hold the plug in. (You don't want it coming unplugged while you're flying with the goggles and doing the Dance of Joy because it's so much fun.) At the other end of the goggle control unit cable is a 3.5mm stereo plug, similar to a headphone plug. This goes into a 4-inch long adapter with 3 RCA jacks at the other end (red, yellow, and white). Into these jacks go the last cable, a 4-foot, 3-plug RCA-to-RCA cable that connects to the receiver, red to red etc.

Put your 3S battery into the receiver and you're ready to go.

Operation

Flying with the PilotView is entirely unlike anything we have experienced in all our RC flying. At first we were hesitant to try flying with the goggles alone and instead traded off; one of us flew while the other watched through the goggles. We quickly grew bolder, and soon we were flying using solely the view from the camera. The view from the goggles is far from HD quality, but it is clear, and easy to see under normal conditions, and it in no way hinders your ability to fly the plane. We do recommend taking a moment before each flight to orient the camera in the vertical axis, so that the horizon is about in the middle of the frame. This is where you expect it and where you're going to try to put it while you're flying. If the camera is pointing up a little bit, you'll tend to dive; if it's pointing down, you'll tend to pull up and stall.

The video image is impressive, but it can sometimes be difficult to pick out smaller landmarks (such as the peanut gallery watching in amazement as you fly with your back to your plane) particularly if it is bright out and you forget to bring the light blocker (never forget to bring the light blocker!). We flew on a hill adjacent to where some parasailers were practicing, and while we could see the parasails very clearly we wouldn't have been able to identify who was flying them or even what color clothes they were wearing. Likewise people on the ground - you can see a group of people but faces and details are indistinct.

Hobby Lobby suggests in their safety guidelines to always fly with a spotter. We concur heartily. After one (controlled but unwanted) landing in tall weeds, the pilot (Vic) took off the goggles and with a confident "I'll get it" headed off in a direction 90 degrees from where the plane was. If Quinn hadn't been there to see it come down, it would still be out in the weeds somewhere (as would Vic, no doubt). We also agree that it is best to fly in an area where you are familiar with the terrain, for a similar reason: while you're flying you tend to lose track of where you are, and could inadvertently fly out of line-of-sight from your RC transmitter and (just as bad) your video feed. That would end badly.

Hobby Lobby also recommends that the PilotView FPV be used in conjunction with a "Buddy Box" RC system in order to comply with the AMA Safety Code. The main pilot will have the "master" control box and maintain visual contact with the aircraft at all times. The FPV pilot will control the "slave" box and only be able to fly when the main pilot toggles the trainer switch. If the FPV pilot gets disoriented, loses the video feed, or cannot control the aircraft, the main pilot can easily take the controls.

Downloads

Conclusion

Despite the less-than-HD video image, having that first-person experience is truly amazing. Particularly as you get higher, seeing what you would see from the cockpit of your airplane is a hoot and a half. It is surprisingly easy to control the plane, at least on a lazy floater like the Easy Star (we don't have the courage to try this on a faster plane). We don't forsee giving up "normal" flying for FPV, but we do expect to bring it with us on a regular basis for the change of pace, the incredible views, and the opportunity to share this with our buddies.

Pluses

  • Very very cool
  • New way to enjoy your hobby
  • In-plane equipment is lightweight
  • Did we mention how cool it is?
  • PilotView FPV can also be used to give virtual rides - you can have spectators or fellow pilots observe the flight from the goggles.

Minuses

  • The manual needs more detail (we eventually found it)
  • Image in goggles can be difficult to see in bright light
Last edited by Angela H; Jul 08, 2008 at 09:50 PM..

Discussion

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Old Jul 07, 2008, 11:26 AM
No Guts, No Glory
flyin C's Avatar
Simi Valley, CA
Joined Feb 2007
2,024 Posts
Great review, I have always wanted one of these, as I think it would be really Cool To be able to fly a plane using it, but at that price its way out of my range.

but hey, i am sure its worth it!
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 01:27 PM
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Joined Aug 2007
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Very good, but i think it needs a little work yet. A little more time and the sky's the limit.
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 03:03 PM
It'll buff right out
FLDewey's Avatar
Palm Bay,FL
Joined Aug 2007
402 Posts
"We, being manly-men, lost it."

LMAO... that's great.

Good review... bummer about the 2.4 Ghz.
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 03:46 PM
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Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
9,458 Posts
So based upon the review if even one pilot at my field is flying with a 2.4 GHZ system the googles won't receive a clear signal? Potentially cool system but that could be a problem for using or demo flying at a big fun fly. I'm still on 72 but some of my friends have made the switch.
I enjoyed the review. I was wondering if you might have ocean or fire video from this past weekend? Mike
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Last edited by Michael Heer; Jul 07, 2008 at 03:53 PM.
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 04:19 PM
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Jason Cole's Avatar
United States, TN, Nashville
Joined Oct 2003
5,451 Posts
You can still use it when others are flying 2.4 at your field. We tested it while two other pilots were flying Spektrum radios. The FPV pilot could not stand next to the 2.4 pilots, but if you get 20 yards or so away from the 2.4 radios it worked. Good news for 2.4 guys, is that we are working on a 5.8GHz camera system

Jason Cole
Hobby-Lobby
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 04:48 PM
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Michael Heer's Avatar
Stockton, Ca. USA
Joined Apr 2001
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Jason thanks so much for the clarification! Also good news about the 5.8 system coming. I do a lot of my flying on my simulator from the cockpit and chase position and I am very interested in flying from the plane's perspective, with a buddy on visual for safety. Mike Heer
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 07:08 PM
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ukpaul's Avatar
Joined Aug 2006
736 Posts
Would it work with a UK 2.4 DX7? I keep reading that they have a much lower output (10mw?) than the US versions (100mw?).
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Old Jul 07, 2008, 07:12 PM
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Bombay's Avatar
Richmond, TX
Joined Apr 2008
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VERY COOL CONCEPT, but too expensive for the relative quality and 72mhz limitations.
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 12:48 AM
Registered User
Auckland New Zealand
Joined Aug 2007
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Do the product specs mention the resolution?

oops listed at the top....

How many frames per second - is the video choppy at all?
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 06:14 AM
Live FPV or Die
VRflyer's Avatar
Montreal,Canada
Joined Feb 2002
3,963 Posts
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bombay
VERY COOL CONCEPT, but too expensive for the relative quality and 72mhz limitations.
did you tried it

The quality of thoses small camera is awesome, and the goggle are not bad either. Everyone who have tried my differents goggle was impress by the picture, they expected bad quality picture

we can easily reach 1-2km with our 72Mhz radio, where are the limitation you talk, I don't understand

picture is not choppy, perfectly fluid. Colofull. Only when the sun is low at the horizon, picture become darker but it's flyable with no problem.
30 frame/sec.
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Last edited by VRflyer; Jul 08, 2008 at 06:19 AM.
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 06:38 AM
The sky is my playground.
Dora Nine's Avatar
United States, NH
Joined May 2005
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Looks like a fun toy to me! Thanks for the reveiw!
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 08:15 AM
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Joined Aug 2006
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Quote:
Originally Posted by VRflyer
we can easily reach 1-2km with our 72Mhz radio, where are the limitation you talk, I don't understand

picture is not choppy, perfectly fluid. Colofull. Only when the sun is low at the horizon, picture become darker but it's flyable with no problem.
30 frame/sec.
I think he means the limitation of having to use it with a 72Mhz system, as it's not compatible with 2.4Gig, not the range of the 72Mhz transmition itself.

The video in the review is slightly choppy, hence concerns over the smoothness/framerate when using the goggles. I suspect this is down to the video convertion, rather than the original video file, ie what you see through the goggles.

If you have a 2.4Gig radio & want a FPV system, you can always use one of the other systems available that are compatible with DX7's etc on 2.4, such as http://www.rangevideo.com/index.php?...roducts_id=131

5.8Gig Tx's/Rx's are also available now if cost is not an issue from places such as http://www.iftrontech.com/index.html
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 10:16 AM
Checking CG is for NERDS!
Smokescreen38's Avatar
Joined Jun 2005
5,347 Posts
Nice writeup!

How was it flying without a pan-mount? Did you feel like you had tunnel vision?

Do you get a warning when you're nearing the edge of the video transmission range (fuzzy picture?) or is it an abrubt cut-off?

How far away can you fly? I would love to be able to fly over the tree tops and away from the field.
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Old Jul 08, 2008, 03:11 PM
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With just 10mw tx power I'd suggest getting a decent patch antenna. You can find 2.4 ghz patches on ebay or companies like www.hyperlinktech.com
A patch greatly increases range but keep in mind you will need an extra person to keep the antenna pointed at the plane.
http://www.hyperlinktech.com/familylist.aspx?id=147
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