Analog vs Digital FPV Drone Systems: What Are the Differences?

With both analog and digital FPV drone systems now available, which one should you pick? Find out below.
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Last updatedLast updated: December 25, 2023
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With DJI’s launch of a compact digital FPV system, the lines were drawn. The drone manufacturer was basically saying that digital FPV drone systems were the future and the time for analog systems is done. Other drone manufacturers are still lagging, which is understandable given that DJI has been a market leader for quite some time. However, analog vs digital FPV Drone systems is something that most drone users haven’t made up their minds about. Naturally, the digital variant is still new, so many drone operators haven’t experienced it yet. So should you or shouldn’t you consider moving from analog to digital, and what are the perks of each? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Analog FPV?

Analog vs Digital FPV Drone Systems: What Are the Differences?

With analog FPV, you get analog video transmission directly from your drone into the controller device so you can see where you’re flying. FPV drones typically use frequency modulation to convey video to the receiving device, typically your goggles. This is where the video data is encoded on an analog signal by varying the data wave frequency in accordance with the modulating signal frequency.

This simply means that variations in the frequency typically reflect the features captured in the image. Once the modulated wave is superimposed onto the carrier wave, the signal is passed to the drone’s video transmitter/VTx.

Drone VTx has a carrier frequency that helps weak FPV signals travel longer distances. Most drones use a 5.8 GHz carrier frequency since it’s less crowded Trusted Source Study of integration 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz in RFID tag The most common, though not the only frequencies generally available for RFID use are LF (nominally 132 kHz), HF (13.56 MHz), UHF (860-960 MHz) and microwave (2.45 GHz and 5.8 GHz). www.researchgate.net and can eliminate blind spots in the coverage area.

You can see that in the Holy Stone line of drones. If you’re in the market for such a drone, our list of the best Holy Stone drones may help you out. Notably, 5.8 GHz also transmits data faster than the 2.4 GHz frequency.

However, there are some that use other frequencies, including 1.2, 1.3, and 2.4 GHz, in addition to 900 MHz.

Pros and Cons of Analog FPV

Pros Cons
  • Support for a wider variety of drones, video transmitters, and goggles;
  • Supports more than one viewer;
  • Different bandwidth options to pick from;
  • It is available at different price points to suit buyer needs.
  • The transmitted video is not as high quality;
  • Setup can be confusing and frustrating;
  • Even with a 5.8 GHz frequency, signals are prone to interference.

What Is Digital FPV?

Analog vs Digital FPV Drone Systems: What Are the Differences?

With digital FPV, video data is converted into digital signals with the help of an Analog to Digital converter. The resulting files are in the form of 1s and 0s and are compressed before being sent directly to the FPV equipment. This data is sent as a series of pulses where one high voltage represents the 1s, while a low or null voltage represents the 0s.

The receiving module, i.e., the goggles, for instance, has a decoder built into the device to reconvert the 1s and 0s into actual image data. The encoding and decoding at the ends of the transmission are why digital FPV is prone to more lag than its analog counterpart.

The DJI digital FPV system, in particular, is compatible with many DJI drones. As such, if you’re looking for digital FPV drones, you are very likely to find one in our list of the best drones under $2000.

Pros and Cons of Digital FPV

Pros Cons
  • Stunning HD clarity;
  • The high-definition images are recorded both on your goggles and on board the drone;
  • Improved flying experience.

  • Image compression and encoding mean extra lag;
  • It’s still new, so there are constant software updates;
  • Only works in a closed operating environment;
  • It can also interfere with analog FPV;
  • High prices.

Analog vs. Digital FPV Systems

Here’s a summary of how analog vs. digital FPV systems compare.

Analog Systems Digital Systems
Prices Low – Average High
Signal-to-Noise Ratio Medium – High High
Video Transmitter Cost Low High
Video Receiver Cost Low – Medium High
Susceptibility to External Noise Medium – High Low
Form Factor Nano – Medium Bulky
Range Medium – High Low – Medium
Latency Low – Medium High

Prices

Like everything you consider buying, pricing has a lot to do with whether you ultimately go through with it. Since analog has been around for longer, the cost of making it is cheaper. As such, you can get an analog FPV setup for as little as $100. Reviewers even recommend the EMAX Tinyhawk 2 for beginners since it’s affordable and FPV-ready out of the box.

Digital FPV, on the other hand, is still a fairly new technology, and even with the lag in data transmission, the minimum you can expect to spend is about $600.

Signal-to-Noise Ratio

The single-to-noise-ratio Trusted Source signal-to-noise ratio (S/N or SNR) In analog and digital communications, a signal-to-noise ratio, often written S/N or SNR, is a measure of the strength of the desired signal relative to background noise (undesired signal). www.techtarget.com indicates the signal strength between the drone and goggles. If the drone is closer to the receiver, you can get a signal ratio of 1. However, the further away it is from the receiver, the more FPV video noise you get from, and the higher noise introduced by obstacles interfering with signal transmission.

Video Transmitter Cost

Like the other associated equipment, an analog FPV transmitter is significantly cheaper than the digital alternative. However, this may come down with time as more and more companies build digital FPV systems of their own.

Buyers recommend getting the DJI FPV Combo since you get most of what you need for high-quality video transmission in a bundle. This can also help you save on costs.

Video Receiver Cost

Where analog vs. digital FPV goggles are concerned, you get various options with the former. This also means pricing varies, and you can get whichever suits your budget best. Depending on your desired quality, you can get one for anywhere between $100 and $600.

With digital goggles, you don’t have much choice since there aren’t many in the market. As such, you can expect to spend $400-$500.

Susceptibility to External Noise

While analog transmission has existed for decades, there’s still no practical solution for avoiding external noise. As such, your videos may dip in quality depending on the amount of noise in the area.

Form Factor

Concerning the form factor, digital FPVs again suffer from being relatively new to the market. As such, manufacturers haven’t found a way to shrink the components as they have with analog FPVs.

This means finding a small analog transmitter is a cakewalk, but if you want a digital transmitter, you can only settle for a large one.

Range

Analog systems, for all their susceptibility to external noise, can provide ranges of over 20km if there aren’t many obstacles around. Initially, digital systems only had a range of 2km, although recent improvements have doubled the range. That said, it’s still a long way to go before they can catch up to analog.

Latency

As mentioned above, video transmission in analog FPV is almost instant. The extra steps involved in transmitting digital video mean there’s more latency. Currently, you can get 15 ms latency with analog and 35 ms with digital, although 35 ms isn’t bad enough for most drone pilots to write off the system altogether.

Image Quality

The image quality is one major reason to pick digital FPV drone systems over their analog counterparts. You get much sharper images allowing for a truly immersive flight experience.

Among the DJI drones you can get to fully use the image quality in digital FPV are the DJI Inspire 2 and Phantom 4. If you’re unsure which to pick, our DJI Inspire 2 vs. Phantom 4 comparison can help shed light on the matter.

Final thoughts

In the analog vs digital FPV drone systems debate, analog is seemingly a better option. However, digital FPV provides clearer images and is unlikely to be as susceptible to interference as the analog option. Overall, digital FPV is still in the early stages of development, and it may prove a better option in the long run than the alternative. However, currently, analog FPV systems have it beat.

References

1.
Study of integration 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz in RFID tag
The most common, though not the only frequencies generally available for RFID use are LF (nominally 132 kHz), HF (13.56 MHz), UHF (860-960 MHz) and microwave (2.45 GHz and 5.8 GHz).
2.
signal-to-noise ratio (S/N or SNR)
In analog and digital communications, a signal-to-noise ratio, often written S/N or SNR, is a measure of the strength of the desired signal relative to background noise (undesired signal).
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