The Connex Prosight HD makes a pretty big promise: latency-free high definition video. Now, I know what you’re thinking… why is HD video such a big deal again? Simply put: a high definition + FPV (First Person View) system suitable for racing has never been done before, and the Connex is the first one to the game. Additionally, because the Connex supports multi-band channel hopping, up to twenty pilots can fly at the same time without knocking out each other’s video signals. This is huge.
The system includes a high definition video receiver, transmitter and camera. You can read more about the specs in detail here.
You can pair the Connex with any headset that supports an HD input. So far, the Vuzix iWear provides the clearest and most immersive experience. The Connex will work with FatShark goggles, but there’s some minor latency issues. Also, remember that even FatSharks ‘HD’ goggles still clock in under 720p. You won’t get the true experience.
While everything looked great on paper, we wanted to see how this system handled in a real-world racing environment. Teaming up with our friends from FPV Aces, Rotor Riot and Quad Talk Podcast, we headed to Los Angeles to do some serious flying (or as Chad from Rotor Riot put it, to be technical as f—).
We were immediately blown away. The clarity of flying high definition was unlike anything we had ever seen before. Colors pop, branches and dirt felt practically tangible, and your field of vision is much wider (The output image is a 16:9 aspect ratio with the iWear headset). Because the camera also has increased dynamic range, bright highlights and dark shadows smoothy blend. This gives you contrast that feels much closer to the human eye. For the first time, you feel like you an actually see clearly. (Johnny Nash, anyone?). It’s almost as if you’ve been trying to fly all this time looking through foggy glasses, and now you’ve finally wiped them clean. Think back to the feeling you had when you flew FPV for the first time… it’s that dramatic.
Let’s talk frame rate. When you watch a movie, your eye is perceiving 24 frames for every second of video. This is called frames per second, or FPS. The more frames you watch per second, the ‘smoother’ your video feels. The Connex supports two modes, high quality (30 fps) and high frame rate (60 fps). Traditional analog video streams at 60fps, so flying in the high frame rate mode feels exactly like what we’re used to. Unfortunately, in order to keep the frame-rate high, the video image becomes very compressed, and starts to feel like standard definition analog. When flying in high-quality mode, the image is streamed at 30fps 1280×720. This gives you a stunning crystal-clear image, but the lower frame-rate gives the impression of lag. Both modes have the same low-latency, but people may perceive the drop in smoothness as an image delay. Free styling and exploring in high quality mode rocks, but we didn’t find it acceptable for high speed drone racing. The choppy image is enough loss of information to lead to incorrect assumptions in a race.
Aside from an incredible looking image, the Connex is the first system to bring channel hopping to video. Here’s a quick example: Transmitters (remote controls) like the Spectrum and Taranis utilize this technology. Every few milliseconds, the transmitter and receiver sync and switch to a different channel in the 2.4GHz spectrum. This allows hundreds of people to fly aircraft at events and meet ups without losing connection or getting taken over by somebody else. Currently the Connex allows up to 20 people to be in the air at the same, hopping within the 5GHz spectrum. In our testing, the Connex was not effected by analog video systems. We could power up each rig despite others flying, and neither systems had noise or blacked out from interference. This will make integrating this system into events where both technologies are used very easy.
The signal range works perfectly for freestyle flying, maxing out at approximately 300 meters. In our test we flew behind a concrete bridge and pillars without blacking out. We saw a little bit of digital noise, but it was much cleaner than analog. The penetration surprised both us and the Rotor Riot crew. From a freestyle perspective, having the ability to now fly behind walls, structures and other things rocks.
The quality of the FPV camera surpasses anything else on the market. Many have voiced concerns about it being proprietary, but honestly, you wouldn’t want to fly anything else. It’s that good. As mentioned before, the first thing you’ll notice is the wide dynamic range. Transitions between light and dark are smooth and clean. Highlights aren’t excessively blown out, and you can actually see details in shadowy areas. We flew in between bright trees and a dark freeway underpass with no issues. Up until now, the Sony CCD Hs117 has been regarded as the best camera for FPV (image quality and dynamic range), but nothing comes close to this.
We were a little surprised at how huge the video transmitter is. It’s similar in surface area to a playing card. If you’ve got a smaller X-Frame quad, we actually can’t see how you could make this work. This, coupled with the large paddle antenna, adds a significant amount of weight to your quad. Again, if freestyle is your thing, this isn’t much of an issue. If you’re planning on using this system for racing, you’re going to have to make some serious considerations when it comes to weight. On the other hand, you have to remember that this unit is basically a microcomputer that has to process video encoding, transmission and channel hopping in real-time. It could easily be a much bigger box. We don’t expect these types of transmitters to get much smaller for a while.
The receiver is also about the size of a small HDTV set-top-box. This isn’t something you can strap to your goggles. Mounting it to a small tripod like a ground station is your best option.
Overall, it’s hard for us to give this system a five-star review. Chad from Rotor Riot made a good point, it doesn’t really feel like first-generation. The image quality is breathtaking, and channel hopping gives us the ability to finally fly in large groups without knocking out each other’s signal. These reasons alone may be enough for some to justify upgrading. Unfortunately, there’s still too many drawbacks for us to see ourselves using the Connex on a day-to-day basis (or racing, for that matter). The system is still not full 1080p high-definition. We also found the lack of a high-quality 60fps option disappointing… flying in 30fps just doesn’t feel right. Also, because there’s no option to output video in a 4:3 aspect ratio, using the Connex with FatShark goggles will result in a skewed image. The FatSharks will take the wide 16:9 image and try to squeeze it into a 4:3 space, resulting in a ‘squished’ image. Tommy from Rotor Riot also mentioned that he actually prefers flying 4:3 altogether.
We are confident that this system will be future-proof. Because everything is software-based, we’ll hopefully be seeing future updates that enhance image quality, channel hopping algorithms, connection and frame-rate. While it’s going to be a while before pilots begin adopting high definition, this is a huge step in the right direction. We can’t wait to see how this system will continue to evolve in future generations.