DroneCompares Discusses Buying a Drone on a Budget: The Virtues of DJI vs Yuneec, 3DR & Parrot
Hong Kong, June 14, 2016 (Newswire.com) - DroneCompares.com on Monday discusses Getting the Most Value for Your Drone
Time to buy your next drone. You want something that shoots 4k and is easy to fly. Sounds like your budget should be more or less set, right?
Not so fast. A quick Google search for 4k camera drones shows a wide variety of price options from $500 to almost $3,000. You might be able to see some segmentation, then you look at reviews, but these only show what your experience will be like the first time you use the drone. Neither speak to the longer-term value that a new drone can provide.
The question then becomes, are you paying for the quality of the drone or the marketing behind it? How do you decide which drone is best for you?
Let’s start with the more-technical side and then drill down to how to tell if you’re getting the best value for your money.
What’s under the hood?
The easiest way to tell the quality of a product should be to pop open the case and look at the circuitry onboard. Consumer drones come out of the hobby space and many “out-of-the box” drones are, at the end of the day, just nicely packaged hobby kits.
Looking at the product that started it all, the DJI Phantom 1, it’s pretty easy to see how DJI, as a flight controller and component manufacture, took its existing products and put them in one ready-to-fly kit.
Obviously, the technology and capabilities of these drones has evolved, but it’s shocking how many drones have essentially the same interior as the original Phantom.
Open up a brand new XIRO Xplorer V or a Yuneec Typhoon H and you’ll be surprised at the similarity. Both have flight controllers sitting on top of a standard PCB that can be bought for just a few dollars in bulk in Shenzhen’s infamous computer tech supermalls (which you should check out! Lots of cool things there). Their circuitry, ESCs, motors, communication modules and others are essentially the same.
Some companies have sought novel (and somewhat challenging) ways of integrating flight controllers, ESCs and other controls all into one board. Nevertheless, the range of 4k drones ranges widely from $500 to almost $3,000.
What am I actually paying for?
the prices are different because of differences in terms of the quality of the flight controller, camera or other components. Not necessarily – a quick Google search for a wide variety of components shows parity for most pieces of a drone. A DJI Naza M-Lite, 3DR Pixhawk and XIRO Xplorer flight controller all come in around the same price. Also the price of Yuneec’s CG300, XIRO’s FPV system and DJI’s X3 cameras are more or less similar.
As a result, most drones with 4K video recording capabilities have leveled out at the $500-$700 price point, with a few notable exceptions. Some drone-makers have added components that they believe justifies raising the price tag. You’ll have to decide if they’re really worth it.
There’s the 3DR Solo, which boasts an impressive set of onboard computing power that drives the entire unit cost up to about $1000.
DJI Phantom 3 Pro / Advanced
Both have the same capabilities as most other drones, but they boast two additional features – optical indoor stabilization and Lightbridge.
It’s hard to cost out what the indoor stabilization is worth – Parrot’s range of drones also include this capability onboard, and they run about $500. But they lack a controller, and Lightbridge is an expensive bit of kit.
The original Lightbridge ran about $1,500 and streamed HD video from up to 5km away, rather than the limited 1.2km range limit of WiFi video links. Apparently, DJI could scale production of Lightbridge to save on costs, but its incorporation is clearly driving costs above the WiFi-based DJI Phantom 3 Standard.
DJI Phantom 4
Same as the above, but also adds optical avoidance cameras and onboard processing power. News articles point to the incorporation of onboard computing using the Movidius chip. The combination of scaled savings of Lightbridge and the addition of the Movidius chip brings the total cost to $1,400.
DJI Inspire 1
Without onboard computing, DJI is betting that consumers are willing to pay more for the Inspire 1’s carbon build of its arms, Lightbridge, indoor positioning and HDMI (their external HDMI module costs about $169) and its ability to rapidly accept different payload options.
The Inspire has the ability to maintain altitude while the motors rise from below the platform to above the platform. It’s unclear how much this costs as it’s not a widely available component. The combination of the higher-quality body and communication pushes the price up to $2,350 with the Zenmuse X3 camera.
So, based on the above, it seems like onboard computing, higher-quality communication and build quality are the biggest differentiators that raise the cost of a drone. In all of these cases you’re looking at a base price of between $500 and $700, plus the extras for these additional features.
Additionally, the investment in new breakthroughs like machine learning on the Phantom 4 or creating an active developer community for 3DR means that users get even more capabilities from their devices.
The Yuneec Typhoon H – price/cost mismatch
They Typhoon H, announced back at CES 2016 in January, recently started to ship to consumers. It’s priced lower than the Phantom 4, at $1,300, and, on the surface, also flags its own obstacle avoidance. But it’s not using the same technology as the DJI platform, opting for ultrasonic sensors that work at about only 10% of the range of the Phantom 4’s optical sensors. That also means the Yuneec craft moves more slowly when it’s in avoidance mode.
But costing this all out is complicated to see if you’re getting what you pay for and pay for what you’re getting.
Yuneec has posted a list of Typhoon H features that seem impressive at first glance, but it’s tough to tell both the practical and material value.
Let’s spend a bit more on this one because it’s such an interesting outlier. The new Typhoon H has many of the same specs as the Yuneec Q500, but the new craft costs more than double its predecessor.
What justifies the cost bump? It’s not racier onboard computing. The Typhoon H also uses WiFi for video downlink and transmission, just like the Xiro, 3DR drones and Phantom 3 Standard. It also looks to be using either the same or comparable plastic for the hull, compared with the Q500.
Some of the answer must lie in the rest of the specs, including a ground station-type remote control with integrated Android touchscreen tablet, an extra two rotors (it’s a hexacopter), retractable landing gear and the avoidance sensors, the 360-degree camera and HDMI capability.
Development might account for some cost. Some functions are useful for high-end professionals, but the quality of the camera – wide field of view with low compression rate – gears this system more towards entry-level consumers. Also, the inclusion of only WiFi for video downlink means a limited ability to fly either far or in congested signal environments, like for a film shoot or a broadcast scenario.
How to tell if the consumer is getting the most out of what he or she pays for a camera drone?
The most basic rule for consumer electronic products applies here: What do you need and how much are you willing to pay? Do you want a standard drone for taking high quality photos and videos? Then there are several options in the $500 – $700 range.
If you want to up your drone game and get more advanced features, look first at the components that will actually add the most value to your purchase and think about how that relates to price. Do you want more-advanced camera functions? Then it is worth considering something with on-board computing. Do you need to fly further or in more complex environments? Spend extra for a more advanced communication link.
Look at capabilities for first-time pilots like follow me and obstacle avoidance and see how they actually work. Are they based on technology from 20 years ago or third-party integration (i.e. sonar or added chipsets) or is the value built from new technology or created specifically for aerial technology.
Most importantly, wait until you see people actually start using the product. The drone sector is full of vaporware in terms of hardware or software.
Before making your investment, see if your local hobby shop or friend or trusted YouTube reviewer has tried out the product and can give you objective advice about it. What features will you use the most? Which ones seem cool but either don’t work or are not really practical.
These are just a few thoughts but worth considering before your next purchase.
DroneCompare has made the article free on its website. It, and other valuable articles on drone technology can be found here http://www.dronecompares.com/buying-a-drone-on-a-budget-the-virtues-of-dji-vs-yuneec-3dr-parrot/