DJI Killed Analog. Long live analog!
by DRONELIFE contributor John Saginario
Doers and doers in the hobby market read the wind and cut ties.
It’s what they can’t see
When it comes to UAV technology, the Hobby Market has always been an interesting editorial. This is where many technologies have their start, new software and algorithms make their way here and ideas are implemented true to scale here.
And then you just realize that sometimes you can’t beat the big players with their own game, so you stop trying.
This is the subtext behind the recent message from Fat Shark (RedCat Holdings) that most of the support for their Shark Byte Digital FPV system will be discontinued. For those unaware, Fat Shark was the name (and arguably still is) in FPV goggles before moving on to more commercial interests. A little over a year ago, after making big bucks selling analog headsets, they decided to put their support behind a digital FPV system that broke the “standard definition” barrier in HD. When they released their best (and most expensive) glasses to date, the Fat Shark HDO2, they were keen to release a new add-on that promised more immersive, high-definition video than ever before.
Then DJI swam in and swallowed the whole pond.
At airfields and many local races, DJI FPV goggles are everywhere. For many hobbyists, especially for those who fly the typical 5 ”freestyle quadcopter, this is practically a requirement.
A few weeks after the news of DJI Goggles’ release spread and YouTubers and reviewers swooned over the video quality and relatively low latency, people couldn’t post their own analog glasses and cameras on the Facebook marketplace fast enough.
New pilots just getting into the hobby routinely buy DJI gear first, and stores regularly sell out. This enthusiasm is only dampened by the ongoing global chip scarcity, which has made it difficult to find new cameras and transmitters.
The same cannot be said of Shark Byte. They are also affected by the shortage of chips. Limited stock of products sold out quickly. But acceptance wasn’t nearly as great.
In the summer of 2021, Fat Shark decided to put its HD video system on a fire sale. Modules that retailed for $ 249 have been reduced to $ 99. The few available supplies quickly flew from the virtual shelves.
Back then, it felt like an aggressive tactic to take over DJI’s competing digital solution and gain market share. In reality, it now looks like Fat Shark saw the writing on the wall and decided not to fight a fatter whale.
A few months later, users were posting emails from Fat Shark support agents telling their customers that they will no longer support most elements of the Shark Byte universe: namely the cameras and VTXs for sale on their website that are being used by Partner: HDZero.
In fact, they have even withdrawn support for their own products and only promise help with “manufacturing defects”. So no more support.
For their part, HDZero, the company behind this technology, has promised to support Shark Byte users now and in the future. News has also been posted on social media platforms promising new Shark Byte compatible hardware and new form factors in 2022.
The future bytes
Right now, the future of Digital FPV seems a little less certain if you can’t or won’t shop into the DJI ecosystem. For those who have done so, the debate is largely settled and the future is here.
For tens of thousands of hobbyists who haven’t ventured into HD or have decided to invest in the system powered by their preferred eyewear maker, we are now relying on other, lesser-known companies outside of the US to drive the technology forward. It remains to be seen whether it will remain viable and competitive.
Read more about FPV goggles, DJI’s FPV drones, and drone racing gear.
John is an FPV hobbyist and part time woop racer. He also enjoys testing new hardware, building drones, keeping up to date with the latest technological developments, and writing about UAVs in general. He has 2 kids, 2 dogs, and shamefully more quadcopter than he can reasonably count in one sitting.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional marketplace for drone services, and a passionate observer of the emerging drone industry and regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has written over 3,000 articles on the commercial drone field and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam graduated from the University of Chicago and has over 20 years experience in high-tech sales and marketing for emerging technologies.
For advice or writing on the drone industry, email Miriam.
Subscribe to DroneLife here.