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Face the facts. If you want the best quadcopter RC transmitter available, it’s going to cost you some money.
I’m going to describe a few of the more important features to check out in an RC transmitter and then show you just 3 of them to consider in particular.
No offense, Wallet Drone, but yours isn’t one of them.
Click an item in the box below to go there directly, or else just keep scrolling.
What Features Should I Look For in an RC Transmitter?
One of the three main items to examine is the number of channels you get in the transmitter.
An RC transmitter often has just 4 or 5 channels, but it can have as many as 9 channels. Each one communicates with the receiver on a different frequency.
The more channels you have, the more different types of information you can send to your receiver / quadcopter. For example, with just 4 channels, you would be limited to controlling the throttle (speed), turns, pitch, and roll.
By adding just one more channel for a total of five, you could also control which flight mode your quadcopter is using.
Common flight modes include manual, training, stabilize, and guided. Fancier setups may require GPS, but you would need an additional channel to handle that situation. In other words, even 5 channels might not be enough communication lines.
If you have a quadcopter with many modes and other options, you might need 7, 8, or even all 9 channels that some of the high end transmitters provide.
The second item to look at in a transmitter is the modes – not to be confused with flight modes just mentioned above.
The modes we’re looking at here basically determine what each of you hands controls on the physical transmitter.
With Mode 1 in effect, your left hand controls the elevators for pitch and the rudder for yaw. Your right hand handles the throttle for speed and the ailerons for roll.
With a Mode 2 transmitter, the effects are simply reversed.
If you’ve never used a transmitter before, you probably don’t care which is which. If you have used one, you’re likely to prefer a setup that matches the one you’re already familiar with.
Mode 2 seems to be the more popular of the two in the United States.
The last item to consider, especially if your quadcopter is going to implement a First Person View (FPV) video system, is frequencies.
In this case, you’ll need a transmitter that can handle both radio and video communications.
Frequencies available range from low to high. When deciding which you prefer, consider the following.
Low frequency = far range = large antenna
High frequency = short range = small antenna
The frequency you choose for your radio must not be the same as that for your video. They could easily interfere with each other and cause all kinds of flying problems.
You will want your video frequency to be higher than your radio frequency. The shorter range of your video should prevent you from flying out of the range of your radio.
From low to high, here are some options you have for video (and below that, radio) frequencies.
- 900 Mhz – Poor video quality. Excellent range and penetration.
- 1.3 GHz – Decent video quality. Good penetration and great range. Most FPV equipment can use it.
- 2.3 / 2.4 GHz – Very high quality. Long range. Most FPV goggles can use 2.4 GHz.
- 5.8 GHz – Super high quality. Very small antenna. Very short range, but still over a mile. May not work with all goggles.
- 72 MHz – Most common. No license needed.
- 433 MHz – Range of several miles. Most likely need an amateur radio license.
- 2.4 GHz – Must use 5.8 GHz for video.
Selecting the FrSKY Taranis X9D PLUS
The most popular RC quadcopter transmitter, as of this writing, is the FrSKY Taranis X9D (PLUS).
Here are some of the features that make it so popular.
- Quad ball bearing gimbals
- Receiver Match
- Audio speech outputs (for values, alarms, settings, etc.)
- Real-time flight data logging
- Antenna status detection and alerts
- Receiver Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) alerts
- Vibration alerts
- Low latency
- Smart port support
The Taranis is compatible with FrSKY X series, D series, and V8-ll series receivers. It’s compatible with even more when you add an external module.
Remember those 9 channels mentioned earlier? The Taranis gives you 16 channels.
Considering the Spektrum DX8 Option
The Spektrum DX8 transmitter wasn’t designed specifically for quadcopters, but you can make it work.
Here is a video showing how you program the DX8 for your quadcopter. Note that there is no talking in this video. You have to pay attention to the on-screen text.
If you watched the video above, you saw the Simple Scroll™ interface in action. You use one of the controls to “roll” through the options on the screen and select the one you need to edit.
The DX8 lets you monitor 4 safety and performance statistics on its LCD screen: battery voltage, temperature, signal quality, and RPMs.
You get battery voltage and temperature readings so that you can prevent damage to your machine.
The manufacturer of the DX8 also includes a feature they call the Spektrum Data Interface™ (SDI). Not to be confused with Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, with this SDI you can share model setups with other owners, save additional models to memory above the 30 allowed in the basic design, and keep up-to-date with the latest Spektrum AirWare (software) enhancements.
Other notable features include the following.
- Comfortable, no-slip rubber grips
- Adjustable stick length and tension
- High-speed 11ms frame rate with 2048 resolution
- AR8000 8-channel high-speed receiver
- 2000mAh NiMH battery pack
- SD card for SDI
- Global 12V charger with adapters for international use
- Spektrum neck strap
- 4 user-selectable control modes
- Electronic E-ring electronically prevents overdriving the cyclic servos
- 5-point graphic tail curve
- 5-point graphic throttle and pitch curve
- Active gain and governor trim allows in-flight adjustment
- Swashplate timing
- 6 swashplate types
- Telemetry alerts
- 3-position flap switch with flap delay and elevator compensation programming
- 8 wing types and 5 tail types
- Language select (English, Italian, French, Spanish, or German)
- User-assigned switch function
- Programmable throttle cut
- Programmable timer with throttle timer startup
- Quad bearing gimbals
Fly with the Futaba 14SG Transmitter
Finally, here is another RC transmitter with all the bells and whistles. The Futaba 14SG transmitter has a total of 14 channels, which is probably more than you’ll need.
Futaba boasts something they call FASSTest technology. It’s a protocol that lets you fly with pretty much any of their receivers.
You can get telemetry information, like you can with the Spektrum transmitter, but you have to buy the sensors separately.
Here is a partial (though still lengthy) laundry list of other features you get with this 14SG transmitter.
- Free user-updatable software
- 30-model memory
- Backlit LCD screen with 128 x 64 resolution
- SensorTouch programming
- Left and right assignable slider switches
- 2 assignable rotary knobs
- 6 assignable three-position switches
- 1 assignable momentary two-position switch
- 1 assignable two-position switch
- Comfortable rubber grips on the sides and back
- Adjustable stick tension
- Dual ball bearing gimbals
- 4 vibration warning types
- Home/Exit; User Menu/Servo Monitor buttons
- Audio earphone jack
- 6-Volt, 1800 mAh NiMH battery pack
- User stick calibration
- Trainer system
- Servo speed adjust
- 5 programmable mixes
- Trim mix
- Logic switch
- Servo monitor
- 2 count up/countdown timers
- Integral and model timers
- Quick model select
- 10-character user naming
- 10-character model naming