DJI O3 Air Unit Review: a major upgrade for FPV enthusiasts – Digital Trends | Episode Movies

DJI O3 air unit

RRP $230.00

“The DJI O3 Air Unit is a versatile image transmission and recording system for FPV hobbyists.”

advantages

  • Great picture quality

  • Excellent transmission strength and clarity

  • Perfect for creative FPV control applications

  • 20GB onboard storage

Disadvantages

  • Overheats without constant air movement to cool it

Despite having many years of experience flying drones, I have rarely ventured into the waters of more advanced and technical First Person View (FPV) vehicles. From that perspective, I tested the DJI O3 Air Unit, a camera and image transmission system for hobbyists who don’t mind getting their hands dirty with screwdrivers and soldering tools.

Testing the O3 Air Unit has been quite an enlightening experience in the challenging but hugely rewarding world of building and operating FPV drones and other RC gear. It took a lot of trial, error and general troubleshooting – all in an attempt to answer whether the O3 Air unit is something reserved for the dedicated hobbyist, or whether the casual drone and RC enthusiast would do well to put it in To take advantage of the exciting opportunities it presents.

Design of the DJI O3 Air Unit

The DJI O3 Air unit.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The O3 Air unit is a very basic, bare-bones system. It has a camera, an antenna and a transmitter unit – and these three components are connected to each other by cables. The core unit of the device features a port designed to connect to a compatible flight controller, as well as USB-C and microSD card ports, and a pairing button.

The construction of the DJI O3 Air Unit is extremely robust and of high quality, but not waterproof. The compact, powerful nature of the device is such that it needs all the airflow it can get to cool it down.

DJI O3 Air Unit setup process

Convenient with the DJI O3 Air Unit

Getting the O3 Air Unit to work was a journey, although none of my difficulties stemmed from the device itself. Rather, my trial and error was the result of early firmware and my own inexperience with wiring and with remote controlled (RC) drones.

First I had to power the device. The easiest way to do this is to simply plug the O3 Air Unit into a compatible flight controller. However, I lack such a flight controller and my main interest in the O3 Air Unit is as a device to allow me to experience ground based RC vehicles. With that in mind and after a lot of research I finally ordered a 500mah LiPo battery, charger and adapter to switch between battery and charger. I also bought a pigtail connector to connect the battery directly to the O3 Air Unit.

Connecting the battery connectors was the only tricky and technical aspect of this project as it involved cutting the power and ground wires on the O3 air unit and soldering them to the pigtail connectors.

With this conclusion, I was able to successfully turn on the O3 Air unit for the first time. I would like to give kudos to GetFPV.com for their excellent customer service in helping me figure out what parts to order.

The DJI O3 Air Unit attached to the top of an RC car.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

If you’re planning on going down a similar route as me with the O3 air unit, I recommend buying a good quality charger as you don’t want to mess around with LiPo batteries. If you’re building a low-speed vehicle, or planning to mount it in a location where the air unit won’t experience significant airflow, you should also plan for some sort of fan.

Once I was able to power the O3 Air Unit, I still had to pair it with my DJI Goggles 2 and controller. I was really struggling with this but after a quick back and forth with DJI we narrowed the issue down to the prelaunch firmware and after a quick update for the controller, headset and air unit I was up and running. I quickly strapped the O3 Air Unit to an RC race car with packing tape and took it for a spin in the garage.

The DJI O3 Air Unit on an RC monster truck.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

With this successful test run, I upgraded my setup to an RC monster truck by using double-sided mounting tape and electrical tape to secure the truck’s cabin. The O3 Air unit worked great in this setup, although unfortunately the monster truck wasn’t as off-road capable as advertised.

The DJI O3 Air Unit on the DJI FPV drone.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

Next I used the O3 Air Unit for its more traditional use as a drone camera, which was glued on top of my DJI FPV drone. I was concerned that the tape might not be strong enough, but luckily it turned out to be rock solid. Both the drone and the air unit performed admirably, although in the future I plan to mount the air unit on the DJI FPV drone at a better angle so that the propellers are not visible.

Image quality of the DJI O3 Air Unit

DJI O3 Air Unit vs DJI FPV Drone vs DJI Avata vs DJI Mavic 3 Classic – Video Quality Comparison

With the ability to record 4K video at 60 frames per second (fps) and 2.7K video at 120 fps, the O3 air unit is quite a powerful videography tool. Featuring RockSteady image stabilization similar to DJI Action 3, the O3 Air Unit could serve as an adequate replacement for the action cameras typically used by FPV drone pilots. That’s potentially huge, as it means significant weight savings and therefore a performance boost in situations where every gram counts.

It’s a big improvement over the original DJI Air Unit in terms of image quality, and a big improvement over the camera that’s built into the DJI FPV drone. It’s about on par with the DJI Avata camera, although on my next setup with that camera, I intend to put some foam or rubber between the O3 Air Unit’s camera module and the RC vehicle to dampen the vibrations and get smoother footage to achieve.

Performance of the DJI O3 Air Unit

The DJI O3 Air Unit mounted on an RC monster truck.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

I never had any reason to complain about the transmission quality or strength of the O3 Air Unit. I’ve never experienced any noticeable lag or signal loss with the DJI Goggles 2, although it should be noted that I’ve never really pushed the limits of its range. I’ve used it like FPV drones in the real world where I always make sure to stay in line of sight. However, I’ve driven it on RC cars with a solid wall between me and the car and haven’t experienced any loss or degradation in signal.

A really impressive aspect of the O3 Air unit is the 20GB of onboard storage.

The only major issue I encountered was overheating, as I’ve alluded to. To be clear, this is a system designed for use with drones that fly through the air at high speeds. However, the rate at which it overheats is somewhat alarming when not actively cooled. This made it quite difficult to update the O3 air unit and I ended up running my NiteCore BlowerBaby air purification device over the O3 air unit during the troubleshooting and setup process. This isn’t a problem when flying a drone, and there’s an automatic shutdown that occurs if the device gets too hot.

A really impressive aspect of the O3 Air unit is the 20GB of onboard storage. This is possibly the most onboard storage I’ve personally come across on any camera of any type, and having this option backed up on a microSD card can be a real lifesaver.

Price and availability of the DJI O3 Air Unit

The transmitter unit of the DJI O3 Air Unit.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The DJI O3 Air Unit is available now for $230 and includes the camera module, transmission module, antennas and 3-in-1 cable. This is actually a pretty attractive price point given its capabilities, although it’s important to note that you’ll also need a headset like the DJI Goggles 2, which retails for $650.

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll also need to consider the cost of what you’re going to connect the O3 Air Unit to. The battery, adapters, and charger I bought cost me a total of $102, and that’s the bare minimum to get the O3 Air Unit working. I spent another $30 on a cheap RC monster truck, but after being disappointed with the lackluster performance of this cheap garbage truck, I’d recommend spending at least double that to get something with good performance and shocks.

If you decide to go with a drone instead, which is more the intention of the DJI O3 Air Unit, expect to spend at least several hundred dollars on the drone itself. All in all, a complete FPV setup built around the O3 Air Unit costs at least $1,000. That puts you in the ballpark of the DJI Avata, which I would recommend for beginners just looking to get into FPV drone flight.

A versatile system for FPV hobbyists

The DJI O3 Air Unit and DJI Goggles 2 with an RC monster truck.
Andy Zahn / Digital Trends

The DJI O3 Air Unit is a clear winner when it comes to image transmission for FPV control of drones, cars and RC vehicles of various kinds. While it’s certainly aimed at hobbyists with some level of technical knowledge, the learning curve isn’t so great as to severely limit its accessibility.

It’s practically a foregone conclusion that the O3 Air Unit will become the de facto camera of choice for hardcore FPV drone pilots. It is a camera that stimulates the imagination and lends itself to creative projects. It’s reliable, powerful, and delivers excellent image quality good enough to replace a standalone action camera.

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