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Super cheap and simple FPV ground station

#1
I'm very new to FPV but it was the reason I got into RC fixed wing. As many of us already know, RC, though dramatically less expensive than a decade ago can still be very pricey, especially if you want to get into FPV. One of the greatest costs for someone new to FPV is the ground station monitor or goggles. New FPV pilots often buy a TINY and expensive monitor designed specifically for FPV or vehicle backup camera systems. A monitor designed specifically for FPV can easily cost more than $150 USD, which for me, was 3 times the cost of the rest of my FPV gear combined. This doesnt have to be the case though, there are other options and I'm going to show you the very cheap option I stumbled upon that not only cuts the cost of a FPV monitor but can also reduce the amount of time and money it takes to make your first FPV ground station.

The parts required for this project go as follows.
  • 1x 3 cell LiPo battery 20C (30C bursts) or higher C rating
  • 1x car cigarette port/DC power extenter or splitter
  • 1x XT60 male connector
  • 1x 100w -150w power inverter (too low wont provide enough power and too high you'll puff your battery)
  • 1x 6 outlet AC power strip (only 3 outlets are needed but 6 outlets provides space to plug in big adapters)
  • 1x RCA to VGA converter
  • 1x PC monitor (with AC power and VGA cable)
  • 1x LiPo low voltage alarm


Optional (but recommended) parts:
  • Foam to cut to shape and make everything fit nicely
  • 1x Briefcase (make sure it is big enough to house your monitor)
  • 1x power cord 5' long 1" diameter wire loom split tube (makes cable management easier)



The great thing about this particular setup is that you most likely already have all but 1 of the parts.

Parts you are likely to have:
  • PC monitor - I have 5 working spare monitors so this was free for me. If you dont have one available you can usually find an old one at a thrift store or a garage sale for super cheap (I once bought a 26in monitor for $1). Obviously you will also need a power cable and a VGA cable as well.
  • Power strip - I suggest one with a power switch built in so that you can power up your inverter before drawing power from it. I have tons of these lying around but you can get one for about $5 from Staples or Office Depot.
  • DC splitter or extender - I had a splitter for my car and that is what I used but any device that has a female cigarette port will work. These can be found in the electronics bin at any thrift store for nearly $1
  • XT60 male connector - You can use any type of connector you like but I use XT60s and if you need to buy them your best bet is on eBay, I got a pair of 5 for $5 on eBay.
  • 3cell Lipo battery - 3cells = 12v so any high capactiy 3cell battery with a C rating higher than 20C will work. Use a battery you trust.
  • Power inverter - If you choose to drive to a vacation destination in the USA you most likely have one but if you don't then make sure you get one that is rated for 100w to 150w and DOES NOT have a low voltage cut off.
  • LiPo low voltage alarm - You SHOULD be using these on your planes as it is. Buy them on eBay for less than $4.


Parts you are likely to need:
  • RCA to VGA converter - You probably don't have this but luckily it can be bought on eBay for less than $20 (http://www.ebay.com/itm/190596379150) Make sure you get a Video to VGA converter and NOT a VGA to Video converter, there are many more for sale of the kind that you DO NOT want so read carefully.


How to set it up:

First, you need to be able to connect the battery to the rest of the setup so all you need to do it cut off the end of the DC splitter or extender that connects to the car. Identify the Positive and Ground wires (usually the solid black is the ground wire and the wire with the white strip is the Positive wire) then solder the XT60 (or connector of your choosing) to the DC splitter or extender. This is probably the only soldering you will have to do for this setup if your receiver comes with a power adapter.

Now you need to connect everything up:
  1. Plug your Inverter into the DC splitter or extender
  2. Plug in the power strip to the Inverter
  3. Plug in your Monitor, video to VGA converter and Receiver into the power strip.
  4. Connect the Receiver to the RCA to VGA converter
  5. Connect the monitor's VGA cable to the RCA to VGA converter
  6. Make sure the power strip is switched to OFF
  7. Connect the LiPo low voltage alarm to the battery
  8. Connect the battery to the DC splitter or extender
  9. Turn the power strip on and adjust the setting of your devices if needed


Adding audio (Optional)

Parts you will need:
  • RCA male to male Red and white cables
  • Female RCA to male 3.5mm converter
  • 3.5mm female to female coupler
  • Your choise of headphone or a speaker that uses a 3.5mm jack.


How to set it up:
  1. Plug the RCA cable into the RCA red and white output coming from the receiver
  2. Plug the RCA to 3.5mm adapter into the RCA cable
  3. Plug the 3.5mm coupler into the RCA to 3.5mm adaptor
  4. Connect your speaker of headphones to the coupler.


Final thoughts

Pros:
  • The monitor is likely much larger than the 4.1", 7" or 10" FPV monitor you would normally have to buy.
  • Very little soldering has to be done, usually just the connector on the DC power source.
  • Comprised of parts you likely already have.
  • Low cost
  • Requires very little electrical knowledge


Cons:
  • Inefficient, the power comes from a DC source, is inverted to an AC source then each adapter converts back to the DC source. This process wastes energy and cuts down on total possible running time.
  • An inverter without a low voltage cut off is better for this application but is more likely to be of cheaper quality and be less reliable.


Ultimately you can make a better setup than what I have produced for this thread but this is the cheapest and easiest place I can think of to start.
 

BankNYank!

New member
Mentor
#2
Great video. Good explanation of how everything goes together!

My favorite part was the sudden "shh stop it" part mid sentence. I became a little concerned for your sanity and my first thought was, are the voices in his head getting to loud? That made me lol.

But seriously though, good stuff man and I like how you put it all together into one video from setup to actually using it.

My only question is, how much range are you getting out of your video gear? I like the price for a first setup and I may end up buying the same stuff.
 
#3
Ha, I was editing late last night, I must have overlooked me saying "shhh" to the dog.

So far the video range has been farther than my plane Transmitter's "safe" reach. I flew the final revision of my plane yesterday and I ended getting some dodgy controls I believe due to multi-path interference which I think was causes by the semi-circle shaped objects in the baseball park. So far the video reaches farther than I am comfortable flying LOS (A few football fields length). If I get more data on distance, I'll update.
 

thenated0g

Drinker of coffee, Maker of things
Mentor
#4
frankenFPV

I picked up that little converter you linked from ebay. Was driving me crazy, thought i got a bad one, turned out the rca yellow video cable was bad that came with it. But for $13 i dont really mind. Thing works great. Here is my setup. I wanted something that i could use in my backyard on 120v and something i could use with 12v systems, Rc batteries or automotive. I haven't done a live test, just turned everything on and started a stopwatch. On my first test with a 2200mah 3s battery, i started at 12.4v total and let it drop to 10.8v. It lasted 30 minutes. It was at 3.61v each when i decided to stop the timer.

I was really surprised as it seems super inefficient, but lasted a long time. Only problem i had was getting my ImmersionRC UNO to work on any AC converted voltage. I tried a 6v, 9v, and 12v wall jack. I even tried plugging it into my 12v automotive jump start battery. Each of them gave me low voltage warnings. So i have that just plugged it in before the automotive inverter.


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My friend got one of those 17" automotive 12v tv's when woot.com had a sale. We both agree that this is much sharper. But his lasts alot longer on the same battery.

**edit: This isnt my final design. Just a mobile setup so i can see if it works before putting it in some enclosure.
 
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#5
Looks promising, this is exactly what I was hoping someone would do. You should do a test on your inverter to see where the low voltage cut off is. Many of the higher quality inverters are 10.5v which means once each cell is at about 3.6v you don't have long until it shuts off. Post pics of the enclose when you get it set up!