Foxtech HorizonHD 2 FPV Camera Review

July 29, 2012 13:04 | By | Add a Comment

There’s a new FPV HD camera contender in town. Can Foxtech’s HorizonHD dethrone the sturdy but heavy GoPro, or are you better of sticking to the more established products? Find out in our review!

The average FPV enthusiast with a desire to record full HD footage on his multicopter or flying wing or whatnot usually opts for a GoPro Hero HD, or the latest GoPro Hero HD2 with marginal improvements but the same steep price tag. GoPro tries hard to justify that price tag, despite a cryptic user interface, mediocre battery performance, and comparatively large bulk of the camera + protective case. The GoPro was designed for skiing, motorcycling and the likes, not specifically for RC flight. It’s about time someone stepped up and offered a product aimed specifically at RC modelers.

FoxTech is such a company. Their HorizonHD camera released last year was the first to offer a relatively lightweight package that eliminates most of the bulk, with a focus on RC flight. The recently released HorizonHD 2 is an upgraded iteration of the same product, with a new image sensor and some other minor adjustments, sold for a price of $150.

The first noticeable thing that stands out is the two-part design. This isn’t your protective-shell encased GoPro anymore. What you get is a base module with integrated LCD and four buttons, as well as a separate image sensor module, connected by a flat-ribbon cable. Also included in the box is a voltage regulator that steps down any voltage between 5 and 18 volts to the required 4 volts

Pictured: MicroSD slot and microphone

USB/TV out connector, HDMI connector and power lead (left to right)

An integrated MicroSD slot allows up to 16GB of storage for full-HD videos and photos. A HDMI output port allows you to directly connect this device to a big screen, though most FPV pilots will be interested in the ability to output analog video and audio from the combined USB/Video-out port, even while the HorizonHD is recording full HD video onto the MicroSD card.

The camera unit is extremely light and perfect for mounting on a pan/tilt assembly.

This two-part design allows for some pretty good installations inside jet planes or on multicopters. If a pan/tilt mechanism is what you’re after, the lightweight camera module is definitely a better fit than a heavy GoPro. Another benefit is that FoxTech includes all the cabling you need, there’s a USB cable and even a USB-to-Video analog connector that plugs right into most RC video transmitters.

Build Quality

Although lightweight, there’s several issues with the FoxTech design. First of all, you’re always taking the LCD into the air. There’s no way to detach it and just keep the camera module and the SD card onboard.¬† The sandwiched construction of the main module has the screen on the front and the buttons on the back – not exactly an ideal constellation.

The buttons are behind the heatshrink, making them harder to press. And everytime you do, you squeeze the sandwich construction together. There’s some foam inside to alleviate some of the stress but it’s obvious that this is not ideal.

The voltage input has a very limited range, which explains the included extra voltage regulator. This regulator comes with a convenient servo plug already soldered to the output so you can just plug in the HorizonHD. The battery input has no connector, allowing you to solder on whatever connector you prefer.

On our unit, the label was stuck on the wrong side, which means that output and input of the voltage regulator were reversed. Not only does this not work, but it can also lead to damage of the regulator or even the camera itself! Luckily we noticed before the infamous “magic smoke” appeared.

The flat flex cable connecting the camera head to the main module is rather flimsy, even though the black wrap around it works pretty well. Make no mistake though, this is not a connection that can resist frequent mechanical stress though. The good news is that Foxtech sells a replacement for cheap.

The HorizonHD installed on an IFly-4 quadcopter frame, and connected to a 5.8GHz transmitter using the included cable.

Another issue we encountered was the fact that the voltage regulator delivered a too low output voltage, causing the camera module to shut down or stop recording intermittently. The solution was simple: Simply getting rid of the regulator and plugging the HorizonHD into a receiver output works perfectly – as long as the receiver doesn’t run on higher voltages.

It’s important to note that disconnecting power without stopping the recording first WILL destroy your recording. The file will be full size but it won’t play back – the video will be lost.

While the GoPro can be set to record either  25fps or 30fps H.264 into MP4 files, the HorizonHD records 25/30fps H.264 into QuickTime .MOV files. Both cameras support PAL and NTSC, both support automated shooting of photos at fixed intervals. The GoPro v1 can be set to record 60fps, while the HorizonHD supports esoteric things likemotion detection recording for example.

The menu is easy to use, most functions are self-explanatory

Interestingly there’s even a spot metering option available. The HorizonHD also supports a loop record mode that overwrites old files automatically.

The screen gets quite hot after a while. Thankfully there’s an option to have it turn off automatically.

This is what you see both on the LCD and on the AV output. If you fly FPV with an OSD overlay, chances are these icons will make your data unreadable. You need a special firmware to get rid of them.

Video playback. Functional, but no joy to use thanks to silly button placement.

Video/Image Quality

The first thing noticable when flying/recording are the big and colorful icons for battery, recording mode, etc. – not only are those visible on the LCD, but they are also rendered onto the video out signal. That’s a quite annoying feature which users of the V1 model had to fix via a firmware update. Having such icons obscure your OSD information is no good. Luckily a similar “NoIcon” firmware is available for the V2 version at http://www.foxtechfpv.com/product/HoryzonHD/V2/

A screenshot of the video quality in low light

 

Photo quality in low light. Compare this with the video quality screenshot of the same motive.

In low light, the image has slighty bleached colors, sharpness suffers from some edge fuzzyness. Contrast is good, brightness is adequate and the dynamic range is solid, but not stellar. Low light performance in general is okay, but nothing to write home about either. The limiting factors of this camera are the same as for any camera: Small sensor size and tiny optics take their toll on image quality, miniaturizing a high quality HD camera is one of the most complicated engineering tasks there is.

HorizonHD – click for full size

The same scene recorded by a GoPro v1

One thing we noticed is that the lightweight camera head is especially prone to vibration, so extra care has to be taken to stabilize and dampen it. While flying FPV, the FOV of the HorizonHD was pretty much spot-on for most situations, wide enough to allow for situational awareness, but not so wide as to obliterate details.

HorizonHD – click for full size

GoPro v1

These shots were taken from videos recorded with both a GoPro and the HorizonHD v2 at the same time.

Despite having a wider field of view, the video output of the GoPro is sharper in low light than that of the HorizonHD, as can be seen on this 1:1 comparison detail crop (size difference due to different FOV):

So low-light situations are not where the HorizonHD shines. But what about a bright sunny day?

GoPro v1

HorizonHD

As soon as the sun’s out, the detail improves considerably over the GoPro. Not only that, but shadowed areas are still visible in greater detail – whereas the GoPro almost obliterates anything that is not in direct sunlight. On the downside, the color rendering is a lot less vibrant, there’s a distinct blue tint and he image looks rather dull. The GoPro on the other hand captures the lush greens much better.

Looking into the sun further reveals the superior dymanic range of the HorizonHD camera, at the cost of color fidelity:

GoPro v1

HorizonHD

Another important thing to have for a FPV system is the ability for the camera to quickly cope with changes in illumination. The HorizonHD surprises with superior speed there, the GoPro often took up to 2 seconds going from looking at the sky to looking at a shadowed area before details were visible again. The Horizon HD managed this in under 1.5 seconds average.

GoPro v1

HorizonHD

Photo quality is adequate, considering the sensor size and lens quality. Sharpness is good near the center, but drops off considerably at the edges. This is not surprising since a wide-angle lens at such sizes can only get you so far. In comparison with a v1 GoPro, the menu on the HorizonHD is easier to use, thus making it a snap to set up things like interval shooting.

 

Verdict

The GoPro 1 delivers good results, albeit at almost two times the price and more than four times the weight of the HorizonHD camera. The new GoPro 2 features an improved sensor with even better image quality, but it’s priced at a premium.

The HorizonHD on the other hand is quite affortable, though low light performance is no match for the more expensive GoPro and video material shot with the FoxTech camera will need additional color grading on a PC to be enjoyable.That said, many FPV enthusiasts will see the price tag of $150 for a full HD FPV camera, and that’s all they need to know to make a purchase decision.

Aside from image quality, there is literally no impact protection and the button placement and “case” are abysmal. However there are several numbers to keep in mind:

HorizonHD weight: 40 grams
GoPro v1 weight: 184 grams

HorizonHD price: $150
GoPro v1 price: $250 (at time of writing)

The HorizonHD comes with a video cable that fits most FPV video transmitters out of the box. These facts make the offering by foxtech interesting despite the shortcomings. Splitting up the system in two components was definitely a bad choice, even more so the decision to have the LCD screen be an integral part of the system. Why not a single PCB, with buttons that are easily accessible, and simple LED indications for the current operation mode? Why not put all that into the sensor case and make things even smaller, eliminating the need for a vulnerable flat ribbon cable.
Most people will use hook and loop tape or something similar to fix the LCD module with the screen pointed up – yet the buttons are on the back. Who came up with that silly idea?

Taking the existing BEC voltage as power source is an awesome idea, but there are many silly and plain bad design choices.

This camera is nothing for people expecting a finished and nicely encased product. It’s a thing for hobbyists and hardware geeks. If you can live with the quirks and/or need a camera that delivers HD recording and FPV in one device under 50g, then this is for you.

Everyone else should consider the protection offered by the clear GoPro plastic shell: This nifty device is proven and has protected our GoPro from 150m drops straight onto a gravel road. It also feels like the HorizonHD is likely an interim product, bound to be succeeded by something that’s more rugged, better designed and with buttons that can be operated without squishing the screen against another PCB. I would even go as far as to say that image quality is totally sufficient, what needs to improved first and foremost is the product design – and a lightweight protective case with proper buttons and without the color LCD would go a long way.

An evening scene shot with the HorizonHD

 

What we liked:

  • Clear, sharp image in daylight conditions
  • Fast exposure control, high dynamic range
  • AV out and HD recording at the same time
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Power connector hooks up to your RX, no extra battery required
  • All cables needed for FPV flight are included
  • The price

What we didn’t like:

  • 2-part design with LCD monitor connected by flimsy ribbon cable
  • Button placement on the back of the unit
  • Buttons hard to press
  • Heatshrink instead of proper case
  • Low light performance sup-par
  • Failure to stop recording before powerdown destroys the recording
  • Low weight equals additional sensibility to vibrations

 

Links:

HorizonHD V2 shop: http://www.foxtechfpv.com/horyzonhd-full-hd-1080p-fpv-camera-v2-p-498.html
No-Icon Firmware Update: http://www.foxtechfpv.com/product/HoryzonHD/V2/

 

 

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