I've had my Connex setup for a couple of months now. I've built it, rebuilt it, broke it, fixed it, and broke it some more. I've finally got a DVR to record all of the action after we had a flurry of events at the end of the year, so I can finally get some footage in to complete the review and give an overview of my experience with it over those months.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 3-4 months you will have heard of CONNEX and their ProSight system, made by Amimon. In the adverts and product descriptions its' said to boast a 720p HD digital FPV feed that is paired to your receiver for a multi-pathing free FPV experience where ever you fly.
So let's see what we get for our money, depending on where you are located it's around £300 or $350 I believe.
Whats In The Box
We get a nice fancy box here, which we'd kind of expect for the price tag :)
Some stickers, lots of instruction manuals.
This is the first bit of hardware we get - the receiver. You'll notice it has 5 SMA connectors, which will all house by default a linear antenna. I believe some of these are for transmitting and some are for receiving signal, as you can configure the VTX and camera to do various stuff such as changing resolution, channel and other features.
In the stack below we have the rest of our goodies - the FPV camera, the video transmitter, and the antenna system.
Under that we have a few more accessories such as cables, camera brackets and usb cables, so that we can put it all together!
Out of the box we cans ee the size comparisons for attaching to one of our racing quads. The camera is around the same size as a usual HS1177, so from that size we can see that both the antenna and the video transmitter are on the rather large side. Sadly this is as small as they can manufacture it right now. There's a few people on the internet who have taken off the metal casing, and inside is a super complex PCB with custom SoC (System on Chip) specifically designed for this processing by Amimon themselves. This is NOT a cheap task, and in fact I would imagine even selling at this price could be selling at a loss for them, so while we consider it expensive (at least compared to our current analog setups), I'd say the pricing overall is probably pretty competitive - let's face it, there's no real competitors right now, and I think that is purely down to the technology.
I've now added the Receiver with antennas into the mix to give you an idea of the size of this too. You can see it has a tripod screw mount so it is ready to be attached to whatever you desire - many alternatives to the Tripod if you have access to a printer or some cable ties!
Here's a bigger view of the instruction manuals we've received. The installation quick guide is really all we need and covers basic installation. You'll also want to connect your system to your computer for firmware updates. Depending on the system age unless you update you may not have access to some of the new camera modes such as HP+.
These are the accessories I was talking about earlier. As well as the wiring and camera brackets we get all the antennas required for the receiver, a HDMI to mini-HDMI to connect up to our goggles or TV, and also a bracket for the receiver to allow other mounting options.
Here's an exploded view of all of the cables we get. Many of them you do not need for a basic installation, and the same with the screw packs. You'll also notice we get an OTG cable. This is for connecting the Receiver to the Transmitter, as both have USB ports and can communicate to each other via this method for binding etc.
So how do we fit all that stuff into our quad? I imagine most have seen builds already, or are just wondering how we fit that big video transmitter in as it does not fit in a smaller racing quad frame. Well, you will really have to use a bigger frame, or use a frame designed to house the Connex system. There are more and more coming to market, and some of them are actually very well designed, the only drawback I see right now is most of them do not have normal racing quads that match camera angle and design in their product family, so flying characteristics aside from weight may also change. With that in mind, I plan to use the TSX220 - it's a great frame that debuted last year and was one of Tom Stanton's original frames. It's a large bodied true-X frame which has ample room to fit in the Connex system.
Here's the base build before adding FPV gear.
And here it is with the FPV gear added. I've not added the antenna on this picture yet but this should give you an idea of how long the video transmitter is. I had to drill custom holes in the frame to house the camera bracket screws but aside from that installation was super easy.
Once validating video was working and all the modes were setup correctly that night I was keen to get out the next day to test the system and see how it compared. I have a pair of Zeiss Cinemisers which are fantastic goggles - they have their own set of drawbacks but for HD viewing their screens are amazing.
Here's the quad with a slight change in motor and ESC setup.
Sadly the first flight for me I had clipped a gate which had immediately broken the Antenna mount. Not really a surprise as it sticks out like a sore thumb. Though I was told it would be more durable than that, and the hit it took was not a hard one.
After speaking with some of the Connex people I was lucky enough to get hold of one of the new Beta V2 antennas which was far shorter.
I also mounted it to the front of the quad as far forward as I could. This meant that when flying at a 45 degree angle the rear propellers were actually sticking out further than the antenna, so hitting it was far less likely but I'd still have good video.
We flew the Connex race at UKDS in December, and by that point I still have no DVR to record the HD footage as you need an external unit, but I was able to borrow Brett Collis' unit to record a couple of flights.
From the video you can see the footage is pretty good though we have some digital breakup in random places in the course. I was the only one running the Beta antenna and after some testing post-event we found out that it was the antenna causing signal loss (which you can see by the signal bars in the top right). Everyone elses signal was fine, we didn't really have much of an ability to watch other peoples feeds so it wasn't until after the race I realised mine was much worse than everyone elses. From this point it kind of went downhill for me as a system.
During the event I had a collision with one of the gates, no hardware was broke but I had managed to break off one of the camera mounting brass fittings. This is apparently a common thing so with some epoxy and careful gluing later the camera was fixed. Masking tape works wonders here to ensure you get the epoxy only where you want it.
Post-event I've been flying it every now and again (I've actually tried so much I got fed up with it), getting DVR footage where possible but in all honesty my experience hasn't been great. 3 out of 4 times when plugging in the power I get a "Camera not Authenticated" error message - and for those wondering I was getting this before the crash in iSeries. I was told this was down to a faulty camera <-> vtx cable, but after getting a replacement the issue still persists so I'm thinking it's likely the camera itself or the transmitter. I'm still yet to find anyone else with the issue so it's hard to diagnose. It was the Connex team themselves that suggested changing the cable, so if they don't know what causes it I have no chance unless I replace one at a time, but to do that I need to purchase both items, or have a 50/50 chance on buying a part for no reason.
I actually tried for around a month or two to get some decent footage. I purchased a DVR - the AverMedia Live Gamer Portable - this came recommended by many people. But of course it has its own issues which lead to a hugely frustrating experience. If you crash, and video is lost, or you unplug the quad before stopping the DVR - all of that recorded footage is gone. Completely gone. After a few frustrating sessions (whole weekend sessions) and finally finding this out, it left a sour taste in my mouth and the only footage I've got is not even worth showing on here.
In order to try and redeem the Connex system and try to get on with it, I got a Lens upgrade that allows me to run HP+. For those not in the know, the stock modes allow you to fly in 720p30fps (HQ mode - too laggy to fly), where as HP mode runs at 480p60fps. de.
The new HP+ mode is an attempt to combine the best of both worlds (definition vs FPS), and allows a new 720i 60fps mode. The new lens is required and is super wide as the sensor uses even less of the data incoming to allow that to happen - this is because the latency produced is from the digital processing. However, the field of view is pretty narrow and makes for a difficult flying experience when you are used to at least a 2.5mm lens. It is probably around a 2.8mm-3.0mm equivalent when flying on a normal FPV camera, making gates far harder than they should be.
I also decided to go back to the original stock antenna but just position them on the frame, as others were having great success doing this. This worked much better though I'm still getting the authentication issue, and now on power up although I'm told it's not vibrations, I'm getting weird artifacting when I do this, which is apparently a sign that the VTX has had too many voltage spikes. There's really not much I can do here now because had I known this would be an issue I'd have put it on a regulator from the get go. I've seen and heard of others having the same experience.
So I did even more testing over the past couple of weeks, and again had stupid DVR failures so the footage isn't even worth putting up. HP+ mode is quite nice, but I'm still not sure on the Cinemisers for the footage - the FOV is much smaller, but at the time there was no good alternative as the Fatshark HD V2's are super blurry for me on HDMI input. I still get the camera authentication issue so most of my time is spent trying to get it up in the air, rather than actually flying. I forsee this being a huge issue if I was to take it to a competition, so for race use it will already cost me at least a replacement vtx or camera. In the same time I've had the system, it's worth noting I've flown my analog setups much harder, longer and faster, and in the same time period have broken nothing, despite flying them probably 20-40x more at this point.
Do you like the Connex system? Yes, it's a huge step in the right direction for FPV racing. The lack of multi-pathing indoors alone makes it a strong contender for people to switch to in the future. It also opens up the ability to have better live-streaming as we have much better feeds to work with.
Is it ready to replace analog? Right now, based on my experiences and frustrations I'd personally say no. While I know others are having more luck than I am, the issues I've had have been enough to put me off from the system for a while. Of course if there's a race I want to go to and it's Connex only I will try and race it. The thing that most puts me off is the issues I've had based on my little usage of it. My analog systems get abuse day in day out and they are still going strong. And even when they do fail, it's a much cheaper part replacement with symptoms that make it obvious which part you need to replace.
Why did the review take so long, you were racing it in December?! When you get products like this that personally cause frustration and in other times prohibit you from flying (if it's the only setup you took for example), it is extremely annoying. I've also had to focus on other things such as DRL racing preparation, so this was on the backburner. I've tried now for a good couple of months to get decent footage but every time I get an issue - whether it's the Connex system or something extra that is needed (the DVR).
But my Connex system works amazing?? There are people out there hugely enjoying it, and have invested into multiple race quads with it! Don't take my single experience as the be-all and end-all, but I had to share my experience with it to give an insight. In our local group of friends that we fly with, I'd say Connex has a 50% success rate in being a good system that people enjoy. The 50% of those who do not enjoy it have issues similar to me (though they are actually different issues).
For me, it kind of echos one of the home truths - if you are prepared to put up with the higher prices of kit and replace more frequently in a trade off for excellent video and no multi-pathing, then the kit is for you. In my close circle of friends we have around a 50% success rate with it, so it's a kind of "Marmite" product right now I feel - some love it, some hate it. I think the only people who hate it would be down to price or bad experiences, rather than quality of feed, so that is something to be proud of. Personally I'm looking forward to further HD developments in this area, and look forward to what the future holds for Amimon's solution, and to whoever else brings another solution to the table.