DJI drones – is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?

I’m quite often asked whether it’s worth buying a Crystal Sky drone screen for a DJI drone. 
Screen visibility is very difficult in bright sunlight anywhere, and especially difficult in northern & inland Australia where the sunlight is so harsh, year-round. Screen hoods are clumsy and of limited effectiveness and most pilots cannot legally fly FPV (with goggles. Beware salespeople selling what isn’t legal in Australia). Here’s the pros and cons of the Crystal Sky monitor:

Benefits of a Crystal Sky drone monitor (comparing the best model – the 7.85″ Ultra):

  • A much clearer view of the scene your drone camera is viewing, compared to standard tablet and phone screens – because a Crystal Sky screen is approximately twice as bright as most mobile phone screens. No more getting home, downloading files and realising there was a composition flaw in the images or videos you’d just recorded. This is the best benefit for professional photographers who must scrutinise image details. It’s also worth it for anyone involved in search and rescue, or mustering livestock amongst vegetation, who needs to be able to view maximum detail, on the spot.
  • No lag on video transmission & the result is smooth! This is a vital benefit for serious video producers.
  • The DJI Go App is embedded so it runs seamlessly, faster and more reliably than when using third party devices for a screen. I love the super fast start-up!
  • An external battery that can be swapped for a fully charged battery in a couple of seconds. Never worry about your screen running out of power while on a job, again – particularly useful for longer jobs that require multiple drone battery changes, eg mustering.
  • The DJI screen has USB ports and a few other features, including two micro SD card ports – but these are really just side-benefits which add convenience, not what most people would spend hundreds of dollars to get.
  • I do really like the dedicated function buttons on the right hand side.  I especially like having a one-touch screenshot button, because I’m constantly collecting new screenshots for drone workshop sessions. Most people don’t need screenshots, so not an attraction for most people.
  • Lack of transmission interruptions is listed as an advantage by some; but really, that’s easily solved by turning off mobile signals and wi-fi when using your mobile phone or tablet as a screen.
  • Hooking up to a second screen via the HDMI port is useful for some users, but not something I’ve needed to use myself.

Disadvantages of a Crystal Sky drone monitor:

  1. Cost. The cost is ridiculous – and you’ll probably need to buy the overpriced fitting for the controller you’re pairing it with, plus a carry case to protect it.
  2. Crystal Sky monitors can be used with a range of DJI’s drone controllers, but it is another piece of gear that will be costly to upgrade when the time comes.  And because there’s usually few buyers looking for expensive screens, you’ll probably lose more money and find it longer to sell – although the shortage of secondhand screens may cause the reverse situation, if your timing is lucky.
  3. Weight. The screen plus screen battery is noticeably heavy.
  4. Solo purpose rather than multi-purpose – your drone monitor will only ever be used as that; whereas if you invested money into a good tablet or phone, your money is put to multiple purposes.
  • If you only own one drone and plan to keep it for 2 years or so and you fly your drone in very bright light (EG you live in the top half of Australia), it would easily be worth it.
  • If you’re flying drones daily, clearly you’ll get value out of owning a more expensive screen.  If you only fly occasionally or not usually in searingly bright light, the monitor may not be worthwhile for you.

Reliability-related & other issues:

  1. My biggest complaint is the complete absence of a user manual. There is something that DJI calls a manual, on their website, but it’s actually just a start-up guide – how to set up the hardware. For a specialist bit of gear that cost twice as much as my TV, the lack of info provided by DJI is abysmal. And because there’s not a huge amount of people using Crystal Sky screens and they’re more likely to be professional service providers who don’t spend time creating youtube how-to’s or sharing problem solving, there’s very few solutions via Google.  I have some mysteries I’ve been unable to find answers to.
  2. Some third party apps are glitchy or they won’t run at all with the Crystal Sky.  (I don’t use third party apps so this doesn’t affect me, but it is something many other users have struggle to work around.)
  3. Tedious downloading of cached images, screenshots etc and other data stored on the Crystal Sky. This information can’t be saved straight to an SD card inserted in the Crystal Sky nor can it be read via a cable connected to a computer. Files must be copied out and put into folders on the micro SD card, then the card removed and downloaded onto the computer. A tediously fiddly job – whereas phones and tablets can be plugged straight into a computer via an ordinary USB cable and all the files quickly & easily downloaded. This is surely something DJI could easily improve – being able to plug the Crystal Sky monitor straight into a computer and directly access files would be a great usability improvement.
  4. Super time wasting to have to download tiny maps via an internet connection, for every area you want to fly in with a detailed map, where you’re out of mobile phone range (as you can set the Crystal Sky up to connect to wi-fi via a phone hotspot). I haven’t downloaded many but it won’t let me download any more. It’s a very odd setup given that it already uses GPS. Not a problem if you’re flying in the one spot all the time – but if you travel, very annoying.
  5. Relying completely on one screen means all your eggs are in the one basket. As I earn a living taking photographs in very remote areas reliability is my top priority. I always have a tablet and/or mobile phone that I can swap to if need be.
  6. Range of temperature use. Most DJI equipment is rated to work in temperatures up to 40 degrees. Original Crystal Sky monitors had overheating issues – eg apps would stop running, and using in very hot conditions potentially kills them dead. Heat can still be a problem, because Crystal Sky monitors are extremely bright – and consequently generate a lot of heat. If you’re in northern Australia, there’s a good chance the later model Crystal Sky won’t run on your roasting hot days.  Most technology is designed for use in temperate climates (mobile phones being a prime example).  Most northern residents have had problems with screens or tablets overheating, but that’s why having another screen on hand to swap to, matters.
  7. If you use a Crystal Sky drone screen, be careful not to overheat it. Never use it when the air temperature is above 40 degrees and when using it, keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure there is a useful breeze going through the airvents. (Some people use icepacks applied to the back of their screen device to keep the temperature down, but I prefer not to sail that close to the wind.)

Technology is typically designed in temperate climates, rated for use in temperatures only up to 40 degrees Celsius and only tested in humidity lower than 75%. Lithium batteries run very hot so most devices using them have carefully designed cooling features.  However mobile phones, tablets, laptops and drones can still cease to function in hotter or more humid conditions. On the day I took this screenshot of the drone screen, while photographing waterlilies in the Burdekin, it was only about 32 degrees celsius.

When flying drones I always look for the densest shade to stand in.  On open plains it might just be a very wide brimmed hat, or the car boot.

A summary of drone screen device options:

  • Mobile phone – some people use an older model phone as a dedicated drone screen – no SIM is needed; in fact it’s best to use phones without signal transmission interruptions. If you’re buying a phone specifically to use as a drone screen, check compatibility first.
  • iPad minis are very popular; like phones, some people buy an older model just for use as a phone screen
  • Larger tablets – the bigger the screen, the more detail can be seen, so definitely worth it. Cheaper & older tablets can be glitchy, so if you’re buying one especially to use as a drone screen check software compatibility first.  Tablet holders are available for bolting onto smaller remote controllers.
  • Smart controller – like the Crystal Sky screen – expensive, and won’t work with every DJI model. So usually has to be upgraded when you change drones. Most smart controller users love using them, but as I don’t own one I can’t comment from personal experience. As I work in remote areas, I do prefer sticking to separate items as much as possible as it spreads the risk of an insurmountable breakdown. For example, if my Crystal Sky screen dies, then I can use my tablet or my phone instead.  If you use a smart controller and the screen dies, the whole controller is unusable.

What drone screen should you buy?

What is best for each individual varies and the final decision often boils down to budget, as usual.
My summary is – if you really need to be able to see maximum scene detail, on the spot, then buy a Crystal Sky. Otherwise, only buy if you have cash to throw around.
Equipment purchasing dilemmas are discussed in practical terms in the full-day drone masterclasses I run, to help participants make the right choice for their specific situation. A lot of otherwise wasted money can be saved.

Drone information blog posts

  • I’ve written a number of posts containing information I wish I could have found at the outset. The drone topics below are either not covered by anyone else at all, incompletely or inaccurately.
  • All the information in these posts is included in Rural Drone Academy training, to some degree, but with the addition of many other useful topics, entertaining examples, participant Q & A’s and networking.
  1. Rural Drone Academy workshops & training – want to lift your flying up to another level, solve some drone issues, or you need a hand to gets started? These workshops are useful for all skill levels, ages and backgrounds.
  2. Next workshops plus previous events – upcoming events you can attend. Previous events are also listed, which will give you an idea of the regions covered, themes and the diversity organisations hosting them.
  3. Comments from participants – forthright opinions from people who have attended drone sessions held in four states.
  4. The principles of drone safety & laws – essential reading for every drone pilot. Accompanied by impressive ‘fail’ stories, during Rural Drone Academy training.
  5. How to set up a drone business – how to steam ahead – use time, energy & money to maximum effect – and avoid pitfalls. Included in drone workshops in detail, if applicable to participant interests.
  6. What is the best drone to buy for a beginner?  Objective information to help you decide. The internet is full of drones that have hardly been flown because they didn’t suit the buyer’s purpose. Don’t join them!
  7. What is the best drone to buy? Comprehensive information on the most common consumer models to help drone pilots upgrading or seeking a drone for a specific task.
  8. Is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?  The pros and cons compared to using phones and tablets as screens, from an objective point of view. (Information on this page.)

If you are interested in attending Rural Drone Academy training don’t hesitate to contact me by email or ring the business-hours phone number listed below.

PLEASE NOTE: As applies to the rest of this website – the content on this page is protected by copyright.  This post was originally written in 2018 and last updated August 2020.

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