DJI drones – is a Crystal Sky screen worth buying?

Today a cattle station resident asked me whether it’s worth buying a Crystal Sky drone screen/controller for a DJI drone. 
Screen visibility is very 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). Here’s the pros and cons of the Crystal Sky monitor:

Benefits of a Crystal Sky drone monitor:

  • A much clearer view of the scene your drone camera is viewing, compared to standard tablet and phone screens – because it is so much brighter. No more getting home, downloading data and realising there was a flaw in the images or videos you’d just recorded.
  • The DJI Go App is embedded, so it’s said to run seamlessly and presumably much faster and more reliably than when using third party devices for a screen.
  • The DJI screen has extra ports and a few other features – but these are really just side-benefits which add
  • convenience, not what most people would spend hundreds of dollars to get.
  • 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.

Disadvantages of a Crystal Sky drone monitor:

Cost:

  1. Dedicated screens are a lot more money than ordinary controllers that don’t have inbuilt screens.
  2. Each Crystal Sky monitor is permanently attached to the controller that will only suit one drone model. Buy a new model and you need a new screen/controller.
  3. 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, it would easily be worth it.
  4. If you’re flying drones daily, clearly you’ll get value out of owning a more expensive screen.
  5. But if you own a few drones that are different models and turn them over as updated models appear, and aren’t flying drones daily, you’re going to be waving goodbye to a lot more cash that’s harder to justify, each time you trade up.  This is primarily why I have not bought one myself, to date.  Yes you may get a few more dollars when you resell your top-of-the-line model, but you’ll lose more money than for a base model (same as trading in cars).

Reliability-related & other issues:

  1. With a monitor fixed to the controller all your eggs are in the one basket. If something goes wrong with the screen, then your controller won’t work – ie you can’t just swap to using a tablet or mobile phone screen. As I earn a living taking photographs in very remote areas reliability is my top priority. If I used a Crystal Sky monitor, I’d also have to own the standard controller as a backup so I could use my tablet or mobile phone as a screen.
  2. Range of temperature use. Most DJI equipment is said to run in temperatures up to 40 degrees. Original Crystal Sky monitors had overheating issues. If you’re in northern Australia, there’s a good chance the later model Crystal Sky won’t run on your roasting hot days, in fact it might cook itself & die.  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 being able to swap to another screen matters.  If you buy a Crystal Sky, be careful not to overheat it.
  3. I gather you can’t run third party apps – but as many people don’t use them, this disadvantage will only deter those who do.

Technology is typically designed in temperate climates, rated for use in temperatures only up to 40 degrees celcius 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.

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.
If you’re planning on buying one drone and keeping it for a while, and it won’t be the end of the world if you lose some days while waiting for a replacement to come, if it breaks down; or if you fly drones every day, a DJI Crystal Sky could be a good purchase for you.  What’s best for each individual varies.  I have no doubt that when I eventually get one I’ll wish I had it years earlier and won’t want to go back to using a third-party screen. I can do the work with an ordinary screen – DJI’s screen would primarily make my job a lot easier.
This is the kind of dilemma discussed in practical terms in the full-day drone masterclasses I run – which are designed to save you a lot of time and money, and help you get much better results from your drone. If you’d like to be notified when the next drone training session is on, send me your contact details.

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