So who's doing this reviewing then?
Well I've been building and flying or driving radio controlled models for over 40 years and during that time I like to think I've built up a reasonable amount of knowledge.
I'm also a qualified electronics engineer who has worked in radio frequency, analog, digital systems and software for more than three decades. In fact I designed and built my first RC set back in 1969.
For the past nine years I've also been involved in the design and manufacture of some rather sophisticated engine technology and UAV flight control systems.
So, chances are I've been there, done that and have a huge pile of tee shirts to prove it.
Right now I'm heavily into 3D flying and enjoy all aspects of the RC hobby. I may be old but I don't feel it.
In the Pipeline
Here's just a little bit of what's to come on this site...
RC explained: Demystifying terms such as PCM, PPM dual conversion, single conversion, full-range etc., this feature will explain it all.
Cheap Chinese Engines: Just how good are those cheap Chinese glow and gas engines that sell for half the price of their "brand-name" equivalent? I put several to the test.
Build your own radio gear?: Back in the old days, building your own RC gear was not uncommon and now the arrival of 2.4GHz has made it practical again.
Feature: Where to now for Chinese-made RC?
WHERE ARE ALL THE NEW MODULE-BASED RADIOS?
Dated: 21 Apr 2010
Chinese-made 2.4GHz RC systems have come a long way since the first flaky products hit online stores and promised far more than they delivered.
These days you can pick up a module/receiver combo for a round $50-$60 that offers out-of-sight range, wicked levels of interference rejection, failsafe and (pretty soon) telemetry.
The future looks rosy for Chinese manufacturers and their customers - but there is a problem looming that I hope they've factored into their plans...
Where are the new module-based radios going to come from?
The death of the module
The traditional radio manufacturers (Futaba, JR, etc) are now shifting to what's called "native 2.4GHz systems" where all the radio-frequency bits are no longer contained in a removable module but actually built into the innards of the radio itself. There's just no way you can plug one of the old modules into these new radios.
Futaba are also moving away from modules to dedicated 2.4GHz radios such as the 10CG.
There are some benefits to these native 2.4GHz systems. They usually offer lower latency and higher resolution than the older module-based radios.
Even Hitec has effectively ditched the Futaba-compatible module with the launch of the Aurora 9. The Aurora simply won't accept standard (old) Hitec or Futaba modules any more. It only takes the new Hitec Spectra and matching FM modules.
Right now the Chinese module-makers are riding a wave of system-upgrades that will very soon come to an end. Most of those who were planning to upgrade their Futaba 9C, Hitec, or JR 9303 to 2.4GHz by way of a module have probably already done so and the rest will likely enjoy the fact that the FM bands are now much less busy.
If you were to visit my local flying field on a Sunday morning, you'd find that the old frequency peg-board now lays unused in a dusty corner of the shed. Just about everyone has already converted to 2.4GHz and none of these fliers intend to replace their existing modules with new ones just to keep Chinese manufacturers happy.
As far as I can tell, just about the only a tiny handful of radios are still being sold with the old JR/Futaba RF module system and they are the Optic 6 and Eclipse 7 from Hitec, the FlySky/iMax/Turnigy 9X and the WFly 9-channel.
What's more, with all the brand-name manufacturers working very hard to lock customers into their own proprietary systems and receivers, it's likely that the number of module-based systems will continue to decline in coming months.
The rise of the Sino-radio?
If the Chinese are going to keep generating revenues from the sales of 2.4GHz RC then they're going to have to start making complete radios. What's more, those radios will have to be native 2.4GHz systems that offer low latency and high resolution so as to compete with the offerings of JR and Futaba.
What I'd like to see is a well-priced native 2.4GHz radio out of China that comes with the following features:
- at least 11-bit (2048) resolution
- latency no higher than 8mS
- user-updatable software (via a USB cable and a PC)
- at least 9 channels (preferably 12 -- it costs no more)
- good ergonomics, ie: smooth sticks, sliders, and good switch placement.
- inbuilt 2S lithium battery
- inbuilt "open" telemetry
- a good graphical LCD screen with backlight
- at least a 20 (preferably 30) model-memory
- well-integrated transmitter antenna (not poking out the back)
- clean, stylish lines, not "cheap" and toy-like
- automatic model-memory select
- actual, real, useful local support - not just "send it back to China"
- subjected to proper quality control checks prior to shipping
- a good, concise user-manual, written by someone who has English as their first-language.
Have I missed anything YOU would like to see in a new transmitter design? If so, please share your thoughts in The RCModelReviews Google Group.
One thing is for sure, if we're to avoid the problems that have handicapped Chinese module/receiver manufacturers to date, they are going to have to call on some external input in the design and testing of these new radios.
While the FlySky/Turnigy/iMax 9X was a good try and certainly succeeded in the value-for-money stakes, it's a far cry from being a competitor to the Futaba 10C, The JR 9503 or even the DSX9 radios. The 9X is laden with software issues and the quality control is still not really at an acceptable level. What's more, being module-based means that the 9X can never hope to offer the resolution or low-latency of a native 2.4GHz system.
WFly's 9-channel radio is also another brave attempt but it's too expensive for what it is and again, being module-based, it can't match the latency of its brand-name competitors.
If China can come up with a competent 9+ channel native 2.4GHz radio with inbuilt telemetry and most of the features I've listed above, and if they can do it for less than US$200, they will have a real winner on their hands and an assured ticket on the RC gravy-train.
By making a growing number of very good module-based RF solutions, Chinese manufacturers have shown that they have the skills, talent and ability to make seriously competitive RC products. However, what they must now do is show that they understand the market enough to anticipate the decline in demand for module-based 2.4GHz solutions and be ready to deliver exciting new radios to an eager market.
If they don't do this, and do it quickly, they'll be shipping products for which there is no longer any significant demand.
Updated: 20 Sep 2012
Here's a blog that will keep you informed just what's going on behind the scenes at RC Model Reviews and also tells you a little more about myself.
23 Mar 2010
How come there's no compatibility between different brands of transmitters and receivers? Why can't you use a cheap Chinese receiver with your Futaba FASST radio?
4 Mar 2010
Since this has become a very frequently asked question, I've posted this simple guide to getting your product, or a product you're thinking of buying reviewed here at RCModelReviews
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