DJI created the Kleenex of consumer drones with its Phantom line of quadcopters. The sleek, white aircraft were ready to fly right out of the box, simple enough for beginners, but powerful enough for pros. They have appeared everywhere, from South Park to the White House lawn. And they are the driving force behind DJI's rapid revenue growth, turning it from a scrappy startup to a billion-dollar global giant. Today, at press event held in simultaneously in New York, London, and Munich, DJI unveiled the newest model, the Phantom 3. And thanks to an integration with YouTube, you can now stream live video footage from your drone to the internet.
There will be two models of the Phantom 3 — Professional and Advanced — with a suggested retail price of $1,250 and $999. DJI says both will start shipping in a few weeks. There isn't much of visual update here. The colored bands and name plate on the unit's white shell have changed from red to gold, but the body is largely the same.
There are several critical updates to the hardware and software, however, that make this Phantom a whole new animal. DJI has added a downward-facing camera to give the craft a visual positioning system. That lets the Phantom 3 hold its position without a GPS signal, a big plus when flying indoors.
The Phantom 3's positioning system has also been updated to work with GLONASS, a Russian, satellite-based navigation system that works in parallel to GPS. Combining both those systems allows the Phantom 3 to more quickly and reliably find a satellite signal, and to more precisely understand its location.
The Phantom 3 also comes bundled with DJI's Lightbridge system. Previously this was a $1,400 add-on that required a cumbersome installation. Now that technology is built into the aircraft, allowing it to stream a live HD video feed from up to 2 kilometers away. This integration also allows the pilot to capture the video recording at his location, so you can still have your footage if you fly into a volcano and your drone doesn't make it out.
The Phantom Professional gets a 4K camera while the Advanced gets a 1080p HD. Both can capture 12 megapixel still photos. Compared to the camera on the DJI Phantom Vision 2+, this new unit has a larger sensor (1/2.3") and a flatter field of view (94 degrees). The Phantom 2 Vision+ shot 1080i at 60fps, but not 1080p at 60fps like this new model.
DJI is also giving its app for iOS and Android an upgrade. The Phantom 3 will now work with the Pilot app the company released alongside its Inspire One model. Importantly, that means the app will now feature a flight simulator mode, something I've been hoping for ever since I crashed my last Phantom. Finding a safe place to practice isn't always easy when you live in a crowded city like New York, especially if you're hoping to try out more complex maneuvers. Training on a flight simulator might have helped me avoid my accident, and perhaps kept that civil servant from having to explain his drunken crash to the Secret Service.
Finally, in a move that fits the current trend among mobile apps, DJI has built live-streaming capabilities into the new Phantom. "Pilots, whether they are journalists, extreme athletes, or global travelers — will not just be able to share aerial videos of where they were, but will also be able to send a YouTube link to their friends and colleagues to show them the aerial perspectives of where they are right now," said DJI’s San Francisco General Manager Eric Cheng. "This has tremendous potential for changing the way we share experiences with one another."