FPV Drone Simulators - The Ultimate Guide

Preface

The goal of this guide is to give you an honest review of all the options out there. Now I must preface this by stating that I am partial to Velocidrone, but I will do my best to be critical of the sim where warranted. There is a reason I am partial to Velocidrone and it is because I think it is the best sim out there. I chose Velocidrone, they did not choose me. With that said, I have a lot of experience with the DRL and DCL sims. I’ve qualified for the DRL tryouts every year and made it to the top 16 in Las Vegas last year at the Drone Nationals DRL Tryouts. There are a lot of options out there now and the latest in-depth review I could find was from 2018. Most of these simulators have had big updates since then, so it’s only fair that we take another look at all of them!

In doing this review, I discovered a couple of new sims that I’ve never heard of before. Some have quite amazing back stories! Some of the sims that I have not played in a while have the same look and feel that I remember, which drove me to Velocidrone. It’s surprising to see these sims that haven’t made any major improvements over the years.

Why Simulators?

A good FPV simulator can be an invaluable tool for any pilot, beginner to pro, if used properly. If not used properly, it can be a very frustrating experience that will leave a bad taste in your mouth, swearing to never use a sim again. I’ve encountered many pilots like this who brush off the idea of FPV racing simulators being a useful practice tool. My initial reaction is that they must have had a bad experience with their first sim and never looked back.

If we look at professional F1 drivers, they are constantly on the sim memorizing tracks and testing equipment. This same practice can translate to drone racing a couple of ways.

  1. FPV gear can get very expensive the more you crash. Try new tricks and practice race lines on the sim before you go out to the field.

  2. It’s hard to get out to the track every day to practice. For F1 drivers, it costs a lot of money just to get a car on a race track with the team and all the support that it requires. For drone racers, it’s not as drastic, but some parallels can be drawn.

  3. F1 drivers use simulators to analyze and memorize specific tracks. This is all possible with drone racing now that many of the top sims have great track editors built in. We are now seeing serious pilots travel to the big races with laptops equipped with their favorite sim. In between heats you will see them grinding the track memorizing the lines, so that when their heat comes up they have developed the muscle memory required to go full send.

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Sim

  1. Save Money!!!

    Let’s be real…Drone Racing is a very expensive hobby to get into. You’re looking at a startup cost of around $1,000 just to get in the air. For the total noob pilot, a simulator can give you a taste of racing for a fraction of the price. Who knows, maybe you just don’t enjoy FPV. It would be a waste to buy all the gear only to find this out. To get started with simulators, all you need is a computer and a controller.

  2. Make lots of friends

    This is perhaps my favorite part about simulators. Most of the offerings have great communities of pilots. We are all FPV addicts and the community is sort of like a drug addiction support group. You will make some of your closest friends from FPV racing, I promise!

  3. Learn how to handle race pressure

    A lot of sim pilots will tell you that this is the most helpful aspect of simulators. Competing in online events and race sessions will teach you how to manage your race nerves, so that when the real race comes you will know how to prepare and how to handle the pressure in the moment. A lot of pro racers will tell you that the pressure they feel in the sim is greater than IRL events. I think this is because in sim events you have to fly 100% perfect at full speed or someone will pass you. IRL you have a little wiggle room for an error or two.

  4. Develop muscle memory

    There is such a vast library of race tracks in all these sims that you can literally fly every imaginable FPV maneuver that you would ever encounter IRL. Mastering Split-s, power loops, slaloms, etc is easy in the simulator. You can set up practice tracks and just hammer out specific moves, or just put in the hours and race a variety of tracks.

    This is not only beneficial to racers. Imagine being able to practice the same freestyle movement 100’s of times without any penalty! I learned how to Matty-flip in the sim and when I went out to try it IRL I was shocked at how natural it felt just by practicing in over and over again in the sim.

  5. Learn tracks quicker

    As mentioned above, there are so many diverse race courses on many of these simulators. Velocidrone boasts the largest library of user created tracks with over 4,000! You can race a new track every day and learn how to develop the skills needed to master tracks quickly. This way, when you show up to a real event and are limited to practice time, you can feel confident that you will be able to unlock the secrets of the track quicker than your competitors.

    Have a decent gaming laptop? Now you can travel to events and practice the track in between race heats! At WDC 2019, I built the track for a bunch of pilots and they had it running in the pits an hour after I saw footage of the track. When you’re at a big event with limited flight time, you really want to maximize each qualifying opportunity and not waste heats learning the track. Use the sim to get the muscle memory so you can work on faster lines in the air.

Top 3 Reasons Pilots Will Tell You Not To Sim

  1. You won’t be able to fly IRL after practicing on the Sim

    Some of the simulators in this review will, in my opinion, hurt your IRL skills if you are an experienced pilot. This is due to the fact that they simply do not have good flight physics. If you are a complete beginner, though, I think you can get value from any of the sims on this list. That said, there are a couple of sims on the list that provide ongoing benefits, no matter your skill level.

  2. Feels too floaty (We will discuss what causes this feeling)

    This is by far the most common complaint I hear from pilots. They tend to attribute this feeling to the Gravity of the sim. The fact is that Gravity is a constant in any simulator and is easy to code into the sims. The feeling of “bad gravity” is a result of poor graphics and bad frame rates. If you are running a 60hz monitor, these sims will have that floaty feeling. Switch to a 144hz monitor and I promise that the sim will instantly feel better.

  3. Develops bad habits

    I can see how some pilots have this feeling towards sim practice. In simulators, there is no penalty for crashing, unless of course you are competing in an online event. One could say that you will begin to fly riskier IRL after spending time on the sim, because you have no fear of crashing. Here’s my thoughts on this sentiment - If you aren’t crashing IRL, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. Imagine a weight lifter who never gets sore. Will they get stronger? Probably not. Crashing, to me, is the weight lifting equivalent of sore muscles.

JUDGING CRITERIA

Performance - This, in my opinion, is the most heavily weighted criteria of the bunch. If the sim does not perform well in terms of flight physics then if really serves no purpose except learning stick controls for a complete beginner. Having a drone fly as close to real life as possible is the whole purpose of a “simulator”. Remember, these are sims first and games second. If you are looking at these sims as “games” then it would be a different scoring system all together.

UI/UX - Is the sim pretty/easy to navigate? Some are better than others, that is for sure. They all fulfill the basic needs of a user interface, but some just simply have more bells and whistles. Some of the options below, as you will see, have very polished menu systems.

Graphics - How does the sim look on your screen? Is there some sense of realism while flying around a forrest or through a multigp race gate? How does the sky look? The grass? Some sims have chosen to “beautify” there environments ignoring the performance impact that this has as a result. For me, I’ll take performance over looks any day of the week. Remember these are tools first, games second.

Community - What’s the racing scene like for each given sim? Are there online events, facebook groups for support and sharing and active members online? Having a good community is critical for staying motivated and competitive.

Multiplayer - Flying alone is great if you’re just getting started, but you will eventually want to take the leap into multiplayer racing in order to make leaps in your skill level. Seeing how you stack up against other pilots will help guide you on areas to improve as well as motivate you to make these improvements. For this metric, I logged into each sim on the hour for 12 hours to see how active the multiplayer lobbies are.

Support - Does the sim have documentation and setup guides? How responsive is their support team? For this metric, I reached out to support with some very basic questions.

Equipment

 

Here are the specs for my PC that I run my drone racing live streams with with links to where I purchased the items. I did a lot of research on what the best setup was, so save yourself some time and follow the amazon links to purchase.

RTX 2080

64gb ddr4 ram 3200

2 x 500gb ssd

z370 mother board

intel i7 8700 cpu

liquid cooled cpu and gpu

thermaltake case

 
 

Just like with real drone racing, the equipment you fly with will have a quite significant impact on your flight experience. To keep this simple, I will give you the top 3 most important factors that will give you the biggest return on investment for sim flying.

  1. Monitor - This will act as your “fpv goggles”. If you can’t see where you’re going you can’t fly.

  2. Radio - The “controller”. Become one with this tool.

  3. Graphics Card - The “drone”. This will be the most important driving factor for the sim’s performance. CPU, Memory and RAM are also important, but I want to keep this simple and not turn it into a PC build guide.

Monitor - “The Goggles”

I can’t tell you how many times pilots have come to me after having recommended a new monitor and they are just blown away at the difference it makes. If you’re playing on a laptop, you are most likely not running a 144hz screen, unless you have a high end gaming laptop. When refresh rate increases from 60Hz to 144Hz, the gap between frames significantly shortens, so that in the same time interval, more frames will be displayed. If you want to be competitive you need a 144hz monitor!

Which monitor should you buy?

A 144hz monitor will be plenty good enough for any of the sims in this review. I run an Asus gaming monitor with 144hz refresh that is 27”. Most gamers will tell you that a 240hz monitor is not worth the investment unless you have a very serious gaming rig. The jump from 60hz to 144hz is huge, whereas the jump to 240hz from 144hz is quite small.

 
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ASUS

My monitor of choice. Great overall value and size!

 
 
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DELL

If you run AMD graphics card, this monitor is a good choice.

 

Radio - “The Controller”

The great thing about FPV simulators is that you can use the same controller for the sims as you would use IRL. This will be the biggest investment for beginners who already have a good PC. If you end up not liking drone racing, you can always sell the controller and make back some of the loss from the investment. If possible, go to a local FPV meetup and check out different controllers that pilots use. You may find that a smaller radio feels better in your hands than the traditional options.

Here are the best options for simulators…

 
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Taranis Plus

The controller of choice for most sim pilots. Can be used with your real drones as well as sim!

Pro - Fully customizable gimbals, stick ends, software and voice!

Con - Expensive for a beginner

 
 
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TaranisQX7

Similar to the Taranis, but cheaper build quality. A good option for beginners.

Pro - Slightly cheaper than a Taranis Plus

Con - Cheaper build quality

 
 
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Spektrum

NO DIRECT CONNECTION TO PC WITHOUT LAG.

Pro - GREAT GIMBALS THAT WILL LAST A LONG TIME

Con - TOO MUCH LATENCY TO BE USED WITH PC

 
 
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X-Lite

Good for gamers who are afraid to make the jump to a traditional radio.

Pro - Feels like a video game controller

Con - gimbals break quickly.

 

Graphics Card - “The Drone”

This is the going to be the workhorse of any simulator you choose to go with. When I first started playing on sims like DRL and Velocidrone, I was running a 1080 from Nvidia. I was having to lower the graphics for the DRL Sim in order to get a decent frame rate, whereas with Velocidrone and Liftoff I could run max settings and get great FPS.

I am now running an RTX 2080 that is liquid cooled. This allows me to live stream events, while running Velocidrone at max settings.

I’ve surveyed the Velocidrone community to see what graphics cards are the most popular among sim pilots. Here are the results from that survey…

 
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Nvidia vs AMD

There are tons of videos on Youtube about this dilemma. It’s up to you to choose what type of PC mother board, CPU and GPU combo you want to run.

what’s a good price point?

From what I’ve gathered from the survey, of the top 10 GPU’s you’re looking at a base price of $400. This will allow you to run 1080p at medium quality or better, depending on the sim. The AMD Radeon 64 runs $400, while the Nvidia 970 can be found used for $450. You can also find used option on Newegg.com for much cheaper.

 

rtx 2080 - performance

 

EVGA 1060 - value

 
 
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AMD RADEON 64 - value

 

 
 

EREADRONE

 
 
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With the last update coming in december of 2018, i was not optimistic about this sim to begin with. I remember when it came out that people were excited because they had the fai china track in the sim, but i think once that EXCITEMENT wore off pilots quickly left the sim.

Shockingly, I was able to find a sim that was worse than FPV Freerider (charged or recharged). This one is at the bottom of the list and not even worth the download. at $17.99 they are literally robbing people with this one. At least with steam you can get your money back if you play for less than 2 hours. It might take you 2 hours just to get the quad to arm, though.


FPV FREERIDER

 
 
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Well for starters, when googling where to buy this sim I was taken to the website for “fpv freerider”. It was $5 so I went ahead and purchased it. A few minutes later I see “fpv freerider recharged”! Why this was not on the website is beyond me. They appear to be different games, instead of just an updated version of the game I purchased.

The graphics are pretty horrible and there aren’t many features. I do like some of the track editor features like terrain manipulation, but the limit of 30 checkpoints is a bit strange.

Also, there is a 3d feature that you can use if you want to practice flying 3d. The flight physics are pretty bad, but it might be somewhat helpful before you go out and fly IRL.


GTA V

gta v.png

the gta v drone mod can barely be categorized as a simulator. videos surfaced on youtube of people modding gta v to be able to fly drones around the map and everyone went nuts. It was popular for a little bit, but required a lot of legwork to get the mod going.

trying to get it working in 2019 was even more of a nightmare. it took me all day just to get some help to get it working and when i did it was buggy. I really got nauseous flying around because of the bad fps and input lag.

fun for 20 minutes and then you can’t play gta v online unless you remove the mod. not worth your time.


FLOW STATE FPV

 
 

FLOWSTATE - AN OPEN SOURCE FPV SIMULATOR AVAILABLE ON GITHUB. the creator designed this sim fOR LOW SPEC MACHINES and wanted to really nail the LOOK of a real DVR feed.

the story of this sim’s birth is quite awesome. the cREATOR one day decided to BUILT A SIMULATOR, because he wanted to LEARN HOW TO FLY real DRONES. He told me that A LOT OF PEOPLE PUT A TON OF STOCK IN FAST PILOTS CRITIQUING A SIM, BUT THE BEST USER ADVICE COMES FROM PEOPLE WHO DON’T FLY SIMS OR ARE NEW TO FLYING. hUMANS ARE REALLY GOOD AT DETECTING PATTERNS TO FIGURE OUT FAULTS OF THE SIM. you can really see this mentality pay off in the ease of use of this sim. It’s very bare bones, but gets the job done.

amazingly, it scores higher than some of the big studios in the performance category. the prop damage simulation is pretty cool and i like how you don’t crash and reset. You can sort of wiggle your way out of sticky situations and keep ripping.

although this sim did score low compared to others, i really respect the work that skyfpv put into this. plus it’s open source! pretty sweet!


FPV AIR II

 
 
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FPV AIR 2 - THE BEST BUDGET OPTION FOR LOW SPEC COMPUTERS. tHIS SIM HAS SOME REALLY COOL UI THAT MAKES GETTING UP AND RUNNING THE EASIEST OUT OF ALL THE SIMS TESTED.

tHE PHYSICS SETTINGS HAVE SLIDERS AND ARE VERY EASY TO UNDERSTAND WITH SETTINGS LIKE “GRAVITY” AND “GRIP”, cOMPARED TO THE DRL “UNSTEADY DRAG MODEL” WHICH YOU MIGHT NEED A DOCTORATE TO BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND.

mULTIPLAYER AND TRACK SELECTIONS BROUGHT THIS SIM’S SCORE DOWN TO A 36 OVERALL, BUT IT DOES APPEAR THAT THEY ARE ADDING SOME NEW ENVIRONMENTS AND TRACKS VIA STEAM DLC. FOR $18 YOU CAN BUY A BUNDLE THAT COMES WITH THE SIM AND A COUPLE NEW ENVIRONMENTS.

THE CREATORS OF THIS SIM HAVE SOME REALLY COOL OUTSIDE THE BOX IDEAS LIKE THE FPV FEED IN THE CONRTOLLER CONFIG SCREEN. I’M EXCITED TO SEE WHAT THEY COME UP WITH IN THE FUTURE.

 

ROTOR RUSH

 
 
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rotor rush, like liftoff, has been around for a while. with little change to the ui and functionality it looks like this sim has slowed it’s development cycle.

The flight CHARACTERISTICS and graphics scored high, with a good stick feel and not a huge gpu power hog.

where the sim falls short is in it’s online multiplayer and ui/ux. the drone selection is a bit outdated and downloading new tracks is a bit cumbersome. It looks like you have to physically download the tracks to your computer, which can be annoying to wait for when you want to hop on and try a bunch of new tracks. There is no track editor in the sim so you are stuck with only official tracks.

they do have online events every month or so, which helps improve their community score to an 7. it looks like their leagues have stopped running, as the most recent one showing was from 2018.


DCL GAME

 
 
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the dcl game is still in it’s beta state, so it takes a hit in the multiplayer category with no online functionality. It does, however, have a nice simulated multiplayer race experience with ghosts of other pilots.

The dcl game scores an 8 in the community category because of the dcl tryouts held earlier this year. pilots from around the world were invited to tryout for the real teams and had the opportunity to be drafted to compete in the DCL season.

Support also scores high with some nice guides available on steam and super easy setup. I got up and running on the sim in about a minute. The menu system is easy to navigate, which helps new pilots figure things out.

A lot of features are missing, so we will have to come back and update the review in December when the full game is released.


LIFTOFF

 
 

LIFTOFF IS ONE OF THE “OG” SIMULATORS CREATED BY LUGUS STUDIOS, A SMALL STUDIO OUT OF BELGIUM. IT WAS REALLY THE FIRST SIM TO HAVE ONLINE MULTIPLAYER.

I found the track builder difficult to use, made worse by the fact that I could not find any hotkey guide. The flight physics out of the box I found difficult to adapt to, but i was able to get it flying decent by using the “control fpv” setup. Other setups i tried were rocket ships that were too hard to control. With more time you may be able to get it flying like your everyday 6s racer.

liftoff does have some cool environments for freestylers, which is where the sim excels. the bando environment is really cool, as well as the cityscape.

If you’re a freestyle pilot, then liftoff might be a good option for you. If you’re looking to become a better IRL racing pilot then i think there are better options.


DRL SIM

 
 

DRL SIM - BY FAR DRL HAS THE BIGGEST BUDGET AND TEAM BEHIND THE SIM AND HAS PUT ON SOME MAJOR E-SPORTS TOURNAMENTS OVER THE PAST COUPLE YEARS. THEIR SIM IS THE MOST POLISHED OF THE LOT, WITH BEAUTIFUL UI, EXCELLENT TRAINING PROGRAMS AND A NEW TOURNAMENT MODE FOR MULTIPLAYER.

WHERE THE SIM FALLS SHORT IS IN IT’S PERFORMANCE, WHICH INCLUDES FLIGHT CHARACTERISTICS AND GRAPHICS PROCESSING. THE SIM IS A GPU HOG WITH HEAVY POLY COUNT ENVIRONMENTS THAT WILL RAISE YOUR PC’S TEMPS QUITE HIGH IF YOU WANT TO RUN MAX SETTINGS.

TALKING WITH SOME OF THE DRL PRO PILOTS, IT SOUNDS LIKE IF YOU RACE ON DRL THE SIM IS A GOOD PRACTICE TOOL BECAUSE THEY’VE NAILED THE FEELING OF THE RACER 3. THIS MAY HAVE COME AT A COST THOUGH, BECAUSE PRO PILOTS WILL TELL YOU THAT THE SIM IS NOT THE BEST OPTION FOR TRADITIONAL 5 INCH DRONE RACING.

ALL THIS SAID, THE SIM STILL HAS SOME GREAT STUFF TO OFFER PILOTS. THE COMMUNITY MAP DATABASE IS MASSIVE AND YOU CAN GO FLY THE SAME DRL TRACKS THAT THE PRO’S FLY IN REAL LIFE.


VELOCIDRONE

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VELOCIDRONE - FOR ONLINE COMPETITIVE RACING AND COMMUNITY, YOU CAN’T GO WRONG WITH VELOCIDRONE. CREATED AND RUN BY A SMALL TEAM OF TWO DEVELOPERS IN THE uk, IT’S A WELL-POLISHED SIM THAT PRIDES ITSELF ON HAVING THE BEST FLYING PHYSICS IN THE SIM WORLD.

SIMILAR TO LIFTOFF, VELOCIDRONE HAS A RACING LEAGUE OPEN TO ANY PILOTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD. THIS IS SOMETHING THAT DRL HAS YET TO OFFER, BUT THEY DO RUN IMPROMPTU LIVE STREAM RACES OFTEN. VELOCIDRONE OFFERS WEEKLY RACES EVERY WEDNESDAY, FRIDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHTS FOR ALL SKILL LEVELS.

WHERE VELOCIDRONE FALLS SHORT ON SOME OF THE BELLS AND WHISTLES OF SIMS LIKE DCL AND DRL, IF MAKES UP FOR IT IN THE PERFORMANCE DEPARTMENT. THE CREATOR IS A DRONE RACER HIMSELF AND BECAUSE OF THIS HE PUTS A TON OF ENERGY INTO ENSURING THE SIM FLIES AS ACCURATE AS POSSIBLE.

RECENTLY THEY’VE ADDED SOME EXCITING DLC LIKE THE DR1 2018 ENVIRONMENTS, X CLASS DRONES AND MICRO DRONES.

 
 
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