There are few things worse than squinting at your phone or tablet in the bright sunshine. It’s bad enough when you’re just trying to scan Twitter, and immeasurably worse when you’re flying a drone. We’re going to explore an affordable solution.

Most of us have been there. A bright day when you’re trying to fly your drone. Unfortunately, most phones and tablets have not been designed to compete with the sun. It’s just so bright on a clear day that it can be impossible to see all the data your phone is displaying while in flight. I remember the first time I saw a CrystalSky display outdoors: It was amazing. But it was also above my budget – something I’m sure many pilots out there might appreciate.

So let’s look at a more affordable solution.

“Nits”

Look this up on an online dictionary and you’re likely to come up with a definition like this: “The egg of a parasitic insect, such as a louse or flea.”

We’re not interested in those – quite the opposite. What we are interested in is the use of the word as it pertains to brightness. And here, one nit = one candela = the amount of light one candle spreads over one square meter. More candelas per square meter = more brightness = higher nits.

The phone you’re carrying? Probably 400 or maybe 500 nits. That seems to be about average, though some phones and tablets are a little brighter. But a little brighter isn’t what you want on a sunny day while flying a drone. You want a lot more brightness. The CrystalSky High Brightness monitor pumps out 1,000 candelas per square meter, while the Ultra Brightness version spits out 2,000 cd/m². In other words, 1,000 or 2,000 nits.

Nits
Are you using your phone as a monitor? Is it bright enough?

But at $699 US for the 7.85″ high brightness monitor, it’s not a solution for everyone.

The Hack

Of course, there’s a reason why people buy the DJI CrystalSky monitors. The Android-based devices allow you to download the latest software and run it the same way as you do on a phone or tablet. That’s part of what pushes the price up.

The CrystalSky monitors are ultra-bright, but not ultra-inexpensive

But what if you were willing to put up with a bit of inconvenience to save money? That’s where this solution comes in.

The Spanish Solution

A company called PNBE is a non-profit organization based in Spain. Its vision is to provide quality photographic and video products to creators at cost. And, as part of this vision, PNBE has started to manufacture super-bright, made-in-Spain LED displays. It makes 4K-capable monitors ranging from 5″ to 7″ diagonally. And the brightness? Depends on what you select, but there are models rated at 2,000, 2,500, and even 3,000 nits. That last one is theoretically bright enough that you could fly your drone with ease on the brightest day surrounded by snow.

From the PNBE website

Sounds great, but it doesn’t have an Android operating system. So what’s a pilot to do?

With HDMI in, it’s a breeze – depending on the controller you have. Some products feature an HDMI out in the controller. Others, like the Phantom 4 series, allow you to add an HDMI out adaptor that screws onto the back of your existing controller ($99 from DJI).

DJI’s $99 HDMI output module. A great option

Then you simply take a cable from that and plug it into the monitor, which operators on direct DC or else rechargeable NP-F series batteries. You’ll want to mount the monitor on a tripod, but few of us are really walking around while carrying out a flight. Of course, if you happen to shoot videos with a handheld gimbal like the new Ronin S2 and Ronin SC2, then you can also mount this and use it as your shooting monitor. Again, it’s great to have something you can clearly see while shooting outdoors.

PNBE

The non-profit believes this product could be great for drone pilots – and especially at this price. Their high-nit monitors start at about $199 US – which is, well, super inexpensive for what it provides. They are basically, as a non-profit, selling these at cost. DroneDJ does not have an affiliate relationship with PNBE; we simply think this is a good value that might appeal to some pilots.

“We think this is a nice affordable solution,” Aitor Elorga tells us. “Drone work is nearly always done outdoors in daylight, where it’s a must to have a high brightness unit.”

We take a look at the PNBE ultra-bright monitor… Amazing for $199 US

This is also the first product that PNBE has produced, and it’s clearly part of its vision that videographers, photographers – and drone pilots – have access to an affordable solution.

“It’s our first release and we are selling it on a not-for-profit basis. If the community shows interest in this, we’ll push ahead with other products.”

Impressions

We quite like the 7″ monitor. The plastic build feels solid, and the brass metal tripod threading (PNBE has conveniently put one on all four edges) appears very solidly affixed. It has a full-sized HDMI in and HDMI out, as well as a standard USB input. A handy extra: A hotshoe adapter that will allow you to mount this on a camera and swivel it forward or back to the ideal position before locking it with the included hex key. We didn’t show it in the video, but it comes in a nice, compact semi-rigid case.

PNBE
Spot the difference? And this was with the PNBE monitor at 50 per cent brightness

We wanted to get out in the sunlight, but the weather hasn’t been cooperating. It’s a great month for Thanksgiving, not so great for sunshine. So we set it up in our studio with two daylight-balanced lights pointing directly at the monitor. The result? Pretty impressive. Even at 50 percent brightness, it was clearly far brighter than the phone.

A perfect world?

If one existed, it would be a world where drones were sold with controllers that include integrated screens with 2,000-3,000 nit brightness. They would be affordable.

We’re not there. And high-brightness monitors are not inexpensive.

These ones are. The images pop – which you need them to do in the field – and the price is comparable to far dimmer portable monitors. We applaud PNBE for this initiative and hope some of you manage to integrate these into your workflow. They’re a bright idea.

Order monitors direct from PNBE here.

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