Tuesday, January 20, 2009

RC Cars need controllers

When I was a kid I always had a 2-stick transmitter because I could never afford a pistol grip transmitter, so based on some quick research the radio controller I got was the Futaba 2PL 75Mhz. Again I based my decision on brand memory, Futaba was around back in the day and the Tamiya kits come with Futaba steering servo adapters.
The 2PL was about $70 which is a pretty good deal considering the kit comes with a nice pistol grip transmitter, a R153F micro reciever (typically runs for $50), two standard S3003 servos (typically cost $15 each) and crystals ($15). The radio has 10 model settings with a quick and easy interface.

The FM band has a lot more channels available to it while the 27Mhz AM band that all the RTR (Ready to Race) Tamiya cars come with only have 6. My Tamtech gear mini-frog came with the Expec SP, which is the most basic one you can possibly get away with. It has an on/off button and a couple of knobs for steering and throttle trim.

As I got more cars I bought more recievers, I don't want to move the reciever from car to car when I'm out driving them. Since the 2PL came with the R153F that's what I kept buying. It seems a bit silly to buy a 3-channel reciever to go with a 2-channel transmitter. But for some insane reason the futaba 2-channel 75mhz reciever costs the same as the 3-channel! So my thinking is, if I hook up something fun on the third channel in the future (gearbox, hydraulics, lights, etc.), I can.
The next system I got was the Futaba 75Mhz 3PL system, the reasoning behind this was that now I'd finally have a 3-channel transmitter to go with my 3-channel recievers (despite me still not having anything connected to a third channel in any car). I made sure I got a different crystal set than I had so non-rc-car-enabled friends could come over and share in on the fun :)

The 3PL FM transmitter has a lot more convoluted interface than it needs to, switching car models requires a LOT of button presses. In hindsight I should've just bought another 2PL or I shouldn't have bought another analog radio system at all.

My Scion xB car has a LED light system in it and when connected I got massive servo chatter caused by radio interference on any of my recievers/transmitters. So I drove down to ultimate to get their take on it; is it the light controllers (more on those in a different post) or is it the reciever? To my surprise, the problem didn't happen in their store at all. So it was fair to assume that it was radio related. Their recommendation, go digital... so I did!

My latest radio system is the Spektrum DX3s 2.4Ghz it was ~$250 so way more than the standard analog systems. But any hint of interference was gone, which is worth a whole lot to me, especially considering how much money I put into the Scion xB (more on that build later).

The DX3s has a really nice LCD screen with a push-roller interface, it is very light weight as it only needs 4 AA batteries (as opposed to the 8 in my other transmitters). The transmitter antenna is very compact so nobody will ever lose an eye like you can with the "fishing pole" antennas on the AM/FM systems. The reciever antenna is also very short, so your cars end up looking a lot swankier, either by having no visible antenna tube or a very short one.

The DX3s kit came with 2 recievers (SR3300T and SR300) and no servos, which was pretty perfect for me as I had all the servos I needed. I knew that I'd want my Mini and my Ferrari F1 car on digital so I picked up a SR3000 reciever for $70. Which is only $20 more than the R153F's.

More on the awesome DX3s later... I've hooked up the telemetry from the F1 car :)

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