How To Choose RC Transmitter For Quadcopter

Remote Controller Protocol

Before building your quadcopter, the RC Transmitter would probably be the first few things you need to look at. It’s a common question for RC beginners how to choose a decent RC transmitter. In this article I will discuss the basics of a RC transmitter and what you should buy.

Unlike other parts there isn’t much room for you to DIY, so it’s common that we would just buy a commercially available transmitter. There are a few things about functionality you should know before discussing the price.

Channels

You might already often hear the term Channel when talking about RC transmitters. Each channel allows one individual thing on the aircraft that can be controlled. For example, one channel for throttle, one channel for turning right and left, one channel for pitching forward and backward, one for rolling left and right. Four channels is a minimum for a quadcopter (pitch, roll, throttle, yaw).

RC-transmitter-channels

With more channels than just four, you can even have switch, or potentiometers to change settings on the quadcopter while flying. Some fly controllers (e.g. Multiwii, Arducopter) recommend using transmitters that has at least 5 channels, the extra channel is to switch between different flying modes.

5-channel-transmitter-diagram

Modes

There are 2 different Modes – mode one and mode two. It’s basically different control configuration.

The mode one configuration has the elevator control on the left joystick and the throttle on the right one.

The mode two is the most common for quadcopter because the stick represents the movement of your quadcopter. It has the elevator control on the right joystick and the motor throttle on the left one. The right joystick self centres in the both axis, whereas the left joystick only self centres in left/right axis and “clicks” in the up/down axis in order to allow the throttle setting.

transmitter-stick-modes

RC Transmitter and Receiver Paring

A receiver usually comes with the transmitter when you buy it. But be aware that some types of transmitter are only compatible to their own receivers (same brand same model). That means when the receiver is broken you will have to get the same one. There are a few exceptions that they can be paired with other receivers (i think universal is the word?). Make sure you check and ask the shop before buying.

What RC transmitter should I get?

The price range is huge, from as cheap as $20 to over $1000. Of course the cheaper, the lower quality it would be, and the fewer channels you are going to get. It would be a good idea to get a cheap 5 or 6 channel one to get a taste of flying a plane, and later one upgrade to a better transmitter when you know more about the subject. It’s always a good idea to have backup transmitters anyway. However if you are serious about quadcopters and someday want to get one with GPS navigation you will need 8 or more channels.

The transmitter is potentially a long term investment. If you are not sure about whether you will be staying in this hobby, you would be safe to get something like a cheap 6 channel. But if you are sure you will stay in the next couple of years you will not regret to get a 8 channel or more! Moreover It’s not just a matter of number of channels. Some RC transmitters support programming and firmware flashing to enhance functionality as well. So do your research before spending good money on it.

Recommedation on 8 Channel RC Controller

If you ask me that, I current favourite is the Turnigy 9X! See my review about this Transmitter.

DIY RC Transmitter

Although it’s possible to hack a game console and make your own RC transmitter, it seems quite difficult.

I actually also built a RC Transmitter myself although I haven’t tested it yet with a quadcopter.

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15 thoughts on “How To Choose RC Transmitter For Quadcopter

  1. Hi there, I need to purchase a transmitter/receiver but I just not sure where can i get it for a better or cheaper price. My goal is to be able to fly my x quadcopter for at least 10 to 12 minutes and we are also looking for one extra channel for the landing purpose. Can you suggest me a better place to purchase it. Thank you for your time. Best regards.

    • Hiya,

      try Hobbyking.com, they sell RC stuff at really low price. Another place to look for cheap transmitter would be ebay.
      remember it doesn’t has to be expensive, for quadcopter, 4 to 6 channels would be enough. But if you are thinking about long term investment, Turnigy 9X is a good one (9 channels, and lots of potential for modification).

  2. Hi there,
    as far as I know the Turnigy 9X can’t handle the fail safe: is that correct?
    It would be a very best buy but I really need the fail safe feature for my esa and, even more, for my “flying cameras”: how to solve?
    Any advice?
    Best regards, Marco

      • One option is to use a flight controller with two way telemetry. That way you can trigger a RTL event if the RC transmitter or receiver fails.

        I purchased a Turnigy 9XR from HobbyKing for under $60 US without a transmitter module. It has open source firmware available and can be configured from an application on your PC. You can buy a transmitter/receiver module on 2.4GHz, 430MHz and several others to suit your frequency and distance needs.

        For the hacker (like those of us visiting Oscar at his Internet home here), OrangeRX makes a TX/RX module based on the Arduino that can be customized.

        The Turnigy 9XR, OrangeRX TX/RX on 430MHz, a FlySky TX/RX on 2.4GHz and programming hardware together cost less than the JR XG8 we bought my wife ($450 US at a local hobby store). The JR feels like a higher quality transmitter, but I like to tinker. :-)

        Oscar – Thanks for all your efforts with this site.

      • Yes, very good point.
        One thing everyone should be aware of is, what frequency bands and signal power are allowed for personal use, before buying the equipment.
        Although it’s unlikely anyone would find out or even care, but it’s important we fly safely and do not affect other people.
        Some times i envy people living in the states, many frequencies are open to public.

  3. Hi,

    I’ve been away from RC for some years and thinking about getting back to flying.

    Can my many years old JR X3810 transmitter fly quadrotor? I’ve already upgraded my radio with a 2.4Ghz module (it’s frsky mudule). Which mode do I have to choose in the radio, heli or plane?

    Thank you so much.

  4. Hi,

    i just had a basic doubt,I have a transreciever with 3 channels,but your blog seems to suggest that we have a minimum of 4 channels. Can I not send the data on same channel by multiplexing,which reduces the number of channel usage.Please enlighten me on this matter.

  5. Hello
    I am a beginer.Is FR SKY CT6-B 6ch is fine for a quadcopter.In future I want to upgrade my copter. For quadcopter with GPS navigation how many channels(minimum) required.

    • Get 8 channel, you won’t regret it!
      4 for basic control, at least 2 for switch modes, 1 or 2 for gimbal control, or/and FPV cameras switch (recording camera & FPV camera)

  6. Would you recommend the newer 9xr instead of the 9x or would you directly go for the Taranis.

    Thank you in advance

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