Monday 30 March 2015

Xiaomi Yi Ghetto Gopro

**Updates will be added at the end of the blog.**

Happy Easter-Pagan-egg-swopping-bunny-worshipping-celebration-holidays everybody. So, last week, I came upon the Xiaomi Yi camera.

I had wanted to upgrade my past action camera footage for a while, but have always been very reluctant to (or financially unable to) buy a Gopro Black edition. Nice cameras that do a lot of different recording options well, but a little too expensive for my purposes - that is drone flying. Every drone pilot fears landing hard or crashing as it damages equipment which has to be then repaired or replaced, and we drone pilots all test the boundaries of flying and do have at least a couple of damage-inducing landings in our belts. We generally therefore look hard and long at buying options, we really do seek features and value. My past cameras have been budget options too - the amazing 808 #16 V3 (about £28) which I love for what it is, also the Mobius camera (about £50) which is practically identical but for it's ability to record at a higher 1080p resolution (sorry for linking to Banggood, i'm sure it's available for less elsewhere - ebay perhaps). So where to go from there for the budget buyer?

As sure as Moore's Law does to size & power, time will also factor upon new tech releases and more-better budget options will gradually appear on the market. My 808 #16 camera was bought sometime in 2013, and now, as of the end of March 2015 we have this Xiaomi Yi camera appearing on the market, so I bought one (with my own money) to see if it is any good and if it offers anything better than my other cameras. I was also thinking about a SJCam SJ5000+ but it appears to have become distinctly expensive yet quite poor and buggy according to this review here.

The Xiaomi Yi is a cheap device, it cost me about £50 using a discount code. It feels reasonable in the hand, the buttons are solid click presses, but the all-plastic does feel cheap. It doesn't come with any bells, whistles, or waterproof housings or clips. It's just a camera, a battery, a short usb-to-micro charging cable (like your smartphone), and some instructions that are %100 in Mandarin.

The smartphone app is also in Mandarin, however there appears to be a pseudo-english version which can be downloaded here which is functional. Strangely, once the app is installed on your device, the icon reads the app name "xxx Cam" which sounds a bit.....Well....a bit 'Livejasmin'...

The app however, if you're not very inclined to technology you might struggle a bit - If you've ever bought a default Chinese android tablet direct from China that comes to you totally in the Mandarin language, and have then experienced the difficulty for you to have to figure out how to change to English, then you know the possible problem. I did not find it incredibly difficult to connect my camera, but I feel there is a shed-load of progress to be made with the English Version of the app.

Features-wise, it does indeed offer us mobius users, some more features than previously available. I'm not going to go into total detail, but just to stick to the features which interest me as a drone flyer.

So here's my first 5-minute impression with the camera.

It does indeed record 1080p 30fps. It's very similar in video quality to a mobius, but It might be possible that light/brightness adjustment is quicker than the mobius, and detail is better (but I can't see a difference on my PC monitor).

It also records video at 1080p 60fps equally well - thus allowing you to post-process the slo-mo video footage smoothly to 50% speed without jitter. The quality is the same to my eyes as that of 1080p 30fps.

It also records OUTDOOR footage in much the same quality at 720p 120fps - thus allowing you to post-process the slo-mo video footage smoothly to 25% speed without jitter. 
  • I say 'outdoor' as I begin to notice some image quality deterioration (slight %10-20 grain/wash-out) when filming indoor/house lighting footage. But the slo-mo 120fps is quite smooth and cool to experience.
  • I am also unable to app preview the live recording in 720p 120fps mode. Perhaps I will try with a super expensive class-10 micro sd card in future. I am able to live-preview using 1080p 30fps & 60fps.

Photo quality appears to be similar to the Mobius to my eyes. It isn't close to my Canon SX230 point & shoot, and it's light years away from my Sony NEX but that's understandable. Here are a few pictures:

File sizes are reasonably large (4608x3456px) Jpeg, each image recorded at highest settings is around 2.2MB-2.5MB in size. But the quality isn't a pant wetter. Here are some from my Sony Nex the same morning:

Totally different ball game, correct? It also can do timelapse photos recording at various intervals repeatedly if you set this in the smartphone app. It is also a bit of a chore (30secs per connect) connecting via wifi to the camera via the app repeatedly, everytime you want to adjust something.

Wifi range let me take a photo from about 30ft. It might do more but I reached the limits of my house.

By the way, I bought the selfie stick-cum-wand of Narcissus as an extra to the camera (it's not the one that comes with the 'Xiaomi + selfie stick' version. This might make sense because my selfie stick doesn't screw tightly to the Xiaomi Yi camera, the screw hit bottom but needs to go a bit more to make a solid fitting. I had to put a silicone washer between the camera & thread to be secure. It's probably fine with the official Xiaomi wand.

So, this camera...It does some neat slo-mo footage, has wifi, what else does it do? 

Well, I guess importantly, all of us drone pilots want to know if it does USB/AV-out, like the 808 #16 or Mobius camera. 

I am unsuccessful. I have tried using the typical Mobius/808 camera usb-av cable and also the typical Gopro AV-USB cable, and of course the USB connector is different on the Xiaomi Yi.

The Xiaomi Yi uses USB-micro, the Mobius/808 & Gopro use USB-mini

Until I have a micro usb cable cut up, or a micro hdmi cable to connect to the Xiaomi Yi I cannot test fpv use (Did I mention the Xiami Yi has a micro hdmi port as well as a micro-usb port?). The HDMI might be an option but this might mean the purchase and expense of a mini hdmi-av converter before you can connect it to your AV video transmitter (adding £20 to £30 just to do this is asking a great deal when it's almost 50% of the camera value). So, who knows???????

Connecting the camera to a computer using the usb cable, then holding the power button, it bleeps a bit, and mounts the camera as a device storage drive

"AMBA storage USB Device" - not heard of AMBA before, is this a reference to AMBArella the processing chip??

"USB Mass Storage Device - Failed" not sure why this failed, but it still mounts as a storage device ok.

A problem with the Xiaomi for gimbal mounting is that the typical Velcro straps that often come with the cheap GLB gimbal, doesn't fit - it's a smidge too small in diameter, that is the Xiaomi Yi lens barrel is a smidge bigger than the typical Gopro camera. The Xiaomi lens barrell measures fractionally under 24mm in diameter, the Velcro lens strap measures 23.5mm in diameter. If you wish to use it you will have to sand/dremmel it until it fits. You could of course use the tripod thread with a screw mount if you wish for alternatives. I am unsure how the Xiaomi Yi fits with other gimbals at this time.

Post-sanding it fits:

Thanks for reading.

Update #1
It seems I can power the camera from usb, with the battery removed. This roughly reduces the weight by 40-50% which is good news if you are flying a mini quadcopter.

Update #2
The pseudo-English Android app appears to be version 1.0.0. 
When I start the app it offers (in Mandarin) an app update to V1.3 but it won't actually update for me (Is it to prevent us from having the app totally in Mandarin, and therefore unusable?)
Here is a screenshot:

Also, the app settings tell me that my Yi camera has firmware v0.7.10 and that an update is available too, to version V1.0.7 and has some words about "TV", is this firmware enabling TV-out function? I can't read it, maybe someone can? It seems that the firmware is also not downloadable with my app, it's either been disabled to prevent the firmware update defaulting to Chinese, or I am just not doing something right.
Here is a screenshot:
Update #3
It seems that it is possible to update the camera firmware afterall, from V0.7.10 to V1.0.7. It seems that the app will not allow you to update if the phone/tablet + camera have less than 50% battery.

When connecting the camera to a computer using USB we now get this driver installed:

"XiaoYi SportCam USB Device"

Updating firmware is described clearly by this nice gentleman:

You must also update the Android app to V1.3. For me, the app update kept on crashing preventing me from updating. However, I found a thread with the updated app APK file here. I downloaded the app file and installed it. If you don't wish to go through the registration process on this forum because it asks for your phone verification (security issue perhaps?), you can download the V1.3 apk file directly from this link.

-It changes the app settings to include "AV Out" feature.

However, as yet, I am unable to know how to use the AV-out feature. I have tried connecting to my computer using the USB cable and pressing the camera buttons to try and enable something, I have tried using Virtualdub to attempt to capture it as a webcam device, I have tried connecting using my Android device + OTG cable, and attempted to use a 'USB webcam' app to view the camera. But not working for me yet.

The next possibility is either waiting until an official AV cable is released, or cutting a Micro-USB cable and hopefully testing each wire for a video signal, but I do not have a spare micro-usb cable yet.

Update #4
Flight footage:

Update #5:
I received in the post an SJ4000 usb Av-out cable, and it works with the Xiaomi Yi camera enabling USB AV-out. Wire explanation is here. Video lag is no worse than the 808 #16 or Mobius cameras, so I feel it is fine to use for FPV use.Here are some pictures and a demonstration video:

Thanks for reading.
Donations are thankful:


Pavle said...

Thanks for great text. Once again I wanted to thank you for very clear writing and quite handy and in-depth info.
I am writing a review for my blog as well, but I will certainly link to yours once I publish mine.

Oh and thanks for including my video in your article! Best of luck!

DalyBulge said...

Thanks! And also for the video :)

Unknown said...

Is it can live a video ( via micro usb tv out)while recording to sd card?

newone said...

enable an OTG connection, you must either use an OTG cable to connect the devices or, for directly connected devices, one of them must be physically configured to mimic the OTG cable connection. It might be clearer to think of the later configuration as two USB devices connected with a zero length OTG Cable.