Born for Pros – CrystalSky High-Brightness Monitor Review

DJI CrystalSky is an ultra-bright monitor specially designed for aerial imaging. For a professional aerial photography team like UP! CrystalSky is great because it allows us to see our live video feed clearly, even in bright sunlight. Two weeks ago, UP! was lucky enough to have the chance to review this product. Although what UP! got was a demo unit, its performance was good enough for a review. So let’s begin with CrystalSky’s appearance.

Appearance – Functional Design

CrystalSky looks tough. Different from the integrated monitor on Phantom 4 Pro+ controller, which is sleek and slim, CrystalSky looks more durable and industrial. Its front and back are made of engineering plastic, while its frame is metal to keep it strong.

There are 4 ports built into the left side of the monitor: an HDMI output, USB-A, Micro USB, and 3.5 mm headphone jack. The HDMI port transmits a maximum resolution of 3840×2160, and you can connect a flash drive to the USB-A port. With the Micro USB port, users can connect to a PC for updating firmware or a remote controller when CrystalSky’s dedicated mounting bracket isn’t connected. Users can also view full-resolution footage or increase storage with the monitor’s two Micro SD card slots.

On the right of CrystalSky are five buttons: power, settings, playback, and two customizable buttons, which work like C1 and C2 on the back of a DJI remote controller. C1 and C2 can be set to switch max brightness, adjust Wi-Fi settings, capture screenshots, and access SRE. SRE is a noteworthy function, which we’ll talk about later.

CrystalSky’s back is simple, with just a battery compartment and battery release button. Apart from the main detachable battery, the monitor has an additional built-in battery. That means CrystalSky will automatically shift to sleep mode if you detach the main battery and wake up when a battery is reconnected. This allows users to change batteries quickly without restarting the monitor, ensuring their work is uninterrupted.

CrystalSky uses detachable intelligent batteries, just like DJI drones. This means they’ll automatically charge and discharge to maintain battery health. The battery’s advertised operating temperature range is -20 to 40° C, and our tests confirmed that CrystalSky works well in heat. On a sunny day with temperature of about 30° C, our iPad Air2 stopped functioning after five minutes, while CrystalSky, despite the shell heating up, kept worked flawlessly for a whole battery.

Apart from built-in cooling fans, there are ventilation holes at the top and bottom of the frame. The GPS module is positioned at the top and center of the frame, where plastic instead of metal is used to ensure signal strength. The plastic part looks almost the same as the rest of the metal frame, including its color and texture.

Unfortunately, since its summer, we didn’t have a chance to test CrystalSky’s performance in cold weather. But we have painful memories of a shoot last winter where none of our three laptops or smartphones worked for more than several minutes, even with heating pads on the back. Let’s hope CrystalSky’s performance in such environments can be as good as the Inspire 2’s.

DJI claims the 5.5 inch CrystalSky operates for about 5-6 hours when fully charged, which our tests proved to be realistic. The 7.85 inch version uses the same battery as the smaller version, so its operating time is comparatively shorter at around 4-5 hours.

The 5.5 inch CrystalSky with a battery attached weighs 398 g. For reference, an iPhone 7 Plus only weighs 188 g. The 7.85 inch model with a battery weighs 595 g, while an iPad mini 4 weighs 298.8 g. That means CrystalSky is far from portable. But considering CrystalSky’s durability and target market —professionals — it’s understandable that portability has been sacrificed for improved performance. After all, it’s nearly impossible for thin and lightweight devices to function well in extreme temperatures, as we mentioned above.

The Screen

Brightness is CrystalSky’s most notable feature, which tops the industry at up to 2000cd/m2 for the Ultra-Bright 7.85 inch model. For comparison, the highest brightness of an iPhone 7 is only 602cd/m2. When flying under strong sunlight, neither smartphones nor tablets offer enough brightness to see the screen clearly. Mobile device hoods are the only practical solution to this problem, but they’re awfully heavy and reduce the effective viewing angle.

If you don’t have a monitor hood, you can put a shirt or jacket over your head like this, but it looks a bit silly and unprofessional.

Another advantage of the screen is its low reflection rate. Applying anti-reflective coating is the most common way to lower reflection rates, but this also lowers the brightness. So manufacturers have to balance these two factors. Apple, for example, has done an impressive job by cutting the reflection rate of the iPad Air 2 to 2.5% and 2% for the iPad mini 4. But CrystalSky clearly performed better than iPads in our tests, though we don’t have official data to backup this claim.

As we mentioned before, SRE (Sunlight Readable Enhancement) is another highlight of CrystalSky, which can be found in the shortcut menu or using custom buttons. SRE allows users to bump up the highlights or shallows of an image individually or together. This helps users see particular areas of the screen more clearly when sunlight is strong.

CrystalSky uses an IPS (In-Plane Switching) screen, which offers a wide viewing angle, multi-touch controls, and zero chromatic aberration. The screen displays footage at 1920×1080, more than enough for the 5.5 inch monitor. All these features make it possible for users to see images and the user interface clearly under strong light without extra accessories.

Clean, Intuitive, and Customizable Software

Images and videos stored on a Micro SD Card can be played back directly on CrystalSky’s new media player or within the DJI GO 4 app. CrystalSky’s player works just like mainstream Android players. Users can add tags to a video, and the video will begin playing from the tag. Video decoding has also been optimized, so even 4K videos can play smoothly.

However, it’s an awful experience using DJI GO 4 to play 4K videos stored on Micro SD cards. Playback is choppy and the screen frequently goes black. Considering we were just testing a prototype, we hope this issue will be solved by the time CrystalSky officially goes to market.

CrystalSky comes preloaded with DJI apps, among which DJI GO 4 is the most notable. It ran smoothly during our tests, without any lag or crashing. We could see how much effort has been made by DJI engineers to improve their software and hardware.

The album and editor menus have been separated into different tabs CrystalSky’s DJI GO 4. Offline maps of various cities are also available for CrystalSky users to download, so you can use maps without an internet connection. Users need to download the maps they want manually. For now, only a standard map view is available; satellite maps are not supported yet.

Conclusions

Priced at $469, it’s a bit out of reach for ordinary users. CrystalSky is just a monitor, and it doesn’t offer the broad-ranging functionality of a standard mobile device. But here is a response about pricing from DJI:

“As a professional and industrial filmmaking tool, comparing CrystalSky to a standard mobile device is like comparing apples and oranges. The materials and components required to produce ultra-bright monitors are still relatively costly, and given the features and functionality CrystalSky offers to aerial imaging pros, we think it’s priced quite reasonably.”

As you can see, cost reduction and breadth of application aren’t primary concerns with professional products like CrystalSky. These monitors are designed to meet specific customers’ needs. In this regard, CrystalSky does its job well. We think professionals will be more than satisfied with all that CrystalSky has to offer.

Up! Aerial Art
UP! Aerial Art is a drone photography team with creative directing talent. It is formed by several professional photographers with proficient drone filming skills. We kept the record of over six hundred hours of flight safety time every year. We'd love to create unprecedented perspectives by cooperating drone footage into traditional film processing.