Parrot Bebop Drone targets competitors with full-HD video, GPS, and new controller (hands-on)

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/ Updated: November 19, 2014 12:59 PM PST

With the Bebop Drone, Parrot puts higher-end features into a compact quadcopter that is sure to attract new and experienced pilots.

For starters, its camera is a step-up from the one found on its previous models like the AR.Drone 2.0, with an f2.2 fish-eye lens with a 180-degree angle of view and a 14-megapixel sensor.

It can capture video at 1080p full-HD resolution; the AR.Drone 2.0 is limited to 720p. Video is recorded to the Bebop's 8GB of internal storage (there's no microSD or SD card slot) in MP4 format. Photos can be captured in JPEGs or Adobe DNG raw format.

Parrot takes advantage of the extra resolution to let you digitally pan and zoom your picture as well as stabilize your shots on three axes. Though this might not be as good a solution as putting the camera on a gimbal, it likely allows Parrot to cut costs and keep the Bebop light -- its maximum weight is 410 grams (14.5 ounces) -- and compact. It measures roughly 12 inches (28cm) square and 1.5 inches (3.6cm) tall.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

Unlike the AR.Drone 2.0, the Bebop has a GNSS chipset with GPS, Glonass, and Galileo built in. The chipset allows the Bebop to return to its take-off location on its own and hover in place, among other things. When you can't get a GPS lock, such as when you're flying inside, a vertical camera and ultrasound and pressure sensors keep it from drifting while hovering.

Unfortunately, being so small and light means you don't have much room for a big battery. The Bebop is limited to a flight time of 11 minutes. High winds and fast flying will shorten that time. (The Bebop can fly in winds up to about 30mph or 50kmh, and can reach speeds of around 45mph or 75kmh.)

Though long flights are out of the question with that battery time, the battery is removable, so you can always carry extras and Parrot is including a second pack with the Bebop. No pricing was available for additional packs or other accessories.

Just as with the company's older AR.Drones, the Bebop works with Parrot's FreeFlight app for piloting the drone as well as controlling the camera, and viewing videos and photos from a smartphone or tablet (Android, Windows Phone and iOS are supported). Also, using the Bebop's GNSS chipset, you'll be able to set waypoints and create a flight plan for the drone allowing for completely autonomous flight.

parrot-bebop-1114-08.jpg
Joshua Goldman/CNET

For those of you who want physical controls instead of just using touch, Parrot has the Skycontroller. This gives you two sticks for piloting; discrete controls for the camera; a button for taking off and landing and one for emergency motor cutoff; status lights for the battery of the Bebop and the controller; a return-to-home button; and you can wirelessly pair a tablet or phone with it for first-person-view (FPV) flying.

The Skycontroller runs on Android, which allowed Parrot to install the FreeFlight app on it, so you don't need to pair a mobile device to fly. This also means you can connect an external display via the full-size HDMI and use that to see what the camera sees. The Skycontroller will also support VR headsets like the Oculus Rift through the HDMI output, completely immersing you for FPV flight.

On top of the Skycontroller is an amplified Wi-Fi radio and four antennas allowing you to fly farther -- up to 1.2 miles (2km). Of course, with the 11-minute flight time, you'll have to plan accordingly. It also provides some cover for the screen so you're not struggling as much to see in the sun.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The Bebop will be available in December for $499 at Best Buy and Apple, in stores and online. The Bebop with the Skycontroller will sell for $899. Those in Australia will be able to buy from Apple and Harvey Norman in December, too, with presales starting November 20. Pricing for the Bebop alone will be AU$699 (including GST) or with the Skycontroller for AU$1,299 (including GST). Pricing and availability for the UK is still being determined.

Editors' note: This story originally published on May 11. It was updated on November 19 with pricing and availability for the UK and Australia.

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Parrot Bebop Drone (Red)

Part Number: PF722000
MSRP: $499.99 Low Price: $1,399.99 See all prices