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

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/ Updated: May 12, 2014 6:30 AM PDT

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 400 grams (14.1 ounces) -- and compact. It measures roughly 12 inches (28 cm) square and 1.5 inches (3.6 cm) tall.

That makes it Parrot's most compact drone to date, and 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, among other things.

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 12 minutes. Though this means long flights are out of the question, the battery is removable, so you can always carry extras.

The Bebop doesn't come with a remote control, but instead requires an iOS or Android device to get it off the ground. That's certainly one way to keep costs down and simplify setup.

Just as with the company's currently available AR.Drones, the AR.FreeFlight app is used for piloting the drone as well as controlling the camera, and viewing videos and photos. Also, using the Bebop's GNSS chipset, you'll be able to create a flight plan for the drone allowing for completely autonomous flight.

James Martin/CNET

For those of you who want physical controls instead of just using touch, Parrot also announced the Skycontroller. Basically, it'll give you more of a ground-control experience while also improving wireless communication thanks to its amplified Wi-Fi radio and four antennas allowing you to fly farther and higher.

The Skycontroller will also support VR headsets like the Oculus Rift via HDMI completely immersing you for first-person-view flight.

CNET Senior Editor Donald Bell spent some hands-on time with the Bebop at a recent event and here's what he had to say:

"Having played with Parrot's AR.Drone before, the Bebop feels significantly sturdier and more compact. The glass fiber reinforced ABS plastic construction that makes up its framework felt more like aluminum and gave the impression that it could take a beating.

During the course of the hands-on demo, more than a few of the journalists managed to send the Bebop flying into a wall. Remarkably, the Parrot team were able to patch the downed vehicles quickly, snapping batteries and propellers back in place, but never seen carting one off to read the last rites.

I was also able to spend some time using the Bebop with its companion Skycontroller remote control accessory, outfitted with a pair of Oculus Rift VR goggles. The experience takes some getting used to, as I had to use the Skycontroller by touch alone while my eyes were absorbed in the birds-eye view of the Bebop's camera.

In the right circumstance, say, piloting a Bebop over Niagra Falls, I could imagine charging admission for an experience like this. But for everyday use at your local park, wearing this contraption would understandably get you mugged, or at least ruthlessly mocked."

Parrot didn't have an exact release date for the Bebop and Skycontroller, but said they should arrive some time in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Pricing is still up in the air, too. However, with the AR.Drone 2.0 GPS Edition selling for around $350 (£320, AU$489), I would expect this to fall between $500 to $700. That would make it a much more affordable option for those entering the hobby than the Phantom 2 Vision+ and similar RTF quadcopters priced at $1,000 or more. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

Senior Editor Donald Bell contributed to this story.

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