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New Hornby computer based DCC system - eLink





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#1 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 16:26

Often derided and sometimes looked down on, Hornby's previous DCC system offerings were in all fairness mainly aimed at their traditional train set customers.
Particularly so in the case of the limited and flawed, basic Select system.

Earlier this year we saw the launch of a more ambitious way forward for Hornby DCC in the shape of their RailMaster computer control software package.
Again limited in its capabilities and more aimed at the train set customer, than the advanced DCC user, nethertheless it provided a useful upgrade to the capabilities of Hornby's own Elite DCC system.

With today's 2013 announcements, Hornby have revealed a number of new DCC related products, including control apps for both tablets and smartphones, voice control software and most significantly, eLink.

The 3rd and so far most significant DCC system released by Hornby, eLink is basically an interface and DCC Command Station and Booster, that makes the RailMaster software the main control interface.
(It does not require the use of the Elite control system, being a complete system in its own right)

Additional control throttles can be provided on smartphones and tablet devices.
In addition, full layout control can be carried out from smartphone and tablets too.

The announcement mentions only 1 amp output capability (strange that the URL to the product description says 4 amp?), but there is always the option of adding additional boosters to increase the available power to the layout.

Bundled with the RailMaster software and priced at only £84.99 (recommended retail price), this has to be the cheapest and potentially the most capable DCC system below a couple of hundred pounds.

eLink and RailMaster are also included in 2013's two flagship train sets....
The Western Master train set with eLink
The Majestic train set with eLink

Common sense suggests these two train sets will be the main drive in the attempt to attract interest and new custom in the flagging toy train market?

Food for thought...?


p.s. There are some images near the bottom of this Hornby pdf


Regards
Ron


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#2 roundhouse

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 16:31

I was looking at this bit of the Hornby announcement and subject to how it actually works when released, and it does have the potential to be a really good simple system.

I may well end up getting one to play with at that price as we already have the ipods and tablets that we use with our Digitrax system and JMRI.

Ian

#3 NoggintheNog

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 16:43

Its actually a very bold move,an interface only DCC system is, I think, the future , the roco thing being a prime example, but this is less than a third of the price, with all the same advantages - that being once the hardware is capable of broadcasting DCC signals, a software only product is infinitely expandable.

Of course, it lacks some of the feedback hardware of the more expensive stuff, but for the majority, this is , I think, what DCC should be about.

In the same week that Zimo finally announced the cost of their new base station, 1290 euros , if anyones curious, I have to say, I think Hornby are genuinely very much on the right track here.Yes, the zimo is beautiful, it has railcom detectors built in and all the rest, a truly cutting edge bit of kit, but heres the thing, if cutting edge via hardware costs that much to get right, then just maybe, software, a computer (that is now pretty much in every home) and smartphone/tablet controllers is a better direction for manufacturers to go in what is still a shaky economy.

As someone whos been waiting for years itr seems for V4 of the lenz system, for which I'll have to send in all my hardware for upgrade, a software based system is very much an appealing thing.
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#4 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 17:13

Here's a possible scenario for a larger or club layout.

iPhone, iPod Touch or android phone as throttles.

One or more strategically placed tablets (mounted on stands or brackets) located around the layout to provide point, route and signal control (electronic signal boxes).

The main PC/laptop running RailMaster located somewhere, maybe in the background or out of sight.

Bring your own handheld device and any tablets used and there you have it.... £85 a pop ( that's full price mind).



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#5 red death

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 17:35

A Sprog + JMRI is cheaper (Sprog II at £45 for 1A or Sprog 3 at £60 for 2.5A) and has been able to do all of the above for a while now...

Cheers, Mike

#6 meil

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 18:25

Alternativly the JMRI with the MERG command module plus the booster and CBUS USB does it all.

#7 roundhouse

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 19:49

Whilst I agree that JMRI and a Sprog is excellent (we use a spot and laptop for programming etc ) and the Digitrax Locobuffer wireless router JMRI on a laptop etc. does us fine, when some ask us how we do the wireless control, they soon loose interest when we explain all the bits that we need.

The Hornby system has the potential to get many more into this wireless control with a much more user friendly set up.

I wish Hornby all the best with this.

Ian
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#8 Edwin_m

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 20:38

Certainly an interesting development but I guess we will have to wait and see how well it works. I seem to remember three or four years ago there was a lot of expectation that Hornby's entry into DCC would really change the game, but for various reasons it didn't work out like that.

The link doesn't contain much detail specification of what it is intended to do - for example will it support track occupancy feedback and if so by which of the several systems available? Is it going to have open protocols so it can be made to work with something like Railroad & Co?

#9 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 17 December 2012 - 22:50

Certainly an interesting development but I guess we will have to wait and see how well it works.


Indeed Edwin. It could well turn out to be pants.
The principal is sound so it's up to Hornby (or their DCC developer) to produce a well designed system that works.
As you say, we'll have to wait and see.


I seem to remember three or four years ago there was a lot of expectation that Hornby's entry into DCC would really change the game, but for various reasons it didn't work out like that.


Time moves on. It's almost 6 years (Feb 2007) since Hornby's DCC products were shown in public.
your point is quite valid though.

The link doesn't contain much detail specification of what it is intended to do - for example will it support track occupancy feedback and if so by which of the several systems available? Is it going to have open protocols so it can be made to work with something like Railroad & Co?


It doesn't have to.
I think there may be a misconception about this sort of software package and its intended uses.
Up to recently, when we think of DCC software packages, I suggest most of us think of sophisticated products like RR&co and JMRI and assume all software packages are trying to fulfil the same function.
Hornby's RailMaster isn't that sort of software package and clearly isn't intended to serve the same purpose. As such it needs to be viewed in a different light.

Apart from providing software throttles for driving trains, RailMaster allows for manual layout control (control of points, routes and signals) and provides some added features such as storing of loco details.

Being software they've been able to include the rudimentary automatic operation feature, based on programming and memorising train movements.
As we know this falls well short of the capabilities of more sophisticated packages; however, the main aim here is to provide more "play value" to a system that is more aimed to the mass market, both train set and regular modellers who don't want advanced DCC operation. It is not intended to be a RR&co or a JMRI type of product.
As such, given that remit, there has been no need to include extra complication in the form of feedback provision. Not to say it won't be added later.
The bottom line is that this product has to work more or less out of the box.

The introduction of eLink has added something else though and I think this is more powerful than the RailMaster software on its own.
eLink with RailMaster is a complete DCC system for £84.99 (recommended full price). It may be offered for less at certain retailers.

For this price you are getting....
A programming track output and the ability to read back CV's (this is normally not provided on low cost systems).
The capability to use third party wireless devices (smartphones and tablets) as wireless handsets.
Voice control capability, with the add-on package just announced.
Layout control using track diagrams (glass mimic panels).
Touch screen capability.
A large memory for storing and operating a large number of locos, points and accessories.

Provided you have the hardware (PC or Laptop is the minimum), that's a very comprehensive package for £85.
This has to be the best way into DCC, currently on the table.



A Sprog + JMRI is cheaper (Sprog II at £45 for 1A or Sprog 3 at £60 for 2.5A) and has been able to do all of the above for a while now...


I did immediately think of the (excellent) Sprog on first reading, but this is something more and a product that should work straight out of the box.
There's no way you could throw JMRI into train set box, nor would it be of any use to someone who doesn't have the basic IT skills to play around with it.

Alternativly the JMRI with the MERG command module plus the booster and CBUS USB does it all.


That's a hobby all in itself.
I think we are talking about something quite different here.



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Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 18 December 2012 - 00:42 .

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#10 Edwin_m

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 08:41

I see your point Ron about the e-link being a different market from the likes of RR&Co, but should it be? If the upgrade path involves replacing both the hardware and the software then it's a bit of a technological dead end.

#11 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 09:15

If the upgrade path involves replacing both the hardware and the software then it's a bit of a technological dead end.


From what we can see you are right, but is that in any way relevant to its users?
Probably not one jot.

I'm not just limiting that to the train set or "play" aspects.
For the majority of DCC users, including so called "serious modellers", there is no requirement or desire to go beyond driving trains and having layout control (working signal boxes or not) by visual means alone.

Even if one wanted to progress to a more advanced level, the replacement of hardware and software is one electronic box and a software application, that only costs £85 at the maximum.
That investment is negligible and less than the cost of one loco.

Again, I think you may be falling into the trap of thinking that RailMaster is the same type of product as the more sophisticated layout control software packages and is intended to lead to the same sort of objectives. It isn't.
Now it is paired with eLink, it becomes a completely different beast. It has become a DCC system.
Comparisons really should be drawn with other budget (and I venture to suggest mid-priced) DCC systems, not with railway control software.

I hope you see the point I'm trying to make?

Ron


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Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 18 December 2012 - 09:22 .

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#12 roundhouse

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 09:28

I know a number of people who help on our DCC controlled layouts but its too much tech for what they want to do on thier layouts. As Ron says, they just want to drive trains and maybe throw the turnouts, so at the moment they wont take the step into DCC due to the relative complexity of some systems or the very basic systems that are available.

This Hornby elink might just swing them over to DCC (especially at the price) - I am certainly hoping so then I can run my sound equiped locos on their layouts (OK - most will work on DCC but most functions are then lost).

#13 Lady_Ava_Hay

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 09:42

I think the biggest bugaboo for Hornby and indeed all the major train set players is the lack of back up expertise in the dealer market. This system will be bought by a lot of newcomers to DCC attracted by the Hornby name plus the price and like most of its ilk will be brought back to the supplier and generate questions that the dealer might not be able to answer due to lack of experience and a desire not to go up any blind alley with Hornby's name on it.

Most of Hornby's DCC efforts have met with very mixed response due to poor product performance and Hornby's desire to plough a private furrow.

Good for Hornby but perhaps not so good for the hobby.
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#14 Bomp

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 10:05

I started in DCC with the Select. I only use it for lights and driving thus far. I was already planning to go for an Elite and the PC software. I was always aware that Hornby were possibly going somewhat alone, but Elite is passed by the organisation that sets the standards isn't it? Isn't that enough? All the chips I've put in have been the Hornby ones, but a couple of locos I've come by have other chips in. It all works. So I'm happy to stay with Hornby, and I consider myself to be a serious modeller. This new set of stuff reinforces my decision to stay with Hornby. Very exciting times, in a way this DCC selection even more than being able to get three Stars for my daughters to have two locos each (I've already done 6223).

#15 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 10:10

That's a very good point David.
Those train sets will mostly be sold through Hornby concessions located in department stores, toy shops and outlets such as Argos.
Technical support from those quarters is likely to be nil.
Customers with problems will have to seek out help from Hornby or specialists in the field (if they are even aware of their existence or so inclined?).

As for the model railway scene, there is the support provided by the "community" and from Hornby themselves.

With regard to Hornby's previous attempts at DCC and their previous DCC systems, I think this new product is a clear jump in another direction.
It will have to be judged on it's own merits.


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#16 red death

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 11:11

I started in DCC with the Select. I only use it for lights and driving thus far. I was already planning to go for an Elite and the PC software. I was always aware that Hornby were possibly going somewhat alone, but Elite is passed by the organisation that sets the standards isn't it? Isn't that enough? All the chips I've put in have been the Hornby ones, but a couple of locos I've come by have other chips in. It all works. So I'm happy to stay with Hornby, and I consider myself to be a serious modeller. This new set of stuff reinforces my decision to stay with Hornby. Very exciting times, in a way this DCC selection even more than being able to get three Stars for my daughters to have two locos each (I've already done 6223).


The whole point about a lot of DCC is that you don't have to stick with one manufacturer! Within reason you can mix and match. So Zimo/Lenz/Digitrax etc chips will work with any NMRA compliant controller.

Where it starts to get a bit more complicated is control systems talking to other accessories eg points or feedback/detection mechanisms. If a manufacturer ploughs a lone furrow and doesn't allow access to their protocols then you are limited in what accessories can be used. Which means you are reliant on the manufacturer developing everything themselves (vs different parts being developed by lots of people but all working with the same protocols).

Cheers, Mike

#17 NoggintheNog

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 12:01

The whole point about a lot of DCC is that you don't have to stick with one manufacturer! Within reason you can mix and match. So Zimo/Lenz/Digitrax etc chips will work with any NMRA compliant controller.

Where it starts to get a bit more complicated is control systems talking to other accessories eg points or feedback/detection mechanisms. If a manufacturer ploughs a lone furrow and doesn't allow access to their protocols then you are limited in what accessories can be used. Which means you are reliant on the manufacturer developing everything themselves (vs different parts being developed by lots of people but all working with the same protocols).

Cheers, Mike


To be fair here , for the vast, vast majority of people, the system as it stands would probably cover everything they want to do with DCC, the only possible expansion I could see would be power, other than that , 4 digit addressing , all functions, all programming and full compliment of accessory decoders is as much as most people need.

For its target market, its a major bargain assuming they can easily use existing PC and tablets etc.

Indeed, assuming it all works as described when it makes its way to shops, it would be my recommendation for people starting out, I've used lenz for more years than I can count,its brilliant kit, 100% reliable, but really, £300 for a set 100 or £85 for the Hornby system with a much more user friendly interface? No brainer , even add on £100 for a booster, its still a bargain for newcomers.

Edited by NoggintheNog, 18 December 2012 - 12:02 .


#18 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 12:20

You can add an NMRA compliant 5 amp Booster for as little as £30 plus the cost of a power supply.

#19 red death

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 12:25

I guess my experience is different in that when starting out people don't necessarily know what they want from DCC or what it can do! Things that tie you to one particular protocol are bad enough, but to one manufacturer is worse (and to me goes against the point of DCC).

I absolutely accept that for some they want the certainty of a closed shop (Apple does this very well) where things "just work"!

But then hey, I don't mind building my own PCs, hacking Linux or messing with Sprog + JMRI.

Each to their own, my point was that alternatives exist (and they may offer more functionality at a lower cost).

Cheers, Mike

#20 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 12:42

Mike, I can't see where you are tied in with anything here?

The eLink plus RailMaster package is an all-in-one, ready to run out of the box, NMRA DCC system.
It consists of one electronic box, plus it's power supply and a DVD ROM. That's it.
You can use any accessory decoders you want, various choices of Booster for more track power, most reversing modules ......and unlike most other DCC systems, you can even select what handset or control console you prefer, or have to hand.

This is far from a proprietary system.

Don't forget the cost either.
You get all this for £85 max recommended price. Hattons have it for pre-order at £68 !!!!!!!!
If someone using this feels the need to upgrade to a far more capable set-up, then they've lost almost nothing.



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#21 red death

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 13:37

Mike, I can't see where you are tied in with anything here?

The eLink plus RailMaster package is an all-in-one, ready to run out of the box, NMRA DCC system.
It consists of one electronic box, plus it's power supply and a DVD ROM. That's it.
You can use any accessory decoders you want, various choices of Booster for more track power, most reversing modules ......and unlike most other DCC systems, you can even select what handset or control console you prefer, or have to hand.

This is far from a proprietary system.


Are you certain about all that? When Railmaster first came out it could only be used with an Elite. Is Railmaster now going to work with other command stations?

Cheers, Mike
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#22 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 15:04

Are you certain about all that? When Railmaster first came out it could only be used with an Elite. Is Railmaster now going to work with other command stations?


No RailMaster isn't intended to be used with other DCC systems, but that isn't the point.
As I said in response to Edwin's comments, don't confuse the RailMaster software with packages like RR&co or JMRI. They are not the same sort of product and have different aims.

Up to now, the use of software packages in DCC has generally revolved around the same sort of use and purposes. As such I can understand why people would immediately pigeonhole a new type of software with what went before, even though it's purpose is quite different.

Yes, RailMaster could only be used with the Elite, but when combined with the eLink, it turns into a different type of product again. It now becomes a stand alone DCC system in itself.
The issue of compatibility with other DCC systems becomes irrelevant. You don't need another DCC system; it (i.e. eLink + RailMaster) is the DCC system.

I hope that's making sense to you.

Regards

Ron


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#23 traction

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 20:24

Just to confirm, the e-link can use the Hornby 4amp power supply.

As for the any problems, well built into RailMaster is a link to email the tech support guys directly.
It does send some configuration data to them as well to give them a bit more information.

They respond very quickly and are very helpful.

Just to make it a little more interesting they are working on the feedback sensors which might be available sometime next year, these have been announced previously.
I don't know exactly how these are going to work, but from the last information I read there will be sensors clipped into the track, the wire from the sensor goes to the "Black Box" this box plugs directly into the laptop/PC.

I forget now but you can have quite a lot of sensors plugged in to one box and a number of boxes can also be connected up.
There is "something" attached to the loco so that when it passes the sensor it will not only detect it but also know the direction and speed.
Will all of this appear at an affordable price....who knows but that is what is being worked on and has been for sometime.

Cheers

Ian
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#24 Edwin_m

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 21:47

I think I read somewhere that the Elite supports Railcom so that is probably what they will be using. This is of course limited to detecting items fitted with Railcom-compatible decoders, but in principle it would be possible to connect other types of feedback detector with Railcom as the communication path back to the command station.

#25 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 December 2012 - 22:37

I think I read somewhere that the Elite supports Railcom so that is probably what they will be using.


I would hope they use the standard NMRA method, RailCom, rather than some non-NMRA standard method such as RFID.

This is of course limited to detecting items fitted with Railcom-compatible decoders, but in principle it would be possible to connect other types of feedback detector with Railcom as the communication path back to the command station.


You are not limited to only RailCom fitted decoders.
Any non-RailCom decoder can be used and fitted with the little piggyback RailCom transmitter modules. These will provide most of the useful RailCom functionality, namely ID, direction, and will also mimic CV settings and transmit them back.


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Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 19 December 2012 - 09:47 .








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