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BlueRail Trains - Bluetooth Locomotive Control

Bluetooth dcc iPhone iPad




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#576 Phill Dyson (onslaught832)

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Posted 12 May 2018 - 08:44

Apparently BlueRail sold all the first batch of Blue Horse boards, I think they made 800? The new second generation board release date is indicated to be summer 2018.

 

I have 2 Blue horse boards and they work very well, customisation front end is very impressive. They are now sitting in a drawer because I can't get on with the touch screen interface. I am used to tactile feedback on the throttle ( a knob) but have been told you should be able to pair a small hand throttle with your smart device. The Android App never caught up in functionality with the Apple one either.

Thank you Dave, I am told the Monocacy App is much better on Apple than Android too, although after some connectivity issues on Android mine is now quite usable.

 

I do hope these systems are compatible with each other like DCC is thanks to the AMRA?

 

Being new to Bluetooth control, are there any other choice besides these Bluerail & Monocacy ?





#577 Gene

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 14:45

I just re-installed the BlueRail control app on my phone and put my 2 Bachmann Bluetooth controlled trains on the track for a quick play with for the first time in over a year since I first bought and ran them. I figured in he intervening year BlueRail might have done some updates to the app. The App Store says the last update was 11 months ago so not sure that’s any different than when I last used it. Everything still connected and functioned seamlessly, no problems at all. And my opinions still haven’t changed...the biggest plus about the system is the very, very easy speed-matching and very easy consisting offered up by the Bluetooth system...far far simpler,quicker than via regular DCC. And the biggest drawback hasn’t changed either...sound-effects from the phone instead of the loco itself and very limited sound-files. Unless they can solve these two issues fairly quickly I don’t see BlueTooth technology ever displacing mainstream DCC for the serious modeler. I think it will remain a gimmick for the majority and an entry point for some children.

Cheers
Gene

#578 Nile_Griffith

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Posted 17 May 2018 - 22:36

I just re-installed the BlueRail control app on my phone and put my 2 Bachmann Bluetooth controlled trains on the track for a quick play with for the first time in over a year since I first bought and ran them. I figured in he intervening year BlueRail might have done some updates to the app. The App Store says the last update was 11 months ago so not sure that’s any different than when I last used it. Everything still connected and functioned seamlessly, no problems at all. And my opinions still haven’t changed...the biggest plus about the system is the very, very easy speed-matching and very easy consisting offered up by the Bluetooth system...far far simpler,quicker than via regular DCC. And the biggest drawback hasn’t changed either...sound-effects from the phone instead of the loco itself and very limited sound-files. Unless they can solve these two issues fairly quickly I don’t see BlueTooth technology ever displacing mainstream DCC for the serious modeler. I think it will remain a gimmick for the majority and an entry point for some children.

Cheers
Gene

 

 

 

I think that the issue is, that for the serious modeller the potential of Bluetooth is certainly more attractive than DCC. Unfortunately bringing this potential to market seems to be a slow one.

 

I find it interesting that there seems to be some kind of assertion that BlueRail had an initial run of 800 Blue Horse boards that have all now been sold and that we are now awaiting the next variant with certain enhanced features. An initial run of 800 of the original boards (I presume this excludes those manufactured for Bachmann) seems quite a small number to me. With some fifty states and the District of Columbia in the U.S. that would mean target sales of 16 individual Blue Horse Boards per State, never mind potential interest from overseas buyers. One had hoped that with Bachmann's involvement there might have been a bit more commercial weight brought to bear, but it would seem at this stage that Bachmann's interest in the product is limited to a specific market segment. That all said in an industry that seems to take an average of about 36 months to bring a new model to market, a process which is it's bread and butter. Maybe we are expecting a little too much for a new product development like this to reach some sort of maturity in a period of less than five years.

 

Part of me feels intrigued enough to buy a couple of the Monocacy boards, but then there is the other part of me that worries about ending up with a disparate number of board types from a disparate number of board manufacturers............. But maybe it's worth a dabble.



#579 WIMorrison

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 06:43

I think that the issue is, that for the serious modeller the potential of Bluetooth is certainly more attractive than DCC...

 

...

 

Why is Bluetooth more attractive for the serious modeller?



#580 davetheroad

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 07:30

Why is Bluetooth more attractive for the serious modeller?

 

Programming the receiver board is a joy as there is no need for a test track and a really nice visual interface menus system in the App. No need to worry about CV's etc. You can have very fine adjustments or pre sets. for example shunting/freight/passenger response at the touch of a button. Of course it is not Bluetooth that does this as it is merely a communications protocol. You also have bi-directional communication with potentially hundreds of locomotives.

 

For me it is the BlueRail App that is the best aspect, along with the ability to switch between track and battery power automatically. As I am old and like tactile feedback on my throttle ( a knob) so I can watch the train rather than the app I will try out having a separate paired hand throttle with knob., meanwhile I am half way through an extensive station buildings scratch build so no more experimenting until winter.



#581 WIMorrison

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 07:44

All very nice aspects that many modellers might appreciate but to suggest that serious modellers would appreciate it more is IMHO spurious, I actually think that the ease of use and presets is directed at the toy end of the market to make it simpler for people, not the modeller end where they want very fine control of everything.

 

FYI, I never use a programming track for my DCC locos, also I have a rotary controller that is wireless so I can watch the trains, though most of the time I just let the computer control the layout which allows me to enjoy looking at it rather than trying to work out what can go where and trying to keep my eyes on half a dozen locos at the same time.  



#582 davetheroad

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 09:42

With the bluerail board you have very fine control of everything, in a lovely easier to use interface, It is not specifically aimed at the novice or toy end of the market although it can be used as such.



#583 Robin2

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 09:53

With the bluerail board you have very fine control of everything, in a lovely easier to use interface,

I'm quite sure that someone could build an identical user interface for use with a DCC system or a Deltang system. The user-interface is just software.

 

...R



#584 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 12:38

I'm quite sure that someone could build an identical user interface for use with a DCC system or a Deltang system. The user-interface is just software.

 

 

 

To a certain degree, we already have similar user interfaces for use with DCC.

e.g.

Roco Z21 app,

direct use of WiFi apps (e.g. TouchCab & RtDrive etc,)

and indirect use of apps through software control interfaces (e.g. WiThrottle, Engine Driver, iRoc, padRoc etc,).

 

Currently, in order to try and keep up with the more developed competition, more DCC system manufacturers are endeavouring to introduce WiFi modules to allow smart devices to be used as throttle on their systems (e.g. Digitrax, MRC etc,).

 

What needs too be done, is to improve these interfaces to reduce or remove completely the more techie type interactions (setting CV's etc) and enable the software to simplify and reduce the work needed to set up and operate trains in a more realistic manner.

The control apps from the likes of BlueRail Trains and the UI on the RailPro system have made positive moves in this direction.

 

At the simpler end, stuff like easily accessed and operated slider controls. At the more advanced end, automatic speed matching for consists, simple adjustment of speed profiles and real time train load selection.

 

A lot of potential can be unlocked through exploiting the availability of true high speed bi-directional comms.

Something DCC is somewhat constrained by, apart from leveraging what's available from RailCom.

 

 

.

 

 

.


Edited by Ron Ron Ron, 18 May 2018 - 12:40 .


#585 Robin2

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 12:51

 

What needs too be done, is to improve these interfaces to reduce or remove completely the more techie type interactions (setting CV's etc) and enable the software to simplify and reduce the work needed to set up and operate trains in a more realistic manner.

.

I have a Hornby Elite DCC controller in a drawer somewhere - I bought it years ago before the dead-rail bug bit. For exactly the reasons you state I wrote a PC program to create a user interface in which I could simply press a button to select the "blue" engine or the "green" engine or the "DMU"

 

The idea of having to type in numbers when you want to select a loco or change a signal is for the birds.

 

...R



#586 Ron Ron Ron

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 13:37

I have a Hornby Elite DCC controller in a drawer somewhere - I bought it years ago before the dead-rail bug bit. For exactly the reasons you state I wrote a PC program to create a user interface in which I could simply press a button to select the "blue" engine or the "green" engine or the "DMU"

 

The idea of having to type in numbers when you want to select a loco or change a signal is for the birds.

 

 

 

A number of current DCC systems, whether using proprietary handsets or smart device interfaces, offer the option of selecting locos and accessories from names or graphics (e.g. loco images) without having to type in numbers (i.e. a loco address).

 

This facility has been around for more than a decade and the only reason that the legacy US manufacturers (Digitrax, MRC, NCE , CVP) have ignored it for so long, is that their loco names are usually the 3 or 4 digit loco cab/running numbers, which can be input as a DCC address.

 

A further improvement to easy loco selection may for example, take the form of selecting a loco from it's image/icon, its name or by using speech input, along with the option of simple selection of the required performance parameters.

e.g. for a Class 59 + heavy train load, or Black 5 + light engine, or whatever.

The software then sets the technical operating parameters (CV's) in the background, with the option of the user being able to fine tune if necessary.

The UI can be designed to make this process quick, simple and intuitive.

 

 

.



#587 Nile_Griffith

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 14:37

Why is Bluetooth more attractive for the serious modeller?

 

 

 

As Ron picked up on, lets not get confused by brand names and logo's. Bluetooth is a communication protocol employed by various electronic devices (sorry if I'm teaching you to suck eggs here). Bluetooth is bi-directional, paired devices can send information to and fro, this information can be stored information in the memory of either device or information created by the operation of a device. Limitations to the protocol are the amount of data that can be contiguously sent at any one moment (which for Bluetooth LE is quite sizeable) and the scope of the program or coding utilising the Bluetooth communication protocol.

 

Possibly the most recognisable use for Bluetooth at present is in sharing sound files stored on a personal computing device such as iPhone or Android phone to a car stereo system. The car stereo system sends data information to the smart device requesting a particular audio file and the smart device sends audio data to the cars stereo system. Along with the audio data, dependent of course on the software programmed into the car stereo, will be the ability to display a filename and timing information, maybe even graphical information such as an album cover or such like should of course the car stereo screen be able to display it and the smart device have the image data to send.

 

What we are seeing at the moment in the world of model trains are the first forays into the use of Bluetooth as a control platform. Noticeable is a small number of developers who are quite obviously working under certain commercial pressures, mainly being able to bring a product to market and for that product to find a receptive audience. So yes the fact that initial Bluetooth control offerings seem to be aimed towards "Children" is not surprising as they are a segment of the consumer technology market with a particular appetite for all things "App" based.

 

This doesn't mean that a willing software developer could not harness the capacity of Bluetooth to create a control platform that exceeds what is obtainable from even the most advanced DCC system and at a fraction of the cost and required knowledge base to the modeller. 

 

DCC is based upon a thirty year old technology (probably closer to forty to be honest). DCC control is for all intent and purpose, one way. Rail Com does offer a degree of bi-directionality but it is a tiny fraction of the bi-directional capacity of Bluetooth (or Wifi).

 

What does Bluetooth have the potential to offer the modeller. In depth feedback of the working of locomotives, points and such like. Yes DCC can tell your train to go forward, reverse and at what speed to do it. But DCC would find it hugely difficult to report back to a controlling device valuable information about how the loco's motor is responding under load and providing that information easily to the operator. Indeed with the use of other Bluetooth devices placed around a layout, a diagnostics package of exactly how a loco performs on different sections of track could be built. Not quite sure if that certain point motor is labouring too hard in operation? Bluetooth control would allow data to be fed back to the controller of the point motor's performance. Want to set a route through a number of points but need to stagger the operation of those points due to power consumption. Bluetooth enabled control on a smart device could make that operation as simple as selecting the point, it's order in a particular sequence and it's time delay as easily as choosing a phone number from your phones contacts, all by means of a simple intuitive graphical interface.

 

For my mind the real modelling potential lies in the area of combining positional data with loco control. Sound seems to be growing in popularity year on year. However, how annoying is it when operating a layout and a model loco then moves of scene or into a tunnel or such like and the loco can still be heard, requiring the operator to be on the ball when maintaining a sense of realism. Bluetooth control combined with well written software and supporting devices would allow positional information from the layout to interface with loco control. So a loco moving of scene would have it's sound switched of automatically.

 

Yes DCC offers block detection, but frankly it's expensive to implement and requires a level of skill that maybe beyond many interested but unsure modellers. Bluetooth capable loco boards that are capable of reading RFID tags placed around the layout would simplify this task greatly.

 

As I remarked before in a previous posting. When DCC arrived on the modelling scene, many were prompted to ask where was the benefit over a conventional DC operated layout, after all all that early DCC control boards offered was the same backwards, forwards and speed control that DC did. Fifteen years or so later things have moved on. What we have yet to see is the Bluetooth control platform develop to the same  maturity. Judgements are being made on what is by comparison with other industries and pursuits implementation of Bluetooth, a very timid start by the model railway world.


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#588 Gene

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 14:38

With the bluerail board you have very fine control of everything, in a lovely easier to use interface, It is not specifically aimed at the novice or toy end of the market although it can be used as such.


Sorry Dave but I have to disagree with you about your “very fine control of everything...” comment. The control with the BlueRail app is very good but nowhere near as fine as with a regular, tactile DCC controller...especially were very fine speed control is concerned. The app itself on the screen just does not allow for it compared to my NCE thumb wheel. Plus the need to look down at the screen to control anything, especially speed control, is another negative to the BlueRail system. I can control far more functions far more easily and the speed through tactile feel on my NCE controller without looking away from my train than I can with the Bluetooth app.

The one place were the Bluetooth system far outshines regular DCC is in speed-matching and consisting...but especially with speed-matching...it’s far easier,quicker and intuitive with the BlueRail system. But aside from that...I think that the Bluetooth and BlueRail developers have a lot more work to do before the system becomes more attractive to serious modellers than DCC.

#589 Robin2

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 15:46

 Limitations to the protocol are the amount of data that can be contiguously sent at any one moment (which for Bluetooth LE is quite sizeable) and the scope of the program or coding utilising the Bluetooth communication protocol.

I have so far been unable to find any documentation that explains how to use BluetoothLE with a large number of devices (as BlueRail does to control several locos with one hand unit). Do you by any chance have a link to anything useful?

 

...R


Edited by Robin2, 18 May 2018 - 15:46 .


#590 davetheroad

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 16:09

Sorry Dave but I have to disagree with you about your “very fine control of everything...” comment. The control with the BlueRail app is very good but nowhere near as fine as with a regular, tactile DCC controller...especially were very fine speed control is concerned. The app itself on the screen just does not allow for it compared to my NCE thumb wheel. Plus the need to look down at the screen to control anything, especially speed control, is another negative to the BlueRail system. I can control far more functions far more easily and the speed through tactile feel on my NCE controller without looking away from my train than I can with the Bluetooth app.

The one place were the Bluetooth system far outshines regular DCC is in speed-matching and consisting...but especially with speed-matching...it’s far easier,quicker and intuitive with the BlueRail system. But aside from that...I think that the Bluetooth and BlueRail developers have a lot more work to do before the system becomes more attractive to serious modellers than DCC.

 

What I meant to write was very fine control of parameters. I agree with you that a tactile feedback throttle is superior to a touch screen which is why I prefer the use of a knob as I can watch the train rather than the screen, because of this my bluerail boards are sitting in the drawer. The tactile interface also applies to the various knobs, buttons and switches on my Deltang transmitter. There is a video on the blurail site showing a game controller being used to control a train so a single hand throttle should be doable.



#591 Nile_Griffith

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 16:11

Sorry Dave but I have to disagree with you about your “very fine control of everything...” comment. The control with the BlueRail app is very good but nowhere near as fine as with a regular, tactile DCC controller...especially were very fine speed control is concerned. The app itself on the screen just does not allow for it compared to my NCE thumb wheel. Plus the need to look down at the screen to control anything, especially speed control, is another negative to the BlueRail system. I can control far more functions far more easily and the speed through tactile feel on my NCE controller without looking away from my train than I can with the Bluetooth app.

The one place were the Bluetooth system far outshines regular DCC is in speed-matching and consisting...but especially with speed-matching...it’s far easier,quicker and intuitive with the BlueRail system. But aside from that...I think that the Bluetooth and BlueRail developers have a lot more work to do before the system becomes more attractive to serious modellers than DCC.

 

 

 

I think one area that is possibly being overlooked by potential developers at the moment, is the fact that all the "Bluetooth" offerings are based around the use of smart devices such as iPhones and iPad type products. There is very much a common call by serious modellers on the lack of tactile control that a touch screen offers. What would make sense is perhaps for developers to look at creating more in depth control applications that run on laptops and personal computers. Yes not many laptops or Pc's utilise Bluetooth LE, but a simple very low cost plug in dongle would solve that issue admirably. using a platform such as a laptop to host a layout control application would offer the benefit of USB connectivity and out there in the market place at present are all manner devices designed to connect via USB offering customisable tactile control surfaces...... Real Knobs and buttons. You also then have the ability to convey graphical information across a larger or multiple displays also.

 

This becomes the real power of Bluetooth as a control protocol. At present DCC requires all manner of expensive bespoke interface and some fairly in-depth understanding to unify various operational possibilities under one platform.



#592 Nile_Griffith

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 16:17

I have so far been unable to find any documentation that explains how to use BluetoothLE with a large number of devices (as BlueRail does to control several locos with one hand unit). Do you by any chance have a link to anything useful?

 

...R

 

Hi.

 

Sorry can't help with any publications that provide specific data on what the maximum number of BlueHorse control boards can be fully operated across Bluetooth LE. I guess any such calculation would need to to work on an approximation of how much data is being sent and received by each board at a singular moment in time (lights on, etc).

 

Anecdotally all I can offer is that myself and a friend managed to quite happily operate five BlueHorse fitted Loco's from a single iPhone without any issues.



#593 WIMorrison

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 16:36

I think one area that is possibly being overlooked by potential developers at the moment, is the fact that all the "Bluetooth" offerings are based around the use of smart devices such as iPhones and iPad type products. There is very much a common call by serious modellers on the lack of tactile control that a touch screen offers...

 

Your off again suggesting that serious modellers can't consider anything other than what you prefer. Take a look at some exhibitions at some serious modellers and you will see them happily using touch screens and button devices.

 

Bluetooth may offer a form of control in the future and when it does it will be used by modellers whether they be serious modellers, hobby modellers or simply dabblers but please stop suggesting that this is anything more than a potential alternative  to the existing control options which are mature and provide the majority of modellers with what the want.



#594 Robin2

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Posted 18 May 2018 - 17:12

 

Sorry can't help with any publications that provide specific data on what the maximum number of BlueHorse control boards can be fully operated across Bluetooth LE.

I am really hoping to find information that would enable me to write a program for a system I could make (i.e nothing to do with BlueHorse or BlueRail). Mostly out of curiosity and because I like dabbling in that sort of stuff.

 

...R



#595 Nile_Griffith

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 16:24

Your off again suggesting that serious modellers can't consider anything other than what you prefer. Take a look at some exhibitions at some serious modellers and you will see them happily using touch screens and button devices.

 

Bluetooth may offer a form of control in the future and when it does it will be used by modellers whether they be serious modellers, hobby modellers or simply dabblers but please stop suggesting that this is anything more than a potential alternative  to the existing control options which are mature and provide the majority of modellers with what the want.

 

 

 

Sorry I'm really not sure where your comments is derived from. My post described my thoughts on how potential developers might look at expanding the use of their applications to devices that are not necessarily touch screens. I was not prescribing that the only way forward for future development is the use of tactile control. My observation was based upon conversations that I have had with a variety of modellers who although interested in what the new Bluetooth and WiFi control platforms offer. Would feel more at home if those platforms themselves offered the ability to use more tactile control surfaces.

 

Personally I have no particular issue in whatever means of control a modeller chooses to use, other than that it doesn't put others in harms way or cause the formula for Pi to be re-adjusted.

 

Your own comments questioned what was the benefit of such control platforms for the serious modeller and by that I assume you mean above and beyond what is available through the use of DCC. Unfortunately it's not always easy to keep a discussion point brief and within the attention span that most of us would assign to reading a posting, but here goes and this list is based on what is currently sat on my modelling shelf in the form of BlueRail Blue, Horse control board

 

1. Fully Bi-directional exchange of control and feedback data between Locomotive and operating device.

 

2. Fully wireless hands free control at approximately 25% of the cost of buying a Lenz DCC system and the required add on's (and thats working on the assumption that I purchase a brand new tablet smart device to operate the Blue Horse board).

 

3 Significantly easier access to adjusting the performance characteristics of each Loco. No need to access CV's and refer to tables of values. Adjustments are presented in an easily understandable graphical manner (switches off/on, or adjustment of values with a slider). Double heading and speed matching loco's under BlueRails App is a doddle. Certainly less of a ball ache than achieving the same level of control by adjusting CV's on my Lenz system.

 

4. Set Up Time. No messing around with Loco addresses or programming tracks. Each bluetooth board has a unique number in the same way that each computer has a unique Mac address. Smart device finds a board within a few seconds and it takes a few seconds more to assign a full alpha numeric name to that board (The Monocracy App lets the smart device take a photo of the loco and and presents it on the screen when that loco is under control).

 

5. Extra layout operator. No need to purchase additional manufacturer specific throttles, interfaces or accommodate extra wiring, Oh! and the inevitable head scratching that comes with it). If your friend doesn't have access to a smart phone or tablet device then a £50 tablet from Tesco's will do (don't hold me to that price) and download the free board manufacturers app (not sure what the current price of Lenz hand throttle is but I'm guessing it's not a whole bunch cheaper and you can't use it for much all else other than play trains).

 

6. This really should be a point 4a.  No clash of Loco addresses. As stated every Bluetooth board has a unique address. So if you invite your friend along to your layout with his Bluetooth equipped loco's, there is no need to amicably start sorting out clashes of DCC loco addresses because with Bluetooth it isn't going to happen. All you need is to spend a couple of minutes making sure that your smart controller of choice and their smart controller of choice can see exactly which loco's you need and want to control.

 

7. And this to my mind is the real winner. If you can navigate your way around an iPhone then achieving fully wireless control, adjustment of loco performance and features, double heading and such like are within your reach. No need to reach for less than friendly user manuals or post questions to forums and be made to feel like an idiot because you didn't know there was some amendment to the cv table for that decoder you bought that was one of a bunch that the manufacturer no longer makes. No need to wish that you had payed more attention in science class to how to understand circuit diagrams or wait patiently at some exhibition and hope that some friendly layout operator might explain to you how to wire in a USB interface to your DCC controller then how to set up your laptop via that interface and what program to use to achieve train control that also provides access to the ad hoc wifi network you need to create so that you can use your iPhone has a hand throttle........ I think you get my drift.

 

All this is available now as the product stands today. Being blunt. the bulk of what fifteen years of DCC development and hundreds of pounds worth of required customer investment can now deliver in model locomotive control. Bluetooth can do for forty quid and the loan of your errant teenagers smartphone...... 

 

And if thats not of interest to any modeller, serious or otherwise. I really don't know what is.

 

Apologies for the typo's and bad grammar.  I don't have the energy to keep re-hashing the same arguments.


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#596 Robin2

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Posted 19 May 2018 - 19:00

 

All this is available now as the product stands today. Being blunt. the bulk of what fifteen years of DCC development and hundreds of pounds worth of required customer investment can now deliver in model locomotive control. Bluetooth can do for forty quid and the loan of your errant teenagers smartphone......

I am not a DCC supporter (IMHO it is yesterday's tech) but to be fair those high prices simply reflect the users' willingness to part with their money. You can get a Sprog II DCC controller for £45.

 

...R














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