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New to DCC, all the questions you never wanted to hear .....


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Our new layout will, I think need to be DCC. Otherwise it will need 4 DC controllers. I'm not totally new to the concept, I used to run Zero 1, so you wired the chip into the loco, shorted the chosen terminals to assign the chip an address and if you were lucky when you selected the correct address on the controller the selected train would run. In many ways it was the first edition DCC. It was not very reliable, train running was very inconsistent. Trains would respond to the controller if they felt like it. They would respond one minute but not the next, then two minutes later would go again. The hardware was very unreliable, I went through several slave controllers and gave up trying to use the hand held. It was all rather unsatisfactory. 

 

So is modern day DCC more reliable? 

 

When choosing a DCC controller is it better to use hardware controllers, or are software controllers reliable. I like the idea of controlling my layout from an android tablet but are such systems reliable? If so which is best. Are the self built controllers on ebay any good, has anyone tried them? They seem to cost about the same as Bachmann and Hornby basic controllers sell for second hand but you need to add power supply and software to them, plus some kind of enclosure and panel connectors. 

 

Is there a massively convincing reason to run your turnouts through DCC, my plan was always to etch the layout onto a brass plate and use non latching push to make switches to activate the turnout to a particular track, perhaps even with lights to indicate the selected track. Is there a reason why I should control them with DCC and deny myself my signal box project?

 

What do i actually need to run DCC? A controller and power supply obviously. Hornby's basic kit comes with a 1amp power supply, what will that power, it seems a bit puny. There is a 4a option but much more expensive. connection to the track of course, I would plan to hard wire each of the three loops / part loops, plus the end of each siding to ensure the whole track remains constantly live. If I go for the ebay arduino route then I need to provide a power supply but that doesn't seem too difficult. 

 

Then I need decoders for the locos. Most of my locos are older and have no lighting etc, so I'm guessing the most basic decoders will suffice to control just the speed and direction of the train?

 

having tried to research the subject there seem to be loads of items that I have no idea what they do, DCC sniffers, stay alive devices. Some of the videos on ebay the system seems to have more boxes than my 80s hifi, bus controllers, boosters etc. Do I need anything more than controller, of whatever type I choose, and decoder?

 

If I do want to control turnouts, possible points and maybe switchable uncoupling tracks, how do I do that?

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An awful lot of questions in one post.

Maybe they should have been broken down into small chunks?

 

I'll answer one question:

You can still have a signal box type operation and DCC control, they are not mutually exclusive.

 

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23 minutes ago, PMW said:

Our new layout will, I think need to be DCC. Otherwise it will need 4 DC controllers. I'm not totally new to the concept, I used to run Zero 1, so you wired the chip into the loco, shorted the chosen terminals to assign the chip an address and if you were lucky when you selected the correct address on the controller the selected train would run. In many ways it was the first edition DCC. It was not very reliable, train running was very inconsistent. Trains would respond to the controller if they felt like it. They would respond one minute but not the next, then two minutes later would go again. The hardware was very unreliable, I went through several slave controllers and gave up trying to use the hand held. It was all rather unsatisfactory. 

 

( 1) So is modern day DCC more reliable? 

 

( 2) When choosing a DCC controller is it better to use hardware controllers, or are software controllers reliable. I like the idea of controlling my layout from an android tablet but are such systems reliable? If so which is best. Are the self built controllers on ebay any good, has anyone tried them? They seem to cost about the same as Bachmann and Hornby basic controllers sell for second hand but you need to add power supply and software to them, plus some kind of enclosure and panel connectors. 

 

(3) Is there a massively convincing reason to run your turnouts through DCC, my plan was always to etch the layout onto a brass plate and use non latching push to make switches to activate the turnout to a particular track, perhaps even with lights to indicate the selected track. Is there a reason why I should control them with DCC and deny myself my signal box project?

 

(4) What do i actually need to run DCC? A controller and power supply obviously. Hornby's basic kit comes with a 1amp power supply, what will that power, it seems a bit puny. There is a 4a option but much more expensive. connection to the track of course, I would plan to hard wire each of the three loops / part loops, plus the end of each siding to ensure the whole track remains constantly live. If I go for the ebay arduino route then I need to provide a power supply but that doesn't seem too difficult. 

 

(5) Then I need decoders for the locos. Most of my locos are older and have no lighting etc, so I'm guessing the most basic decoders will suffice to control just the speed and direction of the train?

 

(6) having tried to research the subject there seem to be loads of items that I have no idea what they do, DCC sniffers, stay alive devices. Some of the videos on ebay the system seems to have more boxes than my 80s hifi, bus controllers, boosters etc. Do I need anything more than controller, of whatever type I choose, and decoder?

 

(7) If I do want to control turnouts, possible points and maybe switchable uncoupling tracks, how do I do that?

 

As Keith said, a lot of questions, but numbering the above, here's my take.

 

1 - yes its reliable, it wouldn't have had 25+ years on sale from hundreds of manufacturers world wide (Zero 1 managed 7 years from launch to Hornby scrapping the idea, with one solitary manufacturer). 

 

2 - depends on how good you are with software and hardware.  There are tablet/smartphone control systems available commercially (eg. Roco Z21/z21 is good).  There are semi-roll-your own, with the hardware provided (eg. Sprog plus your own computer, plus configuring some public domain software - fine if you're into software, not fine if you find operating Word a serious chore).    If building your own hardware, are you any good with digital electronics and debugging it ?  If so, they work great.  If not, you'll never get it to work.   Both the entry systems from Hornby/Bachmann don't have the highest reputations, and you probably need to up your budget to £150-£200 minimum for a good system that works "out of the box".  

 

3 - Turnout control can be what you want it to be.   Finger-poke, rods under the layout, motors with wires and switches, digitally controlled through either a digital panel, a real switch panel talking to the digital system or a computer/tablet.  Whatever you would like.   The more electronics you throw at it, generally it gets more expensive, but perhaps more flexible.   

 

4 - Power requirements depends on number of locos and how much current they take when running simultaneously.  Older locos tend to draw more current.   1A is on the low-ish side,  3A might be ideal for starting out in 00 scale.  

 

5 - Decoders are a can-o-worms.   My view is "don't buy cheap, when you can buy high quality", so I'd say buy the entry level Zimo decoders (£20 each) or a Lenz standard decoder (similar price) because they're really good decoders offering great motor control.   Old locos often need better decoders to tame them, and before you convert anything, if it doesn't run well on a DC controller it won't run well on DCC - a decoder can't fix a mechanically bad loco !

 

6 -  You don't need a DCC Sniffer (its a device to attach one DCC system to another).   Stay-alive is an additional component inside a locomotive to keep the loco running should it momentarily loose electrical pickup (dirty track, etc..),  its a "gold plating" trick for locos which already run well - shifts them to another level of reliability.     Boosters are for larger layouts (splits the layout into areas called "power districts", each with their own booster for the power to the track).   
To get started you need a DCC system and some decoders in locos, nothing else.   

 

7 -  I assume you mean "from your tablet or DCC controller", then the short answer is "accessory decoders" which are devices which control accessories: typically turnouts, uncouplers, etc..   Exactly what you need is another can-o-worms, depends on exactly what you are controlling and how you want to control it.  

 

 

Nigel

 

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Hi PMW.

I’ve not much to add to what Nigel has said, but if you are not yet that knowledgeable on the subject, it does seem rather premature to be considering self-build or DIY  DCC.

 

To be quite frank, you could end up wasting a lot of time and effort, with likely disappointing results, when it would be far more productive to buy proven, off- the- shelf and ready to go DCC kit and getting started very quickly.
If you think there are savings to be had by going DIY, and expecting equal results, I think you’ll quite disappointed.


It may seem like a glib phrase, but there’s a well known and true old motto that says “ DCC can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be”. Any newbe should take that motto quite literally.

 

Despite you having some idea about it, may I humbly suggest a bit more reading on the basic concepts (it really is simple).

Initially it may seem there’s a lot of jargon to be learnt and that might be off putting, but I think it’s important to use accurate and appropriate terminology in areas like this. Otherwise imprecise or incorrect use of terminology can lead to confusion, especially when asking for help  and can even underpin misunderstandings of the simple concepts involved. 

Some people here may think I’m daft, but I think the very first very basic step you need to take when making the mental switch from DC to understanding DCC, is to stop using the word “controller”. Why?  because it doesn’t strictly have the same meaning in DCC as we’ understand it with DC. I think it would help a lot more people and save a fair bit of confusion if they adopted that view.

 

I’m not sure if that helps you in any way.

cheers

Ron

 

 

 

 

.

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I am a newcomer to DCC as well and just gleaning all the info I can from people here.

 

One comment made very strongly is that continuity of power supply is critical and must be supplied direct to every turnout and most track sections.

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41 minutes ago, RobinofLoxley said:

I am a newcomer to DCC as well and just gleaning all the info I can from people here.

 

One comment made very strongly is that continuity of power supply is critical and must be supplied direct to every turnout and most track sections.

That's more reasonably a should not must in respect of turnouts. It makes sense with live frogs to provide the frog switch with direct feed from the "DCC bus" ( a couple of high current wires wound together running under the length of the layout carrying the track supply).

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I started first layout for 50 years, with DCC. It’s not rocket science, at least not at the level you need to know to start. I learnt at lot as I went, and from this forum.

i echo the comments about buying off-the-shelf items (at least to start with) because a quick plug’n’play will mean you’ll quickly grasp the basics. From there, you can opt for next steps, be they building your own, ancillary software, mimic panels etc.

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9 hours ago, Ron Ron Ron said:


Some people here may think I’m daft, but I think the very first very basic step you need to take when making the mental switch from DC to understanding DCC, is to stop using the word “controller”. Why?  because it doesn’t strictly have the same meaning in DCC as we’ understand it with DC. I think it would help a lot more people and save a fair bit of confusion if they adopted that view.

 

 

I do not think you are daft. That is a very good point which I think deserves to be explained.

The control system can be broken down into 3 parts.

 

Command System/Station: Each layout needs 1 and only 1 of these. It accepts operator input & sends control signals to the track or accesspry bus (& in some cases also receives information from the track).

 

Booster: This provides power to the track. A large layut may have more then 1 booster, each providing power to a separate section. Several boosters can be connected to the same command station.

 

Throttle: This is what the operator uses to send commands to the layout. Most command stations can support more than 1 throttle, which allows more than 1 operator to run the layout. The throttle will usually need to be the same brand ass the command station, but there are some compatible with each other. What command station you choose may well depend on what throttle you find works best for you.

 

Some systems combine 2 or more of these functions into 1 component: Hornby Select or Elite, NCE Powercab combine all 3 into 1.

 

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1 hour ago, RobinofLoxley said:

I am a newcomer to DCC as well and just gleaning all the info I can from people here.

 

One comment made very strongly is that continuity of power supply is critical and must be supplied direct to every turnout and most track sections.

There is much comment about track supply but in my experience it may be over the top. Continuity of supply is vital in DC and DCC, although a stay alive can help. I can never remember supplying power to every DC track and I don't think it's necessary for DCC. My neighbour has an extensive DCC layout with Peco Setrack. It works on two DCC feeds plus Hornby point clips. If your layout will be in the house and not moved (for exhibitions) I would have a DCC supply for each 'oval' and siding group. If you want live frogs, then these will each need a switched supply. Just make sure the track joiners are a good tight fit and the track kept clean. 

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4 minutes ago, grriff said:

There is much comment about track supply but in my experience it may be over the top. Continuity of supply is vital in DC and DCC, although a stay alive can help. I can never remember supplying power to every DC track and I don't think it's necessary for DCC. My neighbour has an extensive DCC layout with Peco Setrack. It works on two DCC feeds plus Hornby point clips. If your layout will be in the house and not moved (for exhibitions) I would have a DCC supply for each 'oval' and siding group. If you want live frogs, then these will each need a switched supply. Just make sure the track joiners are a good tight fit and the track kept clean. 

 

I agree that there is little difference between wiring a layout for DC or DCC.

 

I put a dropper on every single rail on the last DC layout I worked on.

It was someone else's exhibition layout & I would have felt dreadful if something failed at a show when I couldn't be there to troubleshoot it.

It worked flawlessly throughout its (6-7 year) life as an exhibition layout & has continued to do so since being given to the club I am a member of & I have never had to go back to fix anything I did on it.

Would it have been fault-free if I had used less feeds? Maybe. I do not feel I wasted any time or effort though.

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53 minutes ago, Pete the Elaner said:

What command station you choose may well depend on what throttle you find works best for you.

Not to be underestimated as a consideration if choosing a system. Some people are really comfortable using a virtual throttle on a phone or tablet, some of us are most certainly not. Knobs, sliders, handles - all are offered in the market place, and each must provide identical functionality to meet DCC standards. Some throttles have two separate throttles in one handset. Then there are issues of how much visual info you deem necessary - brief, terse and monochrome, or multi-coloured Starship Enterprise-style?

 

In a pre-Covid environment the standard advice was to visit a specialist DCC-dealer, to get a hands-on feel for several systems, but that may no longer be on offer in quite the same way. Do look at the market-place and see what is on offer in your price-range, and then see how much you can find out about each system on your short-list. Those specialists will still be your best bet for info. 

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45 minutes ago, Oldddudders said:

Not to be underestimated as a consideration if choosing a system. Some people are really comfortable using a virtual throttle on a phone or tablet, some of us are most certainly not.

I have tried most methods for manually controlling DCC operated trains.

e.g. Phone, tablet, push button DCC handset, computer screen & mouse

I have settled on a Roco Wi-Fi Maus which has a centre off rotary control like most DC systems. I like the fact that i can operate it one handed, which I just can't do with a phone.

I found that smartphone/tablet throttles were just too difficult to control accurately, however others seem to get on with them just fine.

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Maybe an extra consideration going forward. The one thing irritates me on my Prodigy Advance 2 (Both locos and points are DCC controlled) is the fact that one has to move back and forth between loco control and accessory control. Switch a point, and the loco you were driving disappears from the (small) screen. Return to the loco screen,  drive the loco forward To park, and you probably want to go back to the accessory screen to close the point. Talking to retailers they seem to say most systems are like this.

so I’m currently moving all points over to a DCC panel with combined switches and LEDs, so that I won’t need to change control views on the handheld throttle unit. With the added bonus of an illuminated route map.

 

that is a classic example of only by using it do you find what you like and don’t like. others may not be bothered by the screen switching, but I doubt if I could have anticipated this without the practice of operating.

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On 04/10/2020 at 10:05, Pete the Elaner said:

.....Some systems combine 2 or more of these functions into 1 component: Hornby Select or Elite, NCE Powercab combine all 3 into 1.

 


Actually, Pete, those three DCC systems combine all three functions (throttle/cab, Command Station and Booster) in one unit.

The Select and Elite being console based (Command Station, Booster and Throttle are combined in the console), where as the PowerCab houses everything (Command Station, Booster and Throttle) inside a handset.

 

 

.

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2 hours ago, grriff said:

There is much comment about track supply but in my experience it may be over the top. Continuity of supply is vital in DC and DCC, although a stay alive can help. I can never remember supplying power to every DC track and I don't think it's necessary for DCC. My neighbour has an extensive DCC layout with Peco Setrack. It works on two DCC feeds plus Hornby point clips. If your layout will be in the house and not moved (for exhibitions) I would have a DCC supply for each 'oval' and siding group. If you want live frogs, then these will each need a switched supply. Just make sure the track joiners are a good tight fit and the track kept clean. 


A point that seems to be overlooked regarding continuity of supply is resistance. If resistance is high then the layout may not shut down during a short, resulting in all the high current flowing and melted plastic. More droppers less potential resistance.

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I also use Multimaus's - very simple to use compared to other handsets which at the other extreme require a working knowledge of the coded buttons and display simply to get a loco to move. Downsides are most versions do not read back CVs, simple way round that is a SPROG unit https://www.sprog-dcc.co.uk/ attached to a dedicated programming track track using Decoder Pro on a laptop. Also the supplied PSUs can give out a higher than normal voltage which can either be mitigated by twin rows of diodes in one side of the track connection sufficient in number to drop the voltage or the use instead of an old laptop PSU.

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The idea of wiring a layout either DC or DCC and relying on just rail joiners I find insane.

You might get away with it, you might not.

Weigh up the hassle of adding extra droppers to a completed layout against the much less hassle of routinely providing them from new.

 

I had a DC layout with some long runs using Peco Streamline code 100 and relied on just the rail joiners.

Silly move. I soon ended up with problems with voltage drops along the run and had to add droppers.

When I started DCC a while back, adding plenty of droppers was a logical thing to do.

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16 minutes ago, Butler Henderson said:

I also use Multimaus's - very simple to use compared to other handsets which at the other extreme require a working knowledge of the coded buttons and display simply to get a loco to move. Downsides are most versions do not read back CVs, simple way round that is a SPROG unit https://www.sprog-dcc.co.uk/ attached to a dedicated programming track track using Decoder Pro on a laptop. Also the supplied PSUs can give out a higher than normal voltage which can either be mitigated by twin rows of diodes in one side of the track connection sufficient in number to drop the voltage or the use instead of an old laptop PSU.

If you are going to use a SPROG why not also try PanelPro which is packaged with DecoderPro? You can then use it to control your accessories and locos from the same screen. Worth trying before buying another system. 

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For throttle control in the future I can foresee voice activated throttles when the control is through a smartphone as the structure is already there. I have a few examples in industry already where the interface of an industrial control system is partly this way (for example an operator is not at the console when an emergency occurs, but can activate a stop through a headset). Just saying.

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29 minutes ago, melmerby said:

The idea of wiring a layout either DC or DCC and relying on just rail joiners I find insane.

You might get away with it, you might not.

Weigh up the hassle of adding extra droppers to a completed layout against the much less hassle of routinely providing them from new.

 

I had a DC layout with some long runs using Peco Streamline code 100 and relied on just the rail joiners.

Silly move. I soon ended up with problems with voltage drops along the run and had to add droppers.

When I started DCC a while back, adding plenty of droppers was a logical thing to do.

This is why I am rebuilding. I want my layout to be trouble free and at the moment it is anything but. I am in my late sixties now and don't want to be crawling under the layout in 10 years time. I noted while wiring reverse loops and sidings with separate power supplies via droppers that locos always started straight away on such sections, but in point-isolated sidings this almost never happens. 

As I will have longer track runs I will have to buy at least 1 box of flexitrack for the new layout and one consequence will be not quite so many droppers.

 

I am also preparing to have blocks and feedback locations defined and will be wiring accordingly. 

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18 minutes ago, RobinofLoxley said:

For throttle control in the future I can foresee voice activated throttles when the control is through a smartphone as the structure is already there.

Really?

Voice:

Speed; fifty nine miles per hour, Speed; fifty eight miles per hour, Speed; fifty seven  miles per hour, Speed; fifty six miles per hour ..........

i don't think so.

It works well with definitive commands such as "stop" but not when you need fine variable control.

 

BTW the technology has been on desktop computers for donkey's years. (pre smartphones)

I tried voice operated Word" a long time back.

PITA, manual was easier.

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20 minutes ago, RobinofLoxley said:

For throttle control in the future I can foresee voice activated throttles ....

Man alive that's all we need - an Exhibition full of Operators all yelling "Alexa, select loco XYZ123" into their controllers... :sarcastichand:  :jester:

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I'm afraid in my mind if it controls the train, then it's a controller. A controller contains a throttle, but other things too, such as direction selector, perhaps even light and sound control. Hornby and Bachmann both seem to use this phraseology so trying to change it, at least at the level I am contemplating seems counter productive.  It might become important in more complex systems, but that is not what I'm considering. 

 

The DCC routes I was looking at were either entry level Bachmann or Hornby units versus a ready built Arduino based system controlled via an android bluetooth device. The Hornby or Bachmann systems have the benefit of being off the shelf ready to go systems, the arduino route needs wiring and an enclosure but is preprogrammed and offers much greater functionality. Wiring this kind of system would be fairly straightforward though the more I think about it the more I am convinced for now at least to stick with DC most probably with a purpose built 4 channel controller, one channel each for outer loop, inner loop, sidings yard and the partial third loop and engine depot.

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