As far as I’m concerned that means not having a fixed control panel. It’s entirely possible to walk round with a controller like the ‘Compact’, but it really comes into it’s own when used with an LH30 handset. This gives you full control of all functions, accessories, points and locos from a single device that can be operated anywhere it can plug in (or further afield if the cable is extended far enough!). Though if this isn’t one of your main requirements there are console controllers available such as the Ühlenbrock Intellibox (a.k.a. Fleischmann Twin-Centre).
Simple really – each loco has it’s own address so it can be driven autonomously from any other. This does have it’s drawbacks – double heading or consisting can be a bit of a pain depending upon the command system and compatibilities, or otherwise, of the decoders in use. It’s okay on the Lenz, but like all command systems it requires the locos to be fairly closely matched for double heading. However, the loco control is a real boon on simple layouts where the ‘two wires to the track’ myth may be borne out. And of course if you’ve got a loco shed or some other feature that requires a few locos to be operated intensively then DCC dramatically reduces the amount of track sectioning/switching compared to that required for analogue.
Okay - so I know an analogue system can be wired for two controllers fairly easily. The question is this; what about for three controllers, or five(!). For a start it's going to be hard to get that many people around a control panel; or you've got to build various panels to cover seperate sections of control, with handovers or heirachies where the sections meet. With DCC (or at least with Lenz' X-bus system) all you do is run a length of four-core telephone cable as a 'bus' around the layout with sockets (usually 5-pin DIN 180 types) spaced out along its length. And then all you need to do it plug the handset in where you're operating. And remember that handset can control points, accessories and locos. The Lenz system has a nice little touch in that you can set a train operating, unplug the handset, move to another socket, plug in and the train will keep running the whole time. Good eh?
We're now starting to get our heads (and ears) around this one. It's fair to say that all sound systems are restricted by the small size of the models, and therefore the speakers within them are small. However, as with a decent set of headphones it is possible to get reasonable performance out of a small driver if some effort is made to acoustically'couple' the speaker to it's environment.
It's certainly not simply a matter of bunging a speaker into a model and wiring it up. Like audio/hi-fi speakers the size and shape of the enclosure the speaker is in makes quite a difference. Thankfully there are some useful technical white papers out there and we'll follow up our investigations with some references and 'how to' pieces - once we've worked out where the good stuff is.
There are also some intriguing options for factory-fitted sound units; we've actually already started evaluating most of the sommon options and will feed back on the good ones as we find them. And of course we'll cover off a number of the most popular after-market sound decoders. As you'd expect we'll be looking for good running, ease of programming and all our usual criteria; as well as good sound.
My fave DCC reason. This one comes down to simple physics. At slow speeds a typical analogue system is trying to punt a couple of Milliamps at a few volts across a very ‘lossy’ rail/wheel interface. So stalling can be a real problem. If you switch to DCC, the command station (and here the ‘Compact is our example, once again) will attempt to drive around 18-20 volts across that interface with up to 3A behind it. So, smoother running and less stalling. Incidentally the same argument explains why DCC is much more immune to voltage drops in layout wiring, with a 12v DC loco there’s around 6-8v that can be ‘lost’ in a cable run before it’ll really affect the performance of the loco.
Related to the comment, above, about good slow speed running is the general point about good running with DCC. I tend to use decoders that can be tailored, through their CVs, to different motor types. If, like me, you have a number of different motor types in your models you’re probably aware that different motors like different controllers. With the motor set up CVs you can select the best type of control for that particular model. Zimo, in particular have a very comprehensive section in their decoder manual about how to set up the CVs for the best motor performance. The differences this can make to the running can be quite surprising.
Let me try another analogy. You have a model loco that’s a prototype you like, but it’s too fast (or slow, or something) so you don’t use it too often. You have two choices to improve its running; change the motor and gearbox or alter a couple of CVs on a decoder. I know which I’d choose to do!
This was something I identified as being a potential technology but couldn’t work out how to make it happen when I first bought into DCC (I’m not an electronics kinda guy!). Thankfully two manufacturers (at least) have agreed with me; Lenz provide their ‘Power 1’ and Zimo provide an open technology for making on board power units. This is the last piece in the slow-speed running of small locos. With the Lenz ‘Gold Mini’ and ‘Power 1’ combination we have available to us a unit small enough to fit into HO scale 4-wheel shunting locos that enables them to run smoothly and surely over pretty much any trackwork at any speed. And by 4-wheel shunting locos I don’t mean anything big; in the cab of a Brawa Kof2 or V15, for example.
Well I don’t, but many do. And if you model American RRs it’s nice to be able to switch on/off your ditchlights, headlights, Gyralites etc. Or operate Swiss standard marker lights, or Norwegian ones or… You get the picture I’m sure. I’ve done it once or twice to odd models so I assure you it can be done. Still seems a bit ‘toy train’ to me, though I concede it’s useful to know which end is ‘forward’ on a diesel or electric loco…
Back to this one again eh? This is always going to be contentious, some maintain that computers have no place in model railways; some wanting to automate everything. I’m a little bit more pragmatic than either of those points of view.
I’m generally of the opinion that a computer is little more than the modern technology equivalent of a 3lb lump-hammer. It’s a tool that’s useful for a lot of jobs; but it can’t easily be used for everything. In the same way that you can’t easily use a 3lb lump-hammer for doing the same jobs as a spirit-level…
So I use mine primarily for programming decoders and thanks to the SPROG DCC programmer and JMRI software it’s very easy and intuitive to do so. If you’ve got a PC it’s worth thinking about whether it could help you operate or plan or programme things pertinent to a model railway; but if you haven’t got one, don’t go out and buy a PC especially!