Discussion in 'FAQs' started by plbab, Mar 27, 2002.

  1. plbab

    plbab Member

    Who makes these? What is a good one? Besides the controller what else do you need ? Sorry about all the questions new to this
  2. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    DCC in three easy lessons!

    Basically, the way DCC works is using a "digital" signal. Instead of your controller varying the voltage on your tracks, to make the loco speed up, move along, or stop, you have a constant 12 V DC supplied to the tracks. This does NOT vary.

    A computer chip (or your computer) then puts a digital signal across the tracks, that a tiny circuit board in the locos detects and varies the voltage within the loco only, to get it moving along or stop.

    Each message generated by the computer chip (or computer) is directed at a specific loco.

    If I turn my cab controller "up" to make the loco go faster, instead on increasing the track voltage, it will generate something like this:

    44;001;002;003 etc (This is only an example)

    The number 44 will be the loco number
    001 will be "slow speed"; 002 maybe "turn the lights on", and 003 may be "toot the whistle".

    To us DCC (Digital Command Control) you need to put a small circuit board (called a "decoder") in each loco. You also need a "Command Station". and you also need one/more cab controllers. The "Command Station" is plugged onto the tracks, just as your current controller is.

    The circuit board in the loco detects and understands the computer "commands" the Command Station generates and puts across the tracks. The cab controllers are plugged into the Command Station, so you can have more than one operator.

    Alternatively/additionally, you can plug your computer into the "Command Station" and use your keyboard to control you trains.

    It is NOT a cheap system. If you want sound (steam choof choof, or diesel etc). Yes, you can do that, using a little speaker in the loco) you will be up for more than $100 US per loco for the circuit board ("Decoder"). Basic decoders (no sound, just forward reverse, light on/off) cost around $40 per loco.

    The Command Station, anywhere between $350 - $500 US for a good one that has all the features. The Cab Controllers, are about $50 - $100 US each.

    Prices are, of course, getting cheaper all the time.

    Check out the NMRA site for a very detailed explanation of DCC and the "Standards" they have defined.

    The good thing about DCC is that it lets you have as many locos as you like on a single piece of track, going in any direction you like at whatever speed you set, because it is the chip inside the loco, that controls it, not the voltage across the tracks.

    I use this site as a base for DCC stuff. It's an OZ site, but I check it regularly for updates etc. I will eventually go DCC, but not right now. Too costly.
  3. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Plbab -

    For cheaper systems, try the ATLAS Commander or the MRC Prodigy systems.

    For more expensive systems (more features, some of which you may not need), try the DIGITRAX Empire Builder or Chief. The Chief will run an entire MRR club layout!

    The first thing to do is to look at the features and deside what YOU want the system to do. Just run trains? How many? Control turnouts? Want a sound system? Etc.

    For a DCC comparison, try:


    (Somewhat dated - does not include the Commander upgrade to more functions without the throttle).

    Myself, I'm leaning toward the Commander or the Prodigy. I run a small layout, and will not have more than 3-4 locos going at a time. I want a minimum number of functions, as those control sounds, which I do want!

    Good hunting!

    - George
  4. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    One thing to look for other than the most loudly advertised features such as # of locos, throttles, etc. is the programming features. My argument for buying top of line systems rather than "beginner sets" is that, in digitrax, which I am familiar with, the chief lets you read back cv settings (read/write), while empire builder does not. I am not sure whether empire builder allows ops mode programming. That is, programming on the main as oppsoed to a programming track. I'm pretty sure the empire builder does not allow you to program a loco without interferring with an operating session. Yes, you can upgrade to a chief from empire builder, but it will cost more that way than just buying the chief up front. Once you start using DCC, it won't be long before you want that upgrade, so keep it in mind.

  5. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    I agree with Gary on one main point:

    Determine what you need (or will want), and buy the DCC system on that basis. "Upgrading" is too expensive, and newer systems may have features or design that the older ones can't be upgraded to!

    Think of: Beta, VHS, DVD !

    Now if you really need features such as "on-the-roll" programing and programing feedback, that's up to you. But it will cost you!

    When price comparing, also look at the "other" things that are needed. Do you have to buy a separate power supply or throttles? Be sure to add those prices to the cost of the base unit!

    Also remember that you need to buy the DCC chips, too!
    Unless you have all Atlas Master Series locos, which do come with the chip. For other brands, "DCC ready" only means you can install the chip, NOT that it has it!

    And sound chips (Soundtraxx) are more expensive (plus you need to install a speaker, too).

    You can buy a lot of chips for the price difference ($200) between a Commander and a Chief!

    I think DCC (whatever the system) is the only way to go in MRRing! Have fun!

    - George
  6. rockislandmike

    rockislandmike Active Member

    My hobbystore guy and I had a chat about DCC last Thursday night for an hour or so (it's the only night he's open late, but he's still not that busy). He recommended against the Atlas system, which was my first choice - inexpensive (relatively) but still had wireless as an option. I'm getting Digitrax Empire Builder for my b-day - more than what I need to start, but still the way to go. A lot more people have the Digitrax controllers, and not only does it allow you to control more trains, but allows four-number addressing (so you can use the loco number), and has more features, such as ditch lights, flashing strobe, etc. (the Atlas just has fwd reverse and front/back light).

    It'll cost about double what my wife gives me for my b-day ($300), but if I put a little towards it, and use some other b-day money, shouldn't be a problem. And then I'll be set for the next 5+ years. And then I can buy one decoder at a time (I'll probably get a couple to start, decode my fave engines, and then you can always run one other train on analog).
  7. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Based on my own experience, the reason I advise top line systems as I did is that newbies really have no idea and no way of knowing what features they will want when it comes to programming capabilities. The ability to read back cv's may not seem important to someone who hasn't had exposure to DCC yet. After installing several decoders and feeling good about themselves, they will want to adjust a speed table. Shortly thereafter, they will wish they could read back the settings. No, you don't have to have achief to do so, you can do so with an empire builder if you also buy a PR-1 or equivalent, which uses your PC to program. Not being computer literate enough and having no desire to connect my PC to my railroad, I chose the chief. If your financial situation is such that it is really hard to come up with enough for a starter set, then by all means do so. If you have the wherewithall to go with a chief but want to save money because you don't need 99 locos (or whatever) you would be better off buying the chief anyway. That was what I was trying to get at.

  8. rockislandmike

    rockislandmike Active Member

    PS apparently consisting is a LOT easier with Digitrax as well.
  9. Woodie

    Woodie Active Member

    I was just about to mention "consists". (being able to treat 2 loco's as one) using DCC. That' also needs to be considered. (If you wish to run double/triple headers.)
  10. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Some more points:

    Both the Prodigy and Commander systems allow you to do consists. Prodigy claims to be the easiest (I don't know if this is true - just what THEY claim!).

    The new Commander upgrade allows five functions, so you can control more lights and/or sounds.

    I would strongly encourage anyone who either has or wants a DCC system to check out the following forums:

    Atlas DCC: http://forum.atlasrr.com/forum.asp?FORUM_ID=6

    Yahoo digitrax: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/digitrax/

    also look at the following DCC related web sites:






    The DIGITRAX E.B. and Chief are fine systems. They cost, but as they say, you get what you pay for. However, if you DO know what you want, and the Atlas or MRC system fits your needs, then you can get into DCC for a lot less money - that is MY point!

    - George
  11. JeffGerow

    JeffGerow Member

    Remember that there are more systems than Digitrax, Atlas and MRC -- I, too, was interested in sound when I bought my system (as well as operating a Roco Crane) -- Comparing the ease of use for functions led me to the North Coast Engineering System (NCE). NCE is comparable to the higher end Digitrax systems and much, much easier to use. Actually, it's not so much that it's easier to use -- but rather, it's easy to remember what "stuff" does -especially with the English language prompts. I rarely have to look at my manual (which is very well-written, incidentally) to perform a function (like programming) that I don't do often. [Digitrax owners must keep their manuals handy].

    Before you commit to any system, try out the controllers -- that is your interface to the system, and is really the basic difference between the systems [other than lacking some functions, etc.] -- remember - all the systems are talking to the same decoders (as all DCC decoders work with all DCC systems (thank you NMRA!)). Find a controller you like (or can put up with) and you have found your system.
  12. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    One other consideration: What is available and popular in your area? It's nice to have something that you can get serviced locally, that you can get advice on, and talk to other users of. Try them out with a local club if you can.

    I operate with a fellow who uses Lenz because a club he was in was using it. Changing controllers is like changing your TV remote -- you keep pushing buttons that aren't there anymore.
  13. Matthyro

    Matthyro Will always be re-membered

    Very interesting reading and all opinions make sense.
    I went to my hobby store with this in mind.
    My layout is walk around and I wanted to be able to follow my trains without having to plug in and unplug as I move around as I had to do with my old controlmaster 20. The owner of the hobby shop took the time to review everything and suggested Digitrax Empire Builder using infrared communication or using radio to communicate. The alternative was the NCE using radio.
    Only the NCE is offering two way radio that is being able to choose different loco numbers or other programming but there was no word when this would be available. Digitrax radio is one way only so one needs to plug in to change locos. The cost of radio is high and every throttle has to have an added card.
    I opted for the infrared. I will need three IR receivers when my layout is complete but I am amazed by how good the control is with just one IR receiver. Most Digitrax throttles are infrared ready so the cost is much less.
    I opted for the Digitrax Empire Builder with an IR receiver. I also upgraded to the DT400 throttle. What I like about some of the Digitrax throttles is that you can operate two seperate locos because it is two throttles in one. So far I am very happy with it.
  14. billk

    billk Active Member

    Hey guys - Let us not forget that plbab is new at this.
    Hey plbab - I hope you aren't laboring under the misconception that DCC is required.:)
  15. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    It's NOT ???!!!

    NOW you tell me !!!!! ;)

    Ok, ok - it's not "required", but CAN make your MRR hobby a lot more fun and realistic !

    And you get to argue for your selection everafterwards, it seems ! ;)

    - George
  16. plbab

    plbab Member

    IMRL393: I am 45 min sw of QCA is there a "good" hobby shop around? I know it is not required but thought it might be nice. Will not start with one i need to look into more.
  17. IMRL393

    IMRL393 Member

    Prodigy system

    Those looking at the MRC Prodogy system might want to read this exchange!


    For me, entry systems now boil down to either the Atlas Commander or the Digitrax Empire Builder!

    - George

    PS Plbab - have you been able to check out the Midwest Trains model shop yet ??? (The address was on the e-mail I sent you)
    What did youi think of it ???

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