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Wireless DCC System - Raspberry Pi - Low cost - RMWEB

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Noel
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Any idea how well this would work and what it could control? Most of us are not software programmers though.....

Edited by DiveController
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Any idea how weel this would work and what it could control? Most of us are not software programmers though.....

 

Such techie 'projects' are really only meant for folk with two short antennas sticking out of the back of their heads. :)

 

Seriously though, it's an option for folks interested in tricking around with technology. It is one of the least expensive methods of having a DCC controller driven by one or more wireless cabs assuming folks can get access to old iPhones or an old iPad (ie running WiThrottle app). The advantage is its a black box solution that does not need to be connected to a running PC. A PC might only be used initially to configure and set it up. My WiThrottle setup needs JMRI running on a laptop connected to the NCE controller.

 

One other point. Touch screen wireless cabs such as WiThrottle have one huge limitation - they lack tactile feel of physical controls or buttons hence cannot be used by feel and require eye contact. A cab with physical controls or buttons can be used single handed without having to look down at a touch screen, and therefore enable the operator to watch the loco leaving the other hand free to do things like operate points, couple/uncouple stock, etc. However an iPhone is a very cost effective wireless cab for walking around a layout and watching trains run from all kinds of vantage points.

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Such techie 'projects' are really only meant for folk with two short antennas sticking out of the back of their heads. :)

 

Seriously though, it's an option for folks interested in tricking around with technology. It is one of the least expensive methods of having a DCC controller driven by one or more wireless cabs assuming folks can get access to old iPhones or an old iPad (ie running WiThrottle app). The advantage is its a black box solution that does not need to be connected to a running PC. A PC might only be used initially to configure and set it up. My WiThrottle setup needs JMRI running on a laptop connected to the NCE controller.

 

One other point. Touch screen wireless cabs such as WiThrottle have one huge limitation - they lack tactile feel of physical controls or buttons hence cannot be used by feel and require eye contact. A cab with physical controls or buttons can be used single handed without having to look down at a touch screen, and therefore enable the operator to watch the loco leaving the other hand free to do things like operate points, couple/uncouple stock, etc. However an iPhone is a very cost effective wireless cab for walking around a layout and watching trains run from all kinds of vantage points.

 

Much as I like to muck around with DCC, I don't think I'd be too keen on this myself. I just prefer to have a dedicated DCC controller rather than cobbling one together with various bits and pieces.

 

And I have to agree with Noel in that I wouldn't fancy controlling my trains from a phone touch screen, I prefer to twist a solid knob! :ROFL:

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Much as I like to muck around with DCC, I don't think I'd be too keen on this myself. I just prefer to have a dedicated DCC controller rather than cobbling one together with various bits and pieces.

 

And I have to agree with Noel in that I wouldn't fancy controlling my trains from a phone touch screen, I prefer to twist a solid knob! :ROFL:

 

I totally agree. Just posted it for info. I prefer to open a box, unpack, switch on and use technology as a mere appliance without complications or barriers.

 

I use plugin NCE cabs on our layout, but occasionally I enjoy walking around the outside of the layout using an iPhone as a wireless cab, and viewing trains on the move from different perspectives. When and only when using WiThrottle on my iPhone a laptop needs to be running JMRI. It would be nice if DCC manufacturers like Lenz, NCE, ESU, MRCC/Guagemaster, etc, produced a low cost black box interface for wireless cab apps (ie had JMRI api over WIFI including rosters for loco naming and sound function labels).

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It would be nice if DCC manufacturers like Lenz, NCE, ESU, MRCC/Guagemaster, etc, produced a low cost black box interface for wireless cab apps (ie had JMRI api over WIFI including rosters for loco naming and sound function labels).

 

I don't think that will ever happen. Those companies are too heavily invested in their own wireless systems (which are all excellent) to offer a cheap alternative which would allow operators to just use their mobile phone/tablet.

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I don't think that will ever happen. Those companies are too heavily invested in their own wireless systems (which are all excellent) to offer a cheap alternative which would allow operators to just use their mobile phone/tablet.

 

True. However NCE's wireless radio station is an $160 add-on, and a wireless pro cab is $250, so that's $410 for ONE wireless pro cab. Compared to $3 to connect an iPhone, iTouch, or iPad running 'WiThrottle' app to an NCE system using an RS232 serial cable. OK, it sucks because it doesn't have tactile feel of physical controls, but its free and wireless! (i.e. as an additional cab). Lenz don't have their own wireless cabs, instead have an interface to the 'TouchCab' app.

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True. However NCE's wireless radio station is an $160 add-on, and a wireless pro cab is $250, so that's $410 for ONE wireless pro cab. Compared to $3 to connect an iPhone, iTouch, or iPad running 'WiThrottle' app to an NCE system using an RS232 serial cable. OK, it sucks because it doesn't have tactile feel of physical controls, but its free and wireless! (i.e. as an additional cab). Lenz don't have their own wireless cabs, instead have an interface to the 'TouchCab' app.

 

I agree with you both that I'd prefer 'ready to go' system to start with, while still on steep part of the learning curve. IT, what system do you have? I know Noel has the NCE. What do you think in the best DCC system out there purely on its merits (leaving cost aside for the moment). I'm slowly getting to the point where I need to think of getting one:trains:

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The best DCC controller out there is the ESU Ecos after that the Roco Z21 system does almost everything the ESU does for half the price and you can plug most throttles into it.

The American systems are falling behind the European ones. The Z21 is now available for £250

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Hi Kevin

 

I don't think there is a best DCC system.

 

The choice of a DCC system is based on so many different factors, personal preferences, spec requirements and nature of ones layout. For instance, ergonomics of cab units can be a big issue for some users whereas others are less concerned about cabs and more about the system modularity, upgradability, performance, capacity, etc, or both. There are well priced entry level systems from the 'toy' manufacturers market and some are not bad performers for what they are. They can be good value to get started. The 'posse' can however be divided between small low power systems (e.g. 1.5-3amps) and higher power systems or systems that can be upgraded to higher power (>= 5amps). Power effects how many locos you can operate simultaneously which may be determined by layout size and characteristics. After 'power' is decided it seems to be personal choice. Obviously NMRA DCC compatibility is important and most full support this (i.e. anybodies decode should work with anybody else's control system). Some have larger semi-fixed style console type cabs, others purely handheld.

 

My suggestion, visit some stores, clubs or exhibition layouts and try out different systems running trains. You will know in seconds which system/cab is the one for you.

 

Alphabetical Order - Popular DCC vendors

  • Bachmann Dynamis
  • Digitrax Super Chief Xtra 5 Amp
  • ESU eCos 50200 + Navigator
  • Guagemaster/MRC Prodigy Advance + Ultima
  • Hornby Elite + Select
  • Lenz set 90 + set 100
  • NCE Powercab + Procab
  • Roco multiMaus
  • Zimo MX10

 

There are also emerging various PC systems (e.g. Hornby elink, JMRI linked to various black boxes such as this thread, etc)

 

Some links below. BUT be cautioned some of these are USA centric, Europe centric, or effected by 'fan boys' favourites rather than purely objective.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Command_Control

 

http://www.dccwiki.com/DCC_Systems_comparison

http://tonystrains.com/comparison-dcc-systems/

http://www.dccconcepts.com/index_files/dccbrandecisions.htm

http://www.dccbydesign.com/articles/dcc-starter-system.html

 

Lenz and ESU seem to have established significant market share in Europe in the model market, whereas NCE seem a key player is US model market.

 

PS: Apologies Dave, my post crossed with yours. I was probably typing. :)

Edited by Noel
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The Digitrax is in widespread use among American modellers in North America, The UK, Australia and New Zealand.

 

While the system is getting long in the tooth change or development of the operating system or throttle design would probably result in a certain level of resistance from individuals and clubs with large layouts, where it is pretty much the norm for visitors to turn up with their personal throttle plug into the Loconet network and start running.

 

With 15 years experience running a Digtrax system indoors and outdoors the main advantage are reliability, robustness and above all good after sales service. The command station from my original Empire Builder set bought in 1999 is still going strong. I still prefer the user interface on my DT300 Throttle from 2001 upgraded to RC in 2008 to the more recent DT400 series throttles introduced in 2005.

 

I suppose the most surprising thing is that DCC manufacturers like Digitrax, Lenz, NCE, Zimo do not appear to have designed their products in terms of planned obsolescence, but realised that modellers think long term in terms of control systems and getting the customer through the door to buy the starter set was just the beginning.

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Good discussion this!

 

As already said, when choosing a DCC system it's most important to find the one that works best for YOU. It's hard to make a judgement based on the various comparison's made on the web. The person doing the reviewing usually comes to a decision of what's best based on what works for THEM!

 

I ended up choosing the Gaugemaster Prodigy Advance 2 after doing a lot of reading and I don't regret it, it does everything I need it to do and can be expanded if necessary. Also, it's a lot more intuitive to use than either the NCE Powercab/Procab or the Digitrax systems which seem very unwieldy when it comes to programming. There are loads of videos on Youtube which will show you the programming process for all the various DCC systems. The fact that my 11 year old son was able to run and programme trains with it 5 minutes after unpacking it is a testament to how simple it is to use (the instructions are printed on the back of the throttle!).

 

The system has 3.5 amps of power which is more than enough to run several sound equipped locos at once (the similar spec Powercab only has 2 amps but that's reflected in the difference in price). The power required to run the layout is not effected by the layout's size. A 1amp dcc system will power a 20ftx40ft layout as well at it will a 2ftx4ft layout as long as the wiring is of adequate size.

 

As Mayner said after sales service is also important and Gaugemaster are excellent in this regard. I recently had an issue with the throttle knob on the controller, I sent it off to Gaugemaster and it was back to me fixed within 10 days, free of charge. The idea of having to send a faulty NCE or Digitrax system to the States was not something I was keen on.

 

Again, this is just my own opinion of what works best for myself….

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12vDC rotary controls to DCC: It's funny moving from DC to DCC was a curious migration for me. With DC you tend to 'control' everything precisely by hand using a rotary knob or slider, and have precision control shunting and simulating declaration and braking. Years ago I switched to what was then called 12v DC 'interia' controllers with 2 rotary knobs, one for 0-12v speed and the other for setting acceleration/deceleration inertia and braking action. I got used to one handed operation that did not require me to look at the controller, freeing my other hand for points, coupling, etc.

 

Knobs v Buttons: However moving to DCC most cabs used buttons INC/DEC or +/- to control speed rather than rotary knobs or sliders. I was fixated on finding a DCC cab with a rotary knob or slider. However once I started driving locos under DCC where inertia and braking is handled by the decoder and not my right hand, I soon realised using buttons to increase or decrease power worked really well, and better than sliders or knobs that would not have immediate effect. Buttons are actually more prototypical, you ask for a power setting and wait for the response to be achieved. The DCC cabs I went with had INC+1/DEC-1 and INC+4/DEC-4 buttons but also a roller wheel knob, which to my total surprise I never use. I tend to use only two buttons INC+4 or DEC-4 (i.e. increase or decrease speed steps by 4 steps) and let CV3 and CV4 look after the rest. With ZIMO 'real drive' sound decoders there is the addition of Fn4 for active braking which although totally alien and weird at first, is now my favourite decoder to drive a sound loco with. It is just so realistic and such fun to drive.

 

Wireless Cab for 'occasional' walk about: I felt I would like one single wireless cab so that I could walk around to any part of the layout, so connected to JMRI/PC and used WiThrottle smartphone app. It's cheap, very nice, especially for sound function labels, and can control two locos, BUT I only use it for 'walk about' operations because the touch screen means I have to look at it so my other hand is not as free to manipulate the layout or switches, etc. Now if the app could be modified so the the physical volume buttons on the phone adjusted throttle speed steps, then blind one handed operation would be possible. It's also a bit of a pain having to spin up a laptop and start JMRI, whereas with the physical DCC system, its power on and instant drive - like an appliance.

 

Switching back and forth between DCC and DC: I have started to wire track sections of the layout so they be switched between DCC and DC. This is really useful for running in, testing, servicing, fault finding (i.e. troublesome pickups, sticky running gear, etc), but most useful for running some of my older loco stock that will never be converted to DCC. At least they can get the odd run. It's also useful to compare a loco's performance running pure DC (i.e. with backing plate installed and decoder removed), against the same loco with the decoder installed in both DC mode and DCC mode. Really useful for fault finding and tuning motor drive CVs.

 

Anyway just the ramblings and observations of a relatively recent convert to DCC. :)

Edited by Noel
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Good afternoon, folks. Thanks very much to the several of you who all chipped in with advice. This has been very informative and definitely food for thought. I should have probably opened a separate thread when I asked the question. Certainly a great discussion and great advice. Thank you very much!

Edited by DiveController
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