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Discussion Starter #1
Coming back to model railroading after a 25 year hiatus. Much has changed, specifically with wiring and control. To my thinking, it would be almost self-defeating to not go with DCC. So I have ordered a couple of books on DCC, but since it is all totally brand new to me, I was just wondering if any of you might have a suggestion as to what brand of controller you have had good experience with, or adversely, what brand you have not had a good experience with and would advise to stay away from?

I'm not lazy. I did a search through these threads but mainly come up on very specific problems rather than a general recommendation. Being new to DCC, I expect to have issues of course, but I would hate to purchase something only to find out that I maybe should have gone to a different or better brand or type. Thoughts?

Some humour....I went through old issues of Model Railroader (1994 were the latest issues in my collection, as well as a 1994 Walther's catalog)...BOY HAVE THINGS CHANGED !!! Particularly price-wise. So, obviously a DCC control and DCC locos are major investments when planning a layout. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
 

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Compared to others here I'm probably still very much a novice, to a large degree. I have been in a similar situation many times where I research something as much as possible until I finally land on what I think is the best solution... only to find out once I buy it and use it for a while that something else might have been better, or I need additional stuff.

So, with that said, you can get into DCC for a relatively small amount by getting a NCE powercab starter kit for $175, more or less depending if you can find a deal. It is a complete controller/programmer in a handheld unit and is enough to run several trains.

If (when) you decide you want more stuff you haven't spent a ton of money to get your feet wet.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the reply, Tom. There really is no chance that I would choose not to go with DCC. That being said, price is always a consideration, but that is life isn't it. My cost would be closer to just south of $300, taking into consideration the dollar exchange rate, and Canadian taxes. But hey, it is what it is. I have ordered the books pictured in my post. Actually ordered them yesterday afternoon and they will arrive sometime today...gotta love Amazon Prime. Once I jump into those books and get a more familiar understanding of the DCC system, I should have a better idea of what I need. I will run probably no more than 2 locos at a time on a small layout (still to be designed) with some switching, but I will have to have one loco running in a loop. Grandson, and kids of my nieces and nephews will want to watch a train go round and round, right? I am looking at the NCE Power Cab Starter. Seems to be right about what I would need to get my feet wet. I still have much to learn, though.
 

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If you haven't yet, look on ebay.ca:

added: My links don't appear to work, but go to ebay canada and search for nce powercab starter set. I see some prices around $235.
 

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Take your time and investigate all the various "controller options" out there.

Do you want a "pushbutton" controller?
Or... might you be interested in a "graphical interface" paradigm instead?

Will "wired" be ok?
Or... would you consider "wifi/wireless" control?

I prefer the "graphical" interface using wifi instead of wired.
But that's my choice -- you need to decide for yourself.

I chose the Roco z21 and run it from an Android (Samsung) tablet.
But the z21 software can also control the Digikeijs dr5000 controller as well. So you can use the z21 software with the Digikeijs hardware (but you also need a PC running Windows or a Mac running Windows under emulation to set up the Digikeijs).

If you have any of the following:
- Android smartphone
- Android tablet
- iPhone
- iPad
... you can try out the z21 software in "demo mode", free. You can't do this with most other dcc systems.

It won't actually run the engines on your layout without the z21 or Digikeijs hardware, but you can get an idea of just how it will work.

If you have an Android device, go to google play and search on "roco z21".
The app you want is the one with the red loco on the blue background.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, go to the Apple Store and again search on "roco z21". Same red loco on the blue background.

Then, give it a try.
You can see how the controller works, how you add/remove change locos and functions, the programming interface, etc.
 

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Just remember, go cheap, be dissappointed and pay again for a better system later. Go unique and seldom heard of, good luck with support, from the few other users or having to wait for a response from the manufacturer.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Each of these responses have been very helpful so far. I thank you for your replies. One thing that I will say, is that I am a firm believer in "you get what you pay for", so D&J Railroad's (Ken) advice rings true with me. J.Albert1949, you offer an alternative option that may be worth at least checking out. As I get into this while reading the books that I have just received, I'm sure I will have some more specific questions. I have only the most basic understanding of what I need at the moment. Thanks again.
 

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Tommy

You are doing the right thing in your research. It
never hurts to read up on what you plan.

However, many of the books and essays on DCC are
far above the heads of most of us. So many of their
suggestions apply to very large layouts with multiple
operators, such as model railroad clubs.

From the standpoint of the every day layout owner
simplicity is the key. You need only a DCC controller
which will come with it's power supply and control
device. Two wires from it go to your track (if large
layout, create a bus of those wires and drops from
the track every 6 feet or so). Your system will put
a continuous approx. 14 Volts modified AC on your
tracks. You loco and car lights stay on and don't
dim or go out. The track also carries the digital
information for the locos decoders. That's it. No need
for boosters, special circuit breakers and power
sections. You can
run 3, 4 or even more non sound locos with the
power that comes with the typical system. Unless
you have a 'reverse' loop that can turn a train around
to go the 'other way' you won't need any other
device. If, however you run sound locos, you may
need a booster since they draw more current.

There are 4 major brands of DCC systems. Digitrax,
NCE, MRC and Bachmann. All are quality made and
are fully compatible with any DCC loco. Higher
priced units offer more features.

DCC will run on any track using any turnouts. There
really is no such thing as a DCC compatible turnout
as some claim.


Don
 

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If you read the linked comments on the Model Railroader forum, then you got a good overview.

I think you'll find that the brand that most people recommend is the one that they have; and that more than anything else ought to tell you that of the Big 3 plus 1 (more on that below), there isn't one brand that kills the others; it's a matter of personal opinion and taste. Personally, I own an MRC Prodigy Wireless, and yes, I would unhesitatingly recommend it.

So what are the Big 3: Digitrax, NCE, and MRC. And the Plus 1 is the Roco z21 system. You won't go wrong with any of them. But do yourself a favor: if at all possible, try before you buy. Find a dealer who sells a couple of different brands, or a big train show where they are on display. The differences between these systems is in the so-called human interface (in other words, how the user interacts with the hardware), so find the one that feels right, looks good, and presents information clearly and accessibly (for you, because everyone is different). The Big 3 use a combination of buttons and knobs; the z21 uses a touch screen interface. The reason I call this one out separately is because it's a love-it-or-hate-it thing. Some, like J.Albert, swear by them. Others, like me, swear AT them. You couldn't tear him away from it; you couldn't pay me enough to use it. Who's right? Either of us. It depends on you. Likewise with the other systems. So try before you buy.

Now DonR included Bachmann in the list of brands; I didn't. There's a reason for that. Bachmann (and MRC, for that matter) makes a "limited feature" system called the EZ Command. It's much cheaper than the others, and it's main limitations are single throttle operation (I.e., one driver at a time), and inability to tweak the programming of your locos. It's a great little system, if you're fairly certain you're not going to want to expand. BUT Bachmann's full-featured system (Dynamis) doesn't measure up to the others. It's primary drawback is that it's still only a one-operator system, and the interface uses variable buttons (what each button does changes depending on what screen you're on) and a small joystick, which is very awkward. If you want to make ANY expansions (more operators / throttles, signal repeaters for longer range, power boosters), you must first purchase a $400 upgrade called the "Pro Box", whereas the other systems can do this right out of the box. For this reason, I can't recommend it.

Hope that helps.
 

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One caveat to what CTValley said is that the ez-command once offered a companion add-on, so 2 people could operate at the same time. I don't think it's still available commercially (not sure why) but you can find them on Ebay. I got one that way, although I don't use it, it came with something else.

I also wouldn't recommend the ez-command, EXCEPT for having an easy console for people who aren't acquainted with the controller. It's just got a few buttons and a knob for speed, so it's easy for just about anyone to be able to run trains with little or no training (like a kid... or a wife :) I use mine to run my holiday layout for that exact reason.

ADDED: It won't give you any real programming functions so it's not good for much other than an easy console to run the trains, blow a horn, ring a bell, etc.
 

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Research is always good but don't over do it.
They have to fill up all those pages with something so they deal with
the most complex setups possible. There is a lot of very advanced stuff there
that you most likely do not need. Just get the basics and go from there.
There is plenty of help here on MTF for any questions you have.

DCC can be as simple as DonR suggest or as complex as you can imagine.
It can sound complex and confusing but in reality it's pretty simple to get started.

I run a Digitrax system and love it, would recommend a DCS52 system, can run
6 or more sound locos right out of the box, nothing else required.
Everything you need is there, can be expanded to hand held controllers easily.
I do a lot of switching operations and like having a fixed base station.
Can do all my switching without even looking at the controller.
I have a hand held controller but get tired of holding it and tripping on the cord.
It is also a pain to do the kind of switching I do.

Others love their NCE systems just as much and they are indeed good.
NCE will do just about everything a DCS52 will do and many like them a lot.
It's a personal preference type thing.
You can't go wrong with either one. Don't know about the others.

As for locos most any of the new locos are very good running.
The extra cost comes from having sound (which I like) and added detail.
Bachmann run good but low detail, Atlas, Walthers, BLI and MTH are more expensive
but more detailed. I kind of rate them in that order but it's pretty close.

Like I said DCC can be pretty simple and there is plenty of help here.

Good luck with you layout and have fun.

Magic
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Don

After reading the "Basic DCC Wiring" book pictured above, I can say that your comments are correct. I get the gist of DCC now, but most of the info in the book is a bit overload for my needs.

The general idea of DCC is not complicated. It did get a little mind-scrambling when it came to turnouts, but it was getting late and the brain cells were starting to shut down. I will re-visit that information and get a good understanding of it.

The book on "Projects and Applications" will come in handy as I get further along in the process.
 

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Tommy

There is a lot of confusing information concerning
turnouts and DCC. Ignore it. The simple fact is
that any turnout on the market is just fine for
DCC. Some claim to be DCC compatible. Of course
they are, so are any other turnouts you could buy.
This claim is based on the turnout 'frog'. Some
small or 4 wheel locos must have a powered frog
to avail smooth transit thru the turnout, but it
has nothing to do with DCC. Most of today's locos
can use non powered frogs.

There is, however, on the market, special stationary
decoders that permit you to throw your turnouts
using your DCC controller. Some find this very
desirable, but it is not a requirement for the typical
DCC layout.

Don
 

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Tommy

My setup is a simple loop at present. I do want to have turnouts and run at least 2 different locos at once and have gone with the Z21 control.
I prefer the visual controls of the Z21 and was able to save some money by buying 1 on ebay from Germany. You will need the Z21 control, a router, an europeon to USA power adapter and a unlock code as well as an android or apple device to control the app.
Depending on how much stuff you might already have, you can get setup for around $150 usd.
I am very satisfied with my choice of the Z21 and highly recommend it.

Good Luck and Happy Railroading.
 

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Tommy

BTW, you can find a ton of videos on "youtube.com" on the Z21 or any of the other controls which I found extremely helpful.
 

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A YouTube video can show you how it works and what it looks like, but it can't tell you how it feels in YOUR hand (which may be significantly larger or smaller than the guy making the video), and certain conditions like arthritis can make one controller feel better than another.
 

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Other than your controller (I too have NCE PowerCab), what about the benchwork you'll build the RR on ? I strongly advise to not go with the flat plywood sheet (usually 4'x8').
This type is an old archaic method which makes it very very difficult to do do wiring, grades/tunnels, hills rocks, vallies, track laying and maintenance, on and on..
Learn open grid and/or L girder benchwork; a little more involved but pays off later on, big time.."Model Railroad Benchwork" by Lynn Wescott is the go-to book for that, and others.. Plus YouTube videos and threads right in the forum...M
 

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The three I would look at, are Digitrax, ESu, and North Coast Engineering. Each has a good support, are well established, and have expanding product lines.
 
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