Basic level digital

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perpetualnewbie

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I'm very new to this garden rail / G scale stuff, though I know my way around old-fashioned analogue OO indoor trains, and the basics of DCC. Having fun with some basic LGB trains but I wanted to seek your sage advice on digital.

In OO the emphasis of DCC seemed to be better slow running and the ability to run lots of trains. I never went digital (DCC) because I never really had to - I built small fiddly layouts where I ran one or two locos at a time, I quite enjoyed wiring different parts of the track with switches so I could choose which bits were powered by which controller regardless of the position of the points, and sound was always an optional extra I could easily ignore.

In G scale it seems as though the tech is similar but the reasons to engage with it are a bit different. I'll never have space to run shedloads of locos all at once, and the slow running is already very good. However bells and whistles aren't optional extras on new kit... if I want to buy nice locomotives they come with sound, lights, the works. Not having digital seems to mean missing out. Sometimes the sound doesn't seem to behave very nicely on analogue, other times it's just expensive deadweight. I can perhaps live with expensive deadweight on occasion, but not with paying for extra stuff that actually causes problems. So I feel a bit pushed into digital, to be honest.

I must admit I don't understand the terminology of LGB digital very well - I know what NMRA DCC is and how it works, but from the range of new and unfamiliar acronyms, there's some rival or extension technology here and I don't have a handle on how different it is or isn't. I've visited a friendly-but-not-very-local retailer a few times and he's been very patient with me, but I haven't really reached a conclusion on what I need, so I'm getting by with a simple, weak analogue starter set controller for now. Before I get much deeper into this I'm looking for a starter digital setup that doesn't break the bank and doesn't have a lot of features I won't use - I'm not going to be able to have clever electric points and signals for a long time, I don't want a massive colour screen, all I want to do right now is drive nice trains. It also needs to be comprehensible to the kids.

Friendly retailer has a super-fancy "Central Station 3" that he correctly identified as being beyond my budget and ambitions :) - but even if cash was no object I'm not sure I'd want one. I looked for a "next model down" but there seemed to be quite a gap below it (at least in what they had in stock); admittedly this might be my lack of understanding at work. Also, I got a bit confused about the differences between (older?) red-cased LGB stuff (though the secondhand prices were attractive!) and newer systems. So I'd love to hear what people think a good basic setup would be.

I noticed that LGB's new (or forthcoming?) releases catalogue includes a starter set with a digital controller, and that the digital controller looks like Marklin's "mobile station" (60637 EDIT - or maybe 60657 - argh) as a controller, connected to a small black box that just generates the control signal at the track, a PSU and nothing else. I've not seen this kit (and am not keen to buy a set with loco and track, as I have those now) but it looks a bit more like the level I was expecting. I'm a bit worried that I can't find any information about whether you can just plug a bigger power supply into that small black box, or whether the black box itself imposes a power limit. So in particular if anyone has one of these or knows about them, I'd really appreciate your view on whether it's up to scratch.

Thanks!
 
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PhilP

PhilP

G Scale, 7/8th's, Electronics
5 Jun 2013
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If know some DCC from OO, then you are ahead of the curve, for some of this..

Firstly, OO is very much 'plug and play'. - You open a loco, plug in a pre-programmed decoder, and off you go. -Probably only change the address?

With LGB (and other large-scale makes) there will be a lot more 'dirty-work' to install a decoder. - Many older Second-hand models will need fully taking apart, and you will be using the soldering iron a fair bit.

If you choose a supplier (of decoders) wisely, then they will be loaded with the correct sounds etc. for your particular model.



Now to the Central Station, Throttle, Power Supply etc.
I would not recommend buying the LGB 'red-box' components. - They are dated, and unless you know what you are buying, you can end-up with something which will disappoint.

Find a local G scale group (or 16mm) arrange to visit.. Go to open days, if you can. - You can see what people are using locally, and having 'someone' nearby who can help with the basics is worth a lot.

It sounds like you are already running more than one (or would like to) loco? - Unless these are small 'Stainz' (and the like) you will soon reach the limit of the power from a starter-set. Which tend to be 5 amps.

To increase power, you would then have to split the track into sections (power-districts) and have a booster for each section. - This is fine, until you end up with a number of trains all in the same section, being fed from one booster.

So it is probably better to spend more on your initial DCC setup, and wait to get more loco's.

As to make:
In the UK, Massoth is probably one of the most common? If only from the fact they initially supplied LGB with decoders etc.

I personally use a Digitrax system, as I inherited it, and it is a little 'kinder' when setting things up. - Lower track voltage, and current limit.

Other will chip-in soon..
 
Brixham

Brixham

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Hello from 'other'

I would second wot Phil says..

Join a local GSS area group. Find out what they have and play with it.

Don't buy a used MTS system..unless you're given one! ****

Oddly, was at a GSS 3CAG group meeting on Sunday, the host has CS2 ( or is it CS3), but uses ipad/Samsung phone for mobile throttles using marklin app. Just for loco control, points use LGB switch boxes scattered around the layout.

Malcolm

** However...if you come across an LGB 55006 MTS111 central station, this will accept the massoth bus system. You can use massoth for the outboard, then upgrade to a Massoth central should you desire. I wouldn't pay more than £75 for a 55006 though
 
Brixham

Brixham

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Marklin CSx controlled from an android phone...fairly sure there are no boosters...enough power for 2 double motored locos ( croc and RhB 4/4 )

loco selection very easy..just scroll through and click on the coloured image of the loco to run....and off you go....

Younger peeps will find this second nature

122403_285ce22748ecf73dc237e1e0a2b1579c.jpg


To see the full image..you'll have to wait for the Autumn GSS Journal!!!
Or join 3CAG and get it in the next newsletter!!!

Malcolm
 
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perpetualnewbie

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Thank you PhilP! New OO all seems to come with a decoder socket (if not already chipped) and there are only a few types of socket, but older ones need the soldering iron and are often really short of space. I'm a fairly happy solderer and G scale models seem a bit more spacious! So not much fear there.

I have one loco, my desire to buy a second is what kicked off this realisation that I should sort out my controller first. My current analogue PSU seems to be only 16v / 1 amp - no high speeds, and no chance of a second motor or even a single larger motor. I expect this is a dead end and will need replacing. I will never have space to run LOTS of locos or any really huge ones, but I would rather buy a big, hefty power brick and a simple controller - than something that will later prove too feeble. However I thought the larger standard PSUs were 5 amp? Should I be looking at pressing a spare industrial 24v/20A PSU into service rather than any of the model rail companies' offerings? (it's probably cheaper!)

OK, will steer clear of the red LGB stuff. Shall try to find a group...
 
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perpetualnewbie

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Wow, that's an impressive layout Brixham... I can see the appeal but to be honest I really don't want smartphone/tablet control. I love the fact that trains stop the kids noticing how little screen time they get in our household :-D Thanks also for the advice.

(Edit - you changed to a rather smaller picture, I think!)
 
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dunnyrail

dunnyrail

DOGS, Garden Railways, Steam Trains, Jive Dancing,
25 Oct 2009
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At your current level of a limited amount of Trains you could consider Battery. There are now available in UK 2 types of Battery DCC, I did a limited review on here in the Battery Forum. There is also the option of Battery with no DCC from either of the systems that I reviewed and indeed others as well. If you have a lot of Trains then Battery can be more expensive than DCC but with just a few the costs are much less. Horses for courses I guess. But with no Track Cleaning to worry about Battery has a lot going for it.
 
Brixham

Brixham

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Yep..I subsequently cropped the picture just to show the android phone...and a bit of the layout as a teaser.....

Malcolm
 
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perpetualnewbie

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Update:

- I decided I did want something that spoke Marklin/LGB dialect as well as standard DCC
- I've bitten the bullet and bought a Marklin Mobile Station and "gauge 1" track box.

Mini review:
This is as close as I could find to an entry level system oriented towards using new LGB digital locos out of the box. It's still not really cheap (at about 150 euro for the controller and track box) but I didn't find much competition at the price point. I don't have much kit to test it with but it's not really for the person with a huge pile of kit. Getting started in battery seems broadly price-comparable but I wanted to be able to run track-powered chipped locos without modification.

I like the Mobile Station controller. It's pretty compact but has fairly chunky buttons - not too many of them - and is easy to hold. The (blue monochrome) screen is bright and contrasty. My only reservations so far are with the speed control dial, unfortunately. It could do with sticking up a bit further so it's easier to avoid accidentally hitting buttons while twiddling. Also it's a continuous rotary switch, not a dial with a fixed range, so there's no tactile feedback when you hit zero or maximum. I appreciate this is a tradeoff and in return you get lovely fine control over speed, but I'm pretty used to analogue dials and I miss the end stops.

The controller makes basic functions (eg speed, light, sound, switching loco) pretty intuitive but its interface is too simple to do more complex stuff without it feeling fiddly, if you see what I mean. It's not really for that. It's just about right for someone with 1-10 locos who wants to drive one at a time and sound the whistles - which is what I was after. You can in theory control lots of points and other accessories with it but it feels to me as though in practice it would be cumbersome unless the extras were few and simple - I don't have the stuff to check. It recognised my digital loco (LGB's short but very boxy black 0-4-0 steam tank engine) very easily. Manual is reasonably clear, and short, as there's not much to it.

The "gauge 1" track connector box (the alternative is "HO"; I am not at all clear on the difference in boxes) is not a heavy duty bit of kit at all. A flimsy little plastic box with no vents, it's obviously not meant to shove a lot of amps around. It supports 1 or 2 Mobile Stations, has a barrel jack for a low-wattage power adaptor, and two longish but incredibly thin and flimsy wires to connect to the track. These end in crimped-on flat connector tabs; I modified my connector track to match but if I hadn't been able to do that I'd have had to void the warranty just to test the thing... I didn't buy the rather small wall wart Marklin recommend for it - the 3A LGB starter-set mains adaptor (I already had) fits and works fine. I did pop the lid off the connector box (two screws) out of curiosity; the power-handling components are tiny and have no heat dissipation so I expect this is not fit for much more. I don't expect this to drive more than one loco at a time, maybe two small ones. I guessed it'd be like this and accept this limit, but am disappointed there's no official power rating on the case, the box, the manual or the website.

Anyway it moves a loco and that will do! Clearly the big caveat is that I don't think I can ask much more of it than that. As far as I can see there is no intended / designed support for adding a booster. The only upgrade path they'll admit to is to buy a CS3, plug the Mobile Station into it for a second driver to play with, and leave the track connector box to gather dust on a shelf. That's rather a large cost and complexity leap, though at least the mobile station wouldn't go to waste. I do rather wonder if the Mobile Station's CANbus would connect to anything else instead...

Would I recommend this? Yes, to someone in the same boat as I am (only wants to drive, not control a massive sceneful of accessories) who accepts the limitations. No, to someone who wants more. No again, to someone who doesn't know what they want :) So I see why nobody jumped out and told me to "start with one of these!" but it fits the bill for me and I'm happy. Thanks again to everyone for the advice.