Another one for the beginners - DC vs. DCC

DKRickman's picture

There's a lot of hype out there.  There's a lot of noise.  I've seen some posts on this and other forums asking for a little clarification about things, especially DCC.  I've also seen a lot of folks who seem to say that you have to go with DCC these days, or go home.  Beginners should start with DCC, and not even look at the old DC controls.  Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

So how about a statement about what you like, and why?  Keep it simple, keep it to the point.  Imagine you're a new modeler, or one looking at the possibility of converting to DCC because of all those nice sound equipped engines.   What would you like to know before making the decision?




DKRickman's picture

I like DCC

I've been a modeler for about 20 years now (longer if you count my Lionel days).  I've used DC and DCC, and while I like both, I am a big fan of DCC and I believe it is worth the investment for the following reasons:

  • Sound!  For years I looked for a way to make my steam engines sound like steam engines.  I even crammed a 9V battery and Circuitron sound system (remember those?) into the tender of an HOn3 2-8-2.  The sound was so-so, when it worked.  I LOVE the new sound decoders (especially the Tsunami).  For $100 or less, I have a sound system that is better than any I have ever heard before, cheaper, and smaller.  How great is that?
  • Control. Even on my little layout, with just a Zephyr and a homemade throttle on the jump port, I can easily run multiple engines.  I can bring a train in, then flip over to another engine to grab a car off the rear, or move out of the way.  I only run one engine at a time in most cases, but it's amazingly simple to use multiple engines sequentially, and without thought to blocks or locations.
  • Simplicity in wiring.  My layout is one big block.  It's small enough to run from a single booster, so there is one bus running the length of the main line, and every track is fed off of that.  I didn't have to plan an operating session to figure out where I might need insulated gaps.  I didn't have to run multiple busses for multiple cabs.  Heck, I didn't even think about power.  I just laid the track where I wanted it, soldered the joints, and then ran feeder wires wherever it seemed appropriate.
  • Clean appearance.  Because I use manual ground throws on all of my switches, there is nothing at all on my fascia at the moment.  I will eventually add some station names, but that's about it.  No control panels at all, no block switches, no cab selectors, nothing.  It looks really neat and clean, and I like that.  It helps me focus on the railroad, not the layout.
  • Adjustability.  I like the fact that I can tune an engine to run in a particular way.  I can adjust the top speed, the throttle response, the direction of travel, everything.  I no longer have to worry about whether I can run a Kato and an Athearn engine together in a consist - I know I can.
  • Handheld throttles.  While there are DC handheld throttles (and as I mentioned, I've built one of my own), most commercial DC throttles are of the power pack variety, made to sit on a flat surface.  By comparison, the majority of DCC throttles I've seen are designed to be handheld or even wireless.  While it's not a feature specific to DCC, it is an aspect of the available systems, and I like it.  A lot.
  • Better operation.  It may be just my imagination, but I think that my engines run better on DCC.  I strongly suspect that the full voltage on the rails helps to make better continuity, especially when running a short engine at slow speeds.  I think that my little Thomas runs more reliably on DCC than DC.
  • Constant power.  I like having a full 14V available for lights, sound, etc, even when the engine isn't moving.  It has the advantages of the old high-frequency AC lighting systems, but without the complication of having to build it yourself or install capacitors on the motor.

Ken Rickman

Danville & Western HO modeler and web historian

http://southern-railway.railfan.net/dw/

Consider the Problem, then select the Solution

Dear Ken,

As the first (and possibly only) witness for the defense:
(Full Disclosure: I am not anti or pro _either_ of the 2 control system options here in court today,
but I am very PRO the concept of "selecting the best solution for a given problem").

1 - Let's first ask the question that _really_ matters

How many _simultaneous_independent_human_operators_ is the layout intended to handle?
(Put another way, how many people will have a throttle in their hand, directly driving a unique given loco?)

If the truthful "in practise" answer is >1
("in practise" covers layouts that are _designed_ to be operated by more than 1 person, but rarely if ever actually _are_ operated as such)

then DCC has a potential benefit right out of the blocks.

However, as the case before us is stated as being about a rank Newcomer, a layout the size of which needs/requires/could host a "team of operators" is unlikely to be involved.

therefore rendering DCC back to "equal footing" in _this_particular_case_

 

2 - Cost

Again, keeping clearly in mind that we are considering a rank Newcomer,

- 1x loco
- 1x analog throttle
= "put the loco on the track and it can be controlled" solution

will very likely be cheaper when directly compared to

- 1x loco
- 1x DCC Control system (assuming choosing a "Starter" system such as the Zephyr or Power-Cab)
- 1x decoder if required (If the loco comes with a decoder installed, the price of the loco will likely reflect that. compared to it's "non-decoder equipped" cousin, so you pays either way...)
= "put the loco on the track and it can be controlled" solution

Additional "1x loco + 1x throttle (+ 1x decoder if required)" locos multiply the cost.
(a basic NCE "Cab04" at approx US$70 street cost is still more than the equivalent basic analog throttle).

SO, we conclude that as far as
- the equipment required to be mounted in the loco
(IE decoder, whether "factory equipped" or "user installed")
- and the "Control system"

DCC is likely a bigger "up-front expenditure"

 

3 - Wiring "complexity"

Again, _context_ is required.
Let us first consider again that this is a rank Newcomer we are advising.
They have no background or bias in the "bad old days" of multiple-block switching, poor-user-interface "central control panels" for layouts,and other such holdovers from circa 1950 - 80's model RRing.

For those of us who put even a modicum of thought into such things, elimination of "single central control panels" and their attendent tying-down of the model RR operator to one fixed position was and is _easy_ to achieve, _without_ loosing any of the ability to "control train A with throttle A over _there_, while switching train B with throttle B over _here_". Do not confuse "additional non-proto human-interface block electrical switches and the elimination thereof" as being a feature _only_ possible with DCC...

("Order in the court, calm yourself sir"
"yes, m'lud, sorry m'lud")

3a - for a given "length of track" or "simple circuit"
(which is often where a rank Newcomer is encouraged to start)

both analog DC and DCC provide the oft-touted "2 wires to the track" solution.

Oops, sorry, what was that? DCC can't rely on rail joiners, and needs a feeder to each length of rail?
That sounds awfully like _more_ wiring to be installed.

3b - Add a passing siding/loop to that "circle/oval", and _both_ DCC and DC will likely require some gaps to be cut.
(The selection of plastic or metal-frog turnouts is _not_ what we are debating here today, but directly affects how each control system is deployed. In either case, DCC will likely still require gaps, whereas plastic frog turnouts will allow analog DC to get away without them).

3c - NB that should a metal-frog turnout we wired _correctly_ with a suitable frog-switching micro-switch (think about manual or ground-throw-operated turnouts) or the AUX switch on a point-motor, then _both_ analog DC _and_ DCC should not face "frog polarity' issues. As far as our discussion today is concerned, this represents a _common_ piece of work required for either system, and thus does not represent a benefit or loss for either option in question.
(NB that both of the above switching solutions do _NOT_ require any "manual controls" for the operator to interface with, the movement of the turnout will perform the required traction-switching without human intervention).

IF however the rank Newcomer starts with a DCC system, and elects to use the (admitedly brilliant) auto-frog-switching options such as the "Frog Juicer", the "solution" to this particular "problem" has just taken DCC as a "starter option" up in the "$$$" stakes, and represents an additional time/$$$/wiring load which analog DC simply does not have to deal with.

3d - At this point, having added a passing loop and maybe some spurs,
the rank Newcomer will probably accidentally run a loco thru a turnout which is not set for them,
(although, in the case of analog DC, a very specific set of conditions would have to occur in order for this to be possible)

In the case of analog, the fault condition is temporary, and both loco and throttle will very likely shrug off the issue and live to fight another day.

In the case of DCC, the booster will very likely take extreme umberage to such behaviour and shutdown. At the worst, possibly loco, decoder, and booster damage may occur. At the least, the "fun" of running a train has been severely affected.

Logically and entirely correctly, in steps the concept of "short management", addition of "breaker units" or "tail-light bulbs". However, again, this is a uniquely-DCC issue, and thus represents _more_ wiring and "complexity" that the rank Newcomer must learn, face, and master.

3e - It is open to interpretation if the rank Newcomer in question would want to take on a reversing loop, wye, or turntable as part of their "first effort" layout.

Assuming the rank Newcomer does, (and with the hope that, should they consult any "experienced modeller" at this point, the experienced modeller would see and call attention to the risk as a matter of urgency...), then both Analog DC and DCC systems will face significant challenges in handling the resulting track arrangement.

DCC has the upper hand in that various _automatic_ solutions exist which will take care of any polarity issues without human intervention.

However, equally, analog DC can handle such situations with a much more $$$-effective manual switch,
which is completely compatible with DCC (Think about it...) The downside is that such solutions require the "detection and software" part of the solution to be played by the human.

Some cases, such as staging-only reversing loops can be handled "automatically" as shown HERE
http://www.zelmeroz.com/album_model/members/klyzlr/DynamiteCanyon.pdf
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Lbdod_dXJU

However, in summary
- DCC allows handling of reversing loops and turntables automatically, at the cost of $$$$
- analog DC handles reversing loops and turntables cheaply, at the cost of the operator having to _think_ about what they are doing, and _possibly_ having to manipulate some (arguably) unprototypical controls/switchgear

 

4 - Compatibility

Stated simply, at the point of "excited purchase", most any loco a rank Newcomer is likely to choose will run on analog DC. (I understand that there are some DCC-equipped locos which do not "understand" what a analog DC signal is, but IIRC the NMRA spec requires such "compatible" behaviour).

The inverse is not true, a DCC control system _may_ or _may_not_ successfully run an analog loco, but will only do so to the detriment of other (both DCC and analog) locos on the system. Adding a decoder to an analog loco adds cost and potentially effort (see Point 1 above).

Considering the case of adding a "factory DCC loco" to a "existing DCC layout"
(which potentially takes us a long way away from our starting positions of considering a rank Newcomer),
the new DCC loco will likely need at least an address CV change if it is to "co-exist happily" with existing locos on the layout. Failure to do this will result in multiple locos, with a common address, all reacting tot he same DCC commands, which sounds remarkably like "analog DC" behaviour (IE DCC requires more effort to achieve "better than analog DC" benefits).

 

5 - Performance

This is a complex one, but we must keep in mind the stated parameters of dealing with a rank Newcomer.
This is assumed to set the following criteria

- the Newcomer will not want, or be able to tweak the loco mechanism
(Logical, few newcomers will want to "take the shell off and 'get under the hood'")

- the Newcomer will not want or be able to tweak decoder CVs
(programming CVs "direct" requires knowledge of mechanical, electrical, and DCC technology.
Replacing this knowledge with "just program it with DecoderPro" adds $$$ and equipment.

SO, given this baseline, where does that leave analog VS DCC?

5a - even Decoder manufacturers agree that "...a loco that has some form of mechanical issue, and thus does not run smoothly on analog DC, is unlikely to run any better with the addition of DCC..." (check the documentation and install instructions which come with any user-install decoder).

Ergo, if the loco has a mechanical fault, there is no gain or loss with either system.
(use of BEMF requires CV tweaking knowledge, and knowledge of electro-mechanical behaviour of mechs.
See Baseline principles above).

Equally, a loco with limited or poorly-configured pickups is going to operate poorly on analog DC, and even worse on DCC. It would be easy to say "get the pickups optimised, and both control systems become about even in behaviour". However, refer to Point 5 above, the rank Newcomer is unlikely to want or be able to adjust such things. On a "out of box" loco with "questionable" pickup config, analog has a slight advantage, as it simply needs _some_ volts to move, it does not require perfect transmission/reception of high-timing-accuracy digital signals or "power distribution".

5b - Given a mechanically smooth-running mech, all but the most "toy trainset" throttles will give a smooth 0-12VDC sweep of voltages, with reasonably knob-rotation<>output voltage predictability.

I'm not saying the rank Newcomer must have a voltmeter connected to their analog DC throttle. However, if a given loco needs 2.7volts to "start visibly creeping",
even a rank Newcomer can turn the throttle knob,
stop when they see the loco start moving,
and surprise surprise if they haven't hit 2.7Volts...

5c - In contrast, at the common "default" 28step format of most DCC systems + "DCC factory equipped" locos,
accurately hitting the _optimum_starting_voltage_ at the motor of the loco,
let alone optimising the "human interface <> loco response"
(having that "optimal starting voltage" match Speed Step 1),

is nigh on impossible.
(Again, tweaking "Starting Voltage" and Speed Tables is above and beyond "rank Newcomer" capabilities, see above).


As far as the _critical_ issues are concerned, the above covers a lot of ground. However, in addressing the issues as set out in the thread:

- Sound: Agreed that the current drop of DCC sound decoders makes "onboard sound" a reality for many more modellers than the previous generation of ModelTronics, Circuitron, or even PFM/PBL systems. If sound is a _Must_have_ for the rank Newcomer, then DCC and some rather large $$$ purchases are virtually un-avoidable. 

The question which therefore needs to be asked is not "analog or DCC", but rather "is the cost of the required DCC equipment worth the want for Sound?"

- Control: See Points 1x and 3x above

- Simplicity in Wiring: See Point 3x above

- Clean Appearance: See Point 3c above. With intelligent use of such switching, many "block switching" situations can be "automated" via the motion/throwing of turnouts. Ergo, as mentioned, the only "User Interface" switchgear the operator has to manipulate is to "throw the turnouts", all _traction_ switching is effectively "invisible" to the operator, and does whatever needs doing _without_ requiring manual operator action.

As noted, deployment of such systems falls within "good wiring practise" for _both_ analog and DCC layouts, and as such does not represent either a cost or effort "load" to either control system option.
(I have used such techniques on my last 5 layouts, which were intended as primarily analog-controlled systems.
However, as the wiring was _correct_ from the outset, simply "disconnecting the analog throttles, plug in the DCC system, swap the locos, and keep operating" was and is very much do-able...)

- Adjustability: Agreed that with CV tweaking, a DCC decoder can be optmised to match a given loco mech. However, please refer back to our "baseline", the rank Newcomer. refer to Point 5 above.

- handheld throttles: This is a "personal preference" issue, and is not a directly analog-VS-DCC issue.

- Better Operation: No-one, let alone me, can debate the experience you have had with your layout and equipment. However, I would submit the contents of Point 5x for consideration. I would also note the sheer number of "my DCC-controlled loco is not working right" posts on the MRH forum, (from all "skill levels" or modeller, not just rank Newcomers), 

let alone the various MRR forums online, and the average "bull session" at most MRR clubs worldwide.

Compared to the equivalent number of "my analog loco is not running right" posts, we might infer either
- DCC is more prevalent than analog, and thus is statistically likely to have more related posting
(IIRC Joe's last "MRH reader survey" does not support this theory)
- DCC introduces compatibility issues which were unheard of under analog
- DCC is more "finicky" both internally (firmware/software) and externally (dirty track, momentary shorts, wiring impedance/capacitance/configuration), and therefore suffers "inexplicable failures" more often.

- Constant Power: See "Better Operation" comments above. It has also been noted that DCC relies on close/equal-voltage +/- signals being transmitted/recieved thru the rails. One risk of using "direct from track" lighting on DCC is that it may unduly load one "polarity" of the DCC signal. The results can vary, but in worst case can cause very oddball (unwanted!) loco behaviour.

 

Defense rests... :-)

 

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr

PS There is no "right" or "wrong" choice when it comes to control system choice. However, there _is_ a "wrong" choice if One fails to match the _Solution_ to the stated "Givens and Druthurs" of the layout in question...

DKRickman's picture

Oh goody, a meaty discussion!

I am very PRO the concept of "selecting the best solution for a given problem

As am I.  I did not intend this thread to be a DC-bash, or an explanation only of why a beginner must chose DCC.  Your points are quite valid, and I agree that DC control has some significant advantages.

How many _simultaneous_independent_human_operators_ is the layout intended to handle?

If the truthful "in practise" answer is >1 then DCC has a potential benefit right out of the blocks.

[If the truthful "in practise" answer is =1] therefore rendering DCC back to "equal footing" in _this_particular_case_

Yes and no.  I operate my layout alone (although I do hope to have an occasional second or even third operator).  While I run one train at a time, the ability to run multiple trains in any location without need of block switches is a nice feature.  I will grant that it is not the most cost-effective means of achieving that one feature, but it is nice.  I can pull a train in a siding, select another engine, throw the turnouts, and run another train around the first without difficulty.  I can even go help a train stalled on a grade by coupling to either end and consisting the two engines temporarily.  Doing that with a single DC throttle would require that the block gap is under either the front coupler of the stalled train or under the train, if pushing, or that you pick then helper engine up and set it on the track.

DCC is likely a bigger "up-front expenditure"

Agreed.  That's why I sated in my opinion post that DCC is worth the cost to me for the following reasons..  It is more expensive, no doubt about it.  The question in my mind is, is the investment (or just the expense) worth it, and how does a newcomer to the hobby make that decision?

both analog DC and DCC provide the oft-touted "2 wires to the track" solution.

Quoted from lower in your post, but germane here:

With intelligent use of such switching, many "block switching" situations can be "automated" via the motion/throwing of turnouts. Ergo, as mentioned, the only "User Interface" switchgear the operator has to manipulate is to "throw the turnouts", all _traction_ switching is effectively "invisible" to the operator, and does whatever needs doing _without_ requiring manual operator action.

That is true, although I will point out that figuring out how to achieve that can in some cases become more complex than learning how to use the DCC system.  From the operator's point if view, the layout is quite simple in most cases (helpers being the main thing I cannot see working seamlessly in this case), but the construction and wiring might take a little bit of effort to do intelligently.

Oops, sorry, what was that? DCC can't rely on rail joiners, and needs a feeder to each length of rail?  That sounds awfully like _more_ wiring to be installed.

This may be your only point I simply disagree with.  I would not suggest that anybody rely strictly on rail joiners.  Regardless of the choice between DC and DCC, I would suggest that they solder the rail joints at the very least.  And if the layout runs reliably on DC, it ought to do so on DCC as well.

Points 3b and 3c

As you rightly point out, proper wiring of frog polarity and use of gaps for power routing turnouts are issues common to both DC and DCC, and as such I would set them aside as irrelevant to the topic.  The point about the automatic frog polarity switching is valid - it can be done on DCC (and I suspect they may also work on DC, but I'm not sure), but it is not something that is required, and there are multiple perfectly good and equally simple ways of doing the job in most cases.

Point 3d - short management

I don't think the problem of shorts (or the solutions regarding light bulbs, etc.) is new with the advent of DCC.  For what it is worth, I have on occasion tried to run through a switch the wrong way and caused a short.  My Zephyr complains and makes a sort of beep/buzz at me, and as soon as I fix the problem I go back to running trains.  Often that simply involves throwing the turnout that I was trying to run through.  Seems simple enough to me, though I cannot comment on how larger systems handle the situation.

- DCC allows handling of reversing loops and turntables automatically, at the cost of $$$$
- analog DC handles reversing loops and turntables cheaply, at the cost of the operator having to _think_ about what they are doing, and _possibly_ having to manipulate some (arguably) unprototypical controls/switchgear

Do not confuse what can be done with what must be done.  As you pointed out, the manual option works equally well for DCC.  the only downside that I am aware of (and the reason I'm using a reverse module on my turntable) is that manually reversing the polarity involves a temporary loss of power, and that can cause some sound decoders to make funny noises or have to go through a re-start procedure.  It's not a DCC issue per se, but a sound issue.

Considering the case of adding a "factory DCC loco" to a "existing DCC layout"
(which potentially takes us a long way away from our starting positions of considering a rank Newcomer), the new DCC loco will likely need at least an address CV change if it is to "co-exist happily" with existing locos on the layout. Failure to do this will result in multiple locos, with a common address, all reacting tot he same DCC commands, which sounds remarkably like "analog DC" behaviour (IE DCC requires more effort to achieve "better than analog DC" benefits).

You are correct, of course.  DCC requires a greater investment in time as well as money, at least in some aspects.  As with the rest of the discussion, the question is whether the time spent learning to program an engine and then actually doing so is worth the benefit.  In my case, it's so trivial to program an engine that I had forgotten to even consider it.  Of course, it does require a programming track, which does require greater complexity than just 2 wires to the track.

One thing, though - I would not discount the likelihood of a newcomer bringing home a DCC starter set and a DCC equipped locomotive on their first day in the hobby.  I have not seen a new locomotive model released without a DCC option for several years now.  In fact, it's becoming harder and harder for people like me to find engines which are not DCC equipped from the factory (I like installing my own decoders, primarily to get sound and specific decoder features that I like).

- Adjustability: Agreed that with CV tweaking, a DCC decoder can be optmised to match a given loco mech. However, please refer back to our "baseline", the rank Newcomer. refer to Point 5 above.

I'll dispute the baseline assumption a little bit.  While he may not want to at first, the option of doing so could quickly inspire the newcomer to try his hand at tweaking his CV settings.  The ability to quickly do a factory reset makes the risk of making a mistake pretty low, and many modelers are incurable tinkerers.  In any case, my point about the ability was not that it has to be done, but that it is something I like having the ability to do and a reason why I feel DCC is worth the expense.

- handheld throttles: This is a "personal preference" issue, and is not a directly analog-VS-DCC issue.

Very true, as I stated in my opinion.  However, I do feel that it is something that is easier to do with the readily available DCC systems, and it is something I like.  If that's important to you, it might be a factor in choosing between DC and DCC.

[N]ote the sheer number of "my DCC-controlled loco is not working right" posts on the MRH forum, (from all "skill levels" or modeller, not just rank Newcomers), let alone the various MRR forums online, and the average "bull session" at most MRR clubs worldwide.

Compared to the equivalent number of "my analog loco is not running right" posts, we might infer either
- DCC is more prevalent than analog, and thus is statistically likely to have more related posting (IIRC Joe's last "MRH reader survey" does not support this theory)
- DCC introduces compatibility issues which were unheard of under analog
- DCC is more "finicky" both internally (firmware/software) and externally (dirty track, momentary shorts, wiring impedance/capacitance/configuration), and therefore suffers "inexplicable failures" more often.

Now, you have a real point there.  My suspicion is that the problems come from two main issues:

  • Poor quality decoders.  I have had issue with MRC decoders, and I have heard of a number of folks having issues with Bachmann decoders.  The solution is to install a better decoder - and I'll admit that can be off-putting to a beginner.  Hopefully the issue will resolve itself over time, as manufacturers improve their products and modelers learn which brands to support or avoid.
  • Improper installation or use.  That does indicate the added complexity of installing a DCC decoder compared to running an analog engine, and it cannot be denied.  Again, the question becomes "is the benefit worth it?"

Defense rests... :-)

Please don't consider yourself to be defending against an attack.  I value any well reasoned discussion of the pros and cons of both sides.  I know that there are people for whom DC is unquestionably the way to go, and there are those for whom DCC is the obvious answer.  My hope is that those of us with some experience in the hobby can help beginners to make a choice that fits their needs.  As you said in the beginning, "select the best solution for a given problem."

Ken Rickman

Danville & Western HO modeler and web historian

http://southern-railway.railfan.net/dw/

JeffShultz's picture

My $.02....

For me, DCC provides me with the ability to have multiple locomotives on my track at the same time - without having to have multiple separate wiring blocks, or "parking zones" where I can turn the power off to the track to prevent me from running a locomotive I don't want to.

I've wanted wireless walkaround throttles in order to "stay with my train" since the day I got into the hobby - now I not only have them, but I have several manufacturers systems from which to choose the ones that best meet my needs.

I can, reasonably easily, consist multiple locomotives from different manufacturers to run together, facing in different directions, without re-wiring or re-gearing them.

In other words, I can operate my trains in a more prototypical manner with fewer headaches and less setup time, both in construction and wiring, as well as after I pick up the throttle and hit the power switch.

And yeah, sound is nice too. cool

Jeff Shultz

MRH Technical Assistant

 

ddavidv's picture

DC has served me well so far.

DC has served me well so far. I can only build a small layout, so really can only run one loco at a time. The cost can drive the price of a loco up by it's purchase price again. There are times I'd like sound, but then most of them I hear are not yet up to a standard I'd be willing to pay extra for. It's probably easier for me to just say I haven't missed having DCC at all except it prevents me from running my locos on a friend's DCC equipped layout. I do get a bit irritated when well-meaning advisors "insist" I buy DCC equipped locos because "you'll be sorry later if you dont". Nope, still not sorry. There is no one-size-fits-all advice for this hobby.

Keep scale in mind

Since you didn't really address scale, I will. I worked in HO for years up until 2002. I then left trains until just this past year. I have started a new layout in N scale due to space availability. I chose DC with the Crest wireless walk around system because of cost. Buying retail would have made these systems impossible also(let me note that) as I got 2 complete systems for 150.00 at a show. When in HO, I switched to DCC after the first MRC system, the Command 2000 came out. While it worked for what I wanted, 90% of my motive power wasn't capable of taking a plug in decoder. Which meant wiring and then trying to fit it in the cab. Without tools to grind out part of the metal block, it became impossible to install in some.

Now move that over to N-scale. I am a firm believer in supporting your LHS as much as possible, I do pay alot of close to retail prices. $159 for a decoder equiped Atlas engine that is only 3 1/2 inches long is a hard sell on the significant other. When I can buy 2 of the same engines without decoders for that same price, it appears more appealing. I have only been involved with this new venture for about 8 months now, but for me to switch over and go DCC, it would cost me over a grand. That is money better spent on scenery, buildings and rolling stock. At present, I have more locos than rolling stock and buildings combined.

I have no problems with anyone and their choices of controls. Its their money and how they spend it is their choice. I visited a local club the other day and they run DCC with all the bells and whistles. Just kinda made the trains sound a little "toyish" like something under a Christmas tree.

Starting in this hobby is hard and quite costly. I have over $2000 invested so far in just track and benchwork. That's not including almost $500 in controls, toggles and wire. Granted, I didn't go basic DC, but that is a high startup cost for a beginner. Now remove the cost of the controls and add in a good DCC system and an engine or 2 and see where you are. Steer the newby towards DC to get him going, then let him switch later if he wants. All he would have to do is connect all the "hot" wires together and all the "neg" wires together or just flip the toggles all to one control. I wired mine in a way I can switch at any point if I choose. Right now, I have myself and another, we can walk with our trains, my block switches are on small panels  around the layout and I am getting what I want. Guess to me, my happiness is all that should matter.

 

Jeff

bobcatt's picture

fanning the flames

-the following commentary largely assumes HO, without hand-me-down equipment to convert-

If you discount the vintage collector, trainset runner, and Christmas tree segments of the hobby there is little in favour of DC adoption by newcomers other than initial price. Non-sound equipped DCC locomotives are no longer appreciably more expensive than a simple DC offering - admitting that even an entry-level Command Station is still more expensive than a good DC power pack (but a few can be had for about the cost of two good DC power packs). 

For the ubiquitous 4'x8' starter layout with two trains running at once, successful arguments could be made for either DC or DCC. However, as layout complexity increases, DCC quickly becomes the more attractive proposition from a control perspective alone. Adding sound and lighting effects in support of prototypical operations, DCC gains even more ground. 

While many audio and visual effects can be achieved in locomotives with DC, the commercial offerings to do so have dried up, and the skills of the individual to do it themselves have all but disappeared. Such efforts are almost certainly NOT something one would ask the beginner to undertake.

I own a DCC system. I've built DC throttles from scratch. Straight DC, PFM, Crest wireless, PSI Dynatrol, Keller OnBoard, Lenz, NCE, and Digitrax controls have been experienced in a variety of op sessions in four scales (N through O). I built a DC only HO layout with Atlas controls. I built a small N layout that used DC and then DCC in short order. Our S Scale modular layout uses DCC. I've been on work crews for other sectional, home, and modular layouts with DC and DCC. Command Control (in general) is a superior experience for the end user, especially on small layouts with short electrical blocks, as soon as you have more than one train running at once. Command Control (in general) is also more readily scalable than DC; changes are incremental and layered. DC systems must consider expansion from the start, witness Bruce Chubb's many miles of dedicated laced wiring harnesses on the cab controlled version of The Sunset Valley RR and think about merely adding one more lamp to a signal head.

With respect to the original question, like any new endeavour, the beginner should start with something appropriate for them. If they are technophobes or Luddites, then DCC is not the way to go. If they are desperately remote from a club, or have little or no access to the Internet, then DCC is not the way to go. As a beginner, my decision to buy at the outset must be based on what I can handle alone or with a reasonable amount of help or I'm bound headlong for disappointment. If one has to have a live-in nerd simply to run trains I'm sure they won't be keen on the idea. Of course a beginner's tastes and skills will change over time but, if they have a negative experience at the start, they won't continue with the hobby long enough for this debate to matter.

bobcatt
visit the S Scale Workshop
Listen to the Model Rail Radio podcast

Non-sound equipped DCC

Non-sound equipped DCC locomotives are no longer appreciably more expensive than a simple DC offering

 No longer Appreciably more expensive??

Here, take a look at Bowser's Offerings...  

http://www.bowser-trains.com/New_Products/New%2001_25_10%20C630M/New%2001_25_10%20C630M.htm

You have the choice between the $169 DC version and the $269 all included version.  And this is paralleled with all their other offerings.  $100 an engine is the difference...

The only company that will happily let you have a crack at DCC for less is Bachmann.  There, the difference is about $20-25, if you're buying via Ebay.

As a beginner modeler, or where you have long single track mains and decent separation due to efficient planning, there is an appreciable difference in not adopting DCC right away.  I'd budget it out only after you know the layout is going to be in place for a while, after it has been completed.  Otherwise all the DCC bells and whistles just sit.

bobcatt's picture

keep it on topic

"Non-sound equipped DCC locomotives"...

Your Bowser-with-Tsunami example isn't applicable.

Many HO locos with NMRA DCC sockets are available in the $100-$200 price range. A suitable DCC decoder can be had for $15-$25.  Locos often come pre-fitted with decoders while staying in the same price range. Let's keep this as an apples-to-apples discussion.

bobcatt
visit the S Scale Workshop
Listen to the Model Rail Radio podcast

Parking Locos

Dear Jeff,

As a matter of operating procedure, is it usual or reccomended to leave locos randomly scattered around one's mainline?

I would suggest most likely not. Any loco which is not actually running is deliberately "parked" somewhere, usually off the main. If that "parked position" has even 1 turnout between it and the main, then basic "turnout-driven isolation" is a very effectively way to control "which loco's moving", without needing the operator to have to manipulate any "non-proto" traction-block switches. (If the turnout is set against your loco, it doesn't move. Simple :-) ).

I accept that dropping power to a sound-equipped DCC loco will cause it to go quiet. However, the number of posts even in the last 6 months here on-forum covering the subject "...when entering a layout room, if all locos are making noise despite not moving, the resulting din is not very inviting..." would suggest some "quiet time" might not be such a bad thing...
(of course, if we as modellers could show some restraint,
and maybe not run every loco at a Master Volume of 255/100%,
that might help too... :-) ).

Happy Modelling,
Aim to Improve,
Prof Klyzlr

 


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