Selecting A DCC System
Selecting a Digital Command Control system can be perhaps the most complicated aspect of getting started in DCC. Hopefully, this article will get you set in the right direction on finding the best system for you.
"Which System is Best?"
This is perhaps the single most asked question by people just getting into DCC. The short answer: it depends! If you ask three people what the best DCC system is, you'll probably get at least three different answers - Some say the NCE systems are best, others argue that Digitrax is best, while a third will say Lenz. :-) Also, it's all too easy to pop into a DCC forum and ask this question. Keep in mind, no one person can know everything about every system.
"Best" is relative term. You should start off reading manuals online, comparing specs, and trying out systems in person. Check out a local layout (personal or clubs) if you can find one. See what they run with, and operate a train VIA DCC.
Best for you is different than what is best for me. For instance, in a garden railway, the engineer will need more amps (bigger trains - more power). Digitrax Super Chief Xtra (8 amps) fits the bill beacuse of it's inital power output capabilites. Keep in mind, you can add additional power (boosters) to any DCC layout later. However, others like NCE throttles since they may be easier to use.
In the end, we are not going to answer this question for you, however, we (hope) to give you enough information so that you can make an informed decision to get the right DCC system for you.
Don't Go by the Specs Alone!
We cannot stress this enough. Don't simply go down a comparison list of systems to select the "biggest" or "feature full" list. Doing so can lead to disaster. For instance, some systems claim that they can handle 250 trains at the same time, but only 64 throttles. This essentially means that only 64 trains can run at once since most engineers can only operate one train at a time.
Or, perhaps you select the "biggest" system, however you cannot figure it out, or can't stand the throttle layout.
Follow the suggestions below to help you select the right DCC for you!
First things first, find some layouts around you that use various DCC systems. Check out the layout of the throttles. After you "interview" them, besure to write some notes so that you can refresh your memory between visiting systems and when you've test driven them all you can remember which was which.
Here are some points to consider:
- Was the throttle easy to use?
- Did you like the throttle layout?
- How long did it take you to learn and be able to operate trains?
- Control mulitple trains at once?
- Same throttle & different throttles.
- Did the owner explain how easy/hard it is to program decoders?
- We're you able to throw turnouts?
- Are the system components easy/hard to wire?
If you cannot find layouts around you, review pictures of throttles and try to get an idea of it's operations by reading the manual. Also, browse any online manuals you can find for various systems to get an idea of a DCC systems wiring needs. Keep in mind, because a system offers a component that requires complex wiring, it's usually not necessary to use that component in your setup.
List Your Requirements
After you've taken various systems for a test drive, now, develop a list of requirements.
- DCC Compatibility
- How important is it for you that a DCC system conforms to the NMRA DCC standards? That is, any brand of decoder will work with any brand of DCC system? Many manufacturers do not submit their products to the NMRA for conformance testing, but, in order to display the NMRA's DCC brand, it must conform to the NMRA standards for Digital Command Control.
- How many trains do you think will ever run simultainously?
- That is, how many trains will be moving? Don't count the engines that you have, but don't run while other engines are running. Will you have sound? Sound demands more power.
- How many operators?
- Will it be just yourself? Or, you, the kids, and the neighbor? Perhaps a group of you? Figure out that maximum you want to accomodate.
- How many switches or other accessories do you plan to have on the layout that will be controlled via DCC?
- Make sure your DCC system can handle this many.
- Wireless throttles?
- This allows you to walk around the layout without being wired up. Some consider this a requirment for larger layouts, as well as outdoor/garden railroads.
- If you are using outdoor wireless, be sure the wireless communication is radio as infa-red (IR) communications will unusable outdoors due to the sun overpowering the area with infa-red radiation.
- Computer Interface?
- Do you want, or possibly plan to connect to a computer in the future? If so, select a system that supports a connection to a computer. Not all systems offer that feature, or may have a proprietary interface, limiting your choices.
- A computer interface adds features, such as the ability to use DecoderPro to set up decoders, or add throttles with JMRI, either on a computer or via wireless devices such as an iPod.
But, Which One Really is the Best?
Okay, so you don't want to research to find the best system? We'll tell you: Just kidding! You have to read, and do some research. Not only will you need to figure out what is the best system system for you, you'll need to eventually read how to use and program your DCC system. Don't get stressed as most manufacturers have support forums, or groups where you can ask questions that you just can't figure out.
If you read any of the DCC forums around the net, you 'll see this question asked everywhere. The simple answer is "it depends". Depends on what you think is best, not what someone else thinks is best.
- DCC Systems comparison - Compare features between various systems.