Hornby launched their 'Railmaster' software earlier this year designed to work with their existing DCC starter system the Elite - the new announcement adds a box they term the 'eLink' - it's basically an interface directly between the computer software and layout without requiring the Elite, the software on your computer provides the 'brains' of the DCC system, whilst the eLink box converts that to your '2 wire' signal to the layout and adds some power to run your trains with, it also allows for a programming track.
So in DCC terms it's a combined computer interface, command station and booster. You can download an app onto a mobile device (phone, tablet, whatever) to add additional throttles which can also contain a graphical control panel if your signals and points are DCC controlled.
Power output is quite low but 'dumb' boosters can be had fairly cheaply to expand your power output and/or add power districts so it's not a game ender.Using just the power of a PC to control a model railway has taken a giant leap forward this year with the introduction of the unique Hornby DCC 'eLink' interface unit.
Working with the amazing 'RailMaster' software and for unleashing the full power of PC control the Hornby ‘eLink’ is placed in between the PC and the layout.
Once connected all control of the layout is passed to the PC or laptop. It really is that simple!
The 'eLink' is capable of controlling a staggering 9999 locomotives as well as in excess of 2000 points and electrical accessories providing the power is available. There has never been anything like this before and it is so simple to use!
The 'eLink' Control Pack contains the amazing 'RailMaster' software, the 'eLink' interface unit and a 1 amp transformer. Once 'RailMaster' is loaded into the computer and with the ‘eLink’ connected in between the layout and the computer, the full force of Hornby DCC is ready to take control.
All the locomotive and accessory programming can be completed on a conventional Programming Track using RailMaster’ working in conjunction with the PC, while all other operations can be effected while the locomotives are on the layout.
The 'eLink' unit may be placed on or near the layout although there are fixings so that the unit can be concealed if desired.
Special features include...
With 'eLink' and a 'RailMaster' installed onto a PC or laptop the following benefits over DCC are only a click away:
Visual control of all locomotives. No need to remember loco numbers as they are all there on the PC screen.
USB link for connection to PC / Laptop. Can also be used to download software upgrades.
Change points with a simple click of the mouse.
Read and write locomotive and accessory decoder CVs. (Configuration Variables).
Active matrix style track layout for easy operation of points and accessories.
Simple double heading locomotive control.
Voice controlled enabled. (Available 3rd quarter)
Scale clock and timer.
Compatible for use with ‘O’, ‘HO, ‘OO’ and ‘N’ gauge.
Smart phone compliant. Allows up to 8 Smart Phones or Tablets to be connected for remote control of the layout...and much, much more!
Price? RRP is £85 for the software and E-link box bundled, but already some retailers are advertising the at at under £70 - less than the price of most loco's. It will also be included in their high-end train sets.
Hornby's initial forays into DCC were not properly NMRA compatible, but I believe they have since corrected this.
Why is this interesting?
* Fully featured DCC systems from the major manufacturers like Lenz or Digitrax tend to be over £200, they are excellent, but it's understandably a big leap of faith to jump that far. Some systems are available for much less, but offer certain limitations...
* There are also already cheaper ways to do this (in fact, cheaper than this new Hornby system, such as a Sprog + JMRI, basically the same thing with JMRI providing the DCC control and the Sprog converting that to be usable on a layout) - however the downside of that method is one of packaging, that is a cheap way to do it but the user needs a reasonable amount of patience/knowledge/confidence to fiddle to learn how to get the best out of it, whereas this is one professionally written package in one box with one set of instructions ready to work.
Assuming it does what it says on the tin (and remember it's not released yet!) then it has the potential to be an easy, cost effective and user friendly way into DCC control for the average user.
There's an interesting thread here on RMWeb if folk want to follow some of the viewpoints:
http://www.rmweb.co.uk/community/index. ... msearch__1