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Sub-£70 fully featured DCC system from....Hornby?

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:04 pm
by Gloriousnse
Hornby isn't a name that usually pops onto US outline modellers radars much, at least beyond the handful of legacy Rivarossi items they sell - but yesterdays 2013 product announcements had something interesting in it that might be of use to some of us, particularly those that may have looked at DCC and either found the options good but expensive, or cheap but off-puttingly complicated.

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.
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!
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.

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: ... msearch__1

Re: Sub-£70 fully featured DCC system from....Hornby?

Posted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 5:45 pm
by torikoos
Any price reduction to bring DCC to the masses has to be applauded. I just hope that compatibility, user friendliness, and expandability (not to mention quality) isn't too badly compromised. On the face of it, it looks to be a very interesting prospect indeed, but I just bought a Lenz set, and have JMRI and a SPROGII (plus an Sboost), using wifi plus a wiThrottle set up at my home layout at present...


Re: Sub-£70 fully featured DCC system from....Hornby?

Posted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 8:55 am
by PeterLJ

It will be interesting to see the full spec. (Not least is it another Window$ package).

Only 8 throttles would be a limitation for some modular use, however if it has xpressnet this could perhaps be overcome by the use of JMRI. Indeed it appears that the user needs a tablet (what sort) as a throttle this is in line with current HO Modular thinking.

So it certainly needs watching!

All the best

Peter L-J

Re: Sub-£70 fully featured DCC system from....Hornby?

Posted: Thu Dec 20, 2012 11:45 am
by Gloriousnse
If you think about Hornby's core market you can see where they are coming from Peter. It will be aimed at ease of use and setup for people that won't spend lots of time messing about with it (remember, it's being sold in train sets too!) - so the assumption will be that it will 'just work' on Windows (and probably Mac too I guess) which covers 99% of people - and probably an even higher percentage of that large majority that aren't comfortable fiddling with stuff.

Likewise they won't have designed it specifically for huge modular layouts which are a miniscule proportion - 99.9% of layouts will never need 9 operators (one can be on the PC) working at once - that goes for modular stuff too, the only ones where we've beaten that were the biggies at Exeter show. The modular meet we did at Broadclyst topped out around 5 I think.