Controlling DCC from computer?

I (or rather my children) have a Hornby DCC railway set. You'd think this would be ideal for controlling from a computer, but it appears
to be rather expensive...
The "Select" controller provided with the set has an RJ-12 socket for connecting to other controllers, and apparently uses XPressNet, which runs over RS-485. The "Elite" controller, which has a USB port, costs about 150 pounds.
The computer I'm planning to use (a Mac) doesn't have a serial port, and USB-to-RS-485 converters appear to also be ridiculously expensive. Furthermore, the JMRI website implies that the connector on the "Select" may not be fully compatible with other manufacturers' equipment.
Is there a cheaper solution? Are there reasonably-priced compatible controllers from other manufacturers?
As for software, it appears that JMRI might work, but I wouldn't mind writing my own.
-- Richard
--
Please remember to mention me / in tapes you leave behind.

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why not go usb > rs232 then rs232 > rs 485
usb to rs232 are cheap (2-3 quid on ebay)
rs 232 to rs 485 are also on ebay for around a fiver
Andy

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It's not quite as simple as that.
You need to consider the data format as well as the electrical interfaces.
The simplest way is to buy the Lenz USB to XpressNet adapter, but I offer no guarantee that the Hornby kit will play properly. I know ZTC equipment had or maybe still has issues with XpressNet compatibility.
MBQ
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Richard Tobin wrote:

Have you looked at Loconet (Digitraxx)? See:
http://www.digitrax.com/menu_computercontrol.php
and:
http://www.digitrax.com/faqloconetq.php
But the costs of computer-DCC interfaces and associated software will be high, because it's not exactly a mass market. Keep in mind that most DCC users want it because it makes locomotive control feel more hands-on. They don't want a computer interface. That preference also reduces the market for what you want.
OTOH, if you do write your own software, you should find a ready market for it. Because of Apple's mania for total control, there's little Mac software beyond the basic stuff available.
HTH and Good Luck, wolf k.
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Wolf K wrote:

You should be all right on a Mac with PR3 and JMRI. Been using a PC with Digitrax since 1999. You could try the Lenz adaptor for expressnet at http://www.lenz.com/products/xpressnet/index.htm its USB so could work with Mac + JMRI combination. Try dropping them a line.
Chris
Chris
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Chris wrote:

The PR3 isn't really capable of running trains on its own. (I have one, and I have a Sprog to compare against. If wanting to run trains, use the Sprog, or a proper command station).
- Nigel
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Nigel Cliffe wrote:

Yeah need to use it in combination with command station and in MS100 mode rather than programmer mode.
Chris
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How does all the talk of Digitrax equipment help a Hornby user who needs XpressNet?
MBQ
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

It doesn't.
But the OP will need to ditch the Select, or at best, use it as a slave controller to an Elite.
All solutions to hack an interface to a Select's data port require serious knowledge of not only the signalling protocols, but the data structures ontop of those (and an assumption that the Select can take external instructions to operate, rather than just work as a slave throttle); fine if your hobby is digital electronics, but if the objective is to make the trains run for the kids, then the kids might be teenagers before the project is finished.
FWIW, I do know how to hack into a Bachmann EZ; the buttons can have wires soldered to them and an external speed/direction controller fitted (I've done it). In theory, the external controller could be a small microprocessor (PIC/PicAxe, etc), and thus run things automatically.
- Nigel
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The Select has XpressNet (according to Hornby). Iff that's implemented correctly then it should work with a computer interface. Knowing Hornby, however...

LOL! First thing I did with mine was open it up and have a good poke around.
MBQ
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Noboby has to my knowledge answered whether the Select's Xpressnet actually works, and if it does, whether it only operates as a "throttle", or can accept instructions from (and control a network) of any type of Xpressnet throttles.
As the Xpressnet interface box from Lenz is about 100, I'd say its more sensible to spend a bit more on a DCC system which is known to work with a computer; be NCE, Digitrax, Roco (if you can find one) or a Hornby Elite.
- Nigel
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Richard Tobin wrote:

Basically, no, the Select is a "toy" product.
The "Elite" is at the typical entry price for a proper model railway product, though other makers offer far better designs (the ergnonomics of the command structure in the Elite is terrible). Also, support in JMRI (and other software) is not as good as that for mainstream control makers (eg. Lenz, Digitrax, ESU, NCE).
Moderately cheap ways of computer control:
SprogII. This is a computer USB device. With the computer it can drive a modest layout, using for example JMRI. But you don't get any handsets (except via JMRI). Around 70. Hornby Elite (but I think its a poor choice), around 150. Digitrax Zephyr plus Loconet-USB adaptor, unlikely to see change from 200. NCE PowerCab plus USB adaptor, probably around 160-170 including the adaptor.
Build your own with MERG kits; the new CBUS based stuff looks promising, but the complete command station isn't ready yet. (The old MERG command station is antique history).
JMRI has support for various external throttles, such as Wii game controllers, iTouch/iPhones, arbitrary USB devices, etc. etc..
- Nigel
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This looks like the kind of thing I wanted. I'm not concerned about using a handset at the same time as computer control.
But if I understand the web page (http://www.sprog-dcc.co.uk/about_sprogII.html ) correctly, it requires a booster to drive more than one engine. Are there reasonably priced boosters available?
-- Richard
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Richard Tobin wrote:

About 100 for a booster.
The Sprog as it comes delivers about 1amp. That's enough for two or three OO locos moving simultaneously, though there are exceptions where an individual loco would over-load the Sprog.
( I did a test recently, running four small Scalefour locos simultaneously, and estimated I could get up to around a dozen before overloading the Sprog ).
- Nigel
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Number of people are happy with Elite computer interface so dont dismiss out of hand. Its a USB connection. It requires a device driver - that is provided by Hornby for a PC, not sure about the Mac. I did write some software to control points and it wasnt that difficult.
Cheers, Simon
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simon wrote:

Probably need Fusion or Parallels to run a virtual Windows OS on the Mac then.
Chris
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Join MERG ! Model Electronic Railway Group. www.merg.org.uk .
They've either already done it, are doing it or will offer much advice.
Richard
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Be careful joining MERG now.. My experience is that its a money grab thru subscriptions. You join now supposedly with a 12 month sub at 18-ish , and in April , they terminate that sub, telling you that a renewal is due as all subs start in April.. Complain and they send you an 8 'voucher' that can be used against purchase of their kits ( if thats what you want, and there is no alternative.) . They were still selling annual subscriptions at Warley NEC for 18 that last 5 months maximum, and denying that all subs are renewed in April...
Then the Treasurer suddenley doesn't respond to emails and letters ... Be warned.
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turbo wrote:

Nothing sinister at all. It's all clearly written in the membership details page :- http://www.merg.org.uk/membership.htm
"Membership is currently 13.00 annually for members within the EU, there is also a joining fee of 4.00. The membership year runs from April 1st - March 31st. and a 1 MERG voucher is issued to new members for each expired month at the time of joining. New members also receive a copy of a recent Journal and any accompanying Technical Bulletins."
and
"The new members rates are shown in the following table. " .... "     Rate for payment by UK cheque     Rate for payment by Paypal Resident in Europe including UK     17.00     18.00"
(Table doesn't copy in correct format in newsreader of course!)
A fast read of the exhibition flyer does not seem to contain reference to the 1 vouchers, which I will bring to the attention of the Treasurer. Although this is on the website and would be automatic.
And I think that membership details would be very clearly spelt out by those on the stand at Warley, or any other exhibition.
I must say, with no connection whatsoever to the committee, that I have been a member for many years and consider it an absolute bargain. You get much more information, cheap kits, a website, forum and as much advice as you want for what is after all just 5 months of one model rail magazines. And those mags contain very little information!
The OP will get much FREE advice and access to cost only kits.
And I'm sure that the current Treasurer would be mortified to hear of your complaint re emails. Mind I too would ignore any that were spiteful or rude!!!
Richard
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Best regards, Peter Ayre Merg Membership Secretary ------------------------------------------- I again emailed Peter Ayre , and received yet more copies of the same email.
This year , Warley November 2009, I approached the MERG stand and waited to be accosted to join. It didnt take long once I asked about the RFID display. I asked about membership and was told yet again the spiel about how it was 17 for 12 months membership. I rephrased the question several times , and NEVER once was it mentioned that it was till April 2010- and then renewed. I moved to the other end of the stand and waited for someone else to take up the 'membership' thread.. Again it was 17 for a full 12 months membership starting at the date of Warley. I walked away , but returned later that day , spoke to a third group of stand salesmen and was given the spiel again about it being for full 12 months. MY point is this - join NOW and you are paying 17 for membership till April this year - then its a renewal subscription.
No I didnt see the website , all very well to be wise after the event, I was at WARLEY NEC . There is life outside the web sites...
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