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Hornby Elite

Digital Command Control Console

- First Impressions

By Gary Leigh

 

The Hornby Elite Digital Command Console is now on general release arriving around 6 months after its smaller brother the Hornby Select. The packaging was opened to find a Hornby Elite console, a large 4 amp power supply, a 51 page instruction manual and a power connection lead. I was surprised that no power track was included and for those who are first time digital users it is a little unclear how you hook the leads up to the track. I happened to have a pack of Peco track power clips handy and it has to said that these are ideal for plugging the bare ends of the Elite track power lead wires into and they offer a very firm grip and no capacitor interference which you don't want with digital. There are several spring clips on the back of the Elite console and these firmly grip the wires at the console end.

 

I had been made aware of a firmware download update and this gave me the chance to plug a USB lead into the back of the Elite console and upgrade the software. When I first turned on the machine it had software version 1.0 onboard. After following the instructions presented by Hornby on their website (which are very clear) and installing the new software and rebooting the console software version 1.1 appeared onboard. This is a great bonus to have and if there are any subsequent bugs reported Hornby can create new software builds for users to download. The USB connection also permits the use of PC software to be used with the Hornby Elite and this gets a mention in the manual.

Elite 1.1 Firmware Update Info (opens in new window)
 

Having installed the latest version of the software it was time to start reading the manual and try things out. A variety of locos were used including a Bachmann sound loco, Bachmann and Hornby set locos, and a ViTrains Class 37 fitted with a Hornby decoder. All performed faultlessly. I could read, write and change CV settings on the Bachmann sound loco, give it a 4 digit address, name some of the other locos, change the inertia settings for acceleration and braking, set the maximum speed, and do a whole host of other things. In fact I did feel that I was in total control of my decoders and was able to set them up exactly as I wanted to! As a first time user of a system that enabled me to do this it felt like a miracle! One small glitch was that when reading back a CV, 1 appeared to be added to its value on readback. So a CV set at 20 was read back at 21. This has been reported to Hornby as a bug and a new software patch download will sort this.

Click on pictures below to see full size image
 

Programming modes featured include Direct, Registered and Paged and there is a seperate programming track connection to the rear of the Elite console. Hornby recommend programming on this seperate track

"Greg" under the control of knob 1 on the left. "Stuart" under the control of knob 2 on the right. "Stuart" now going in the reverse direction. You push the knob to change direction having bought the loco to a halt first.  


When pressing the big red emergency stop button there was absolutely no sign of life from any of the locos on the track with no buzzing whatsoever. Pressing the big red button again and all the locos returned to life however they would only move when the control knob was turned when they would accelerate up to their original set speed. When I deliberately shorted the track again all locos stopped running, an error message appeared, and power seemed to be cut. When I pressed escape to turn the power back on all decoder information was retained as well as the last speed settings and the locos did automatically start returning to their original speed before the short.
 

Setting a decoder address for Greg (1) simply following a clear sequence as set out in the manual Setting a decoder address for Greg (2) Setting a decoder address for Greg (3) Setting a decoder address for Greg (4)


It was possible to control 2 locomotives at the same time with each knob much as you can with a dual knob controller. As you turned one knob the settings for that knob and loco appeared in the display. As you moved to the other knob and turned that the settings for that knob and loco appeared in the display. It felt very much like a traditional controller however the big difference being you were running 2 trains on the same track! You set which knob controls which loco in advance. For those who like a traditional Hammant & Morgan Duette type of controller then this is just perfect! However of course you can do so much more with the Hornby Elite!
 

Setting a decoder address for Greg (5) Why not set the address the same as the number on the side of the loco? 8113 Done and also showing several active functions below the direction arrow.
Lets write a CV and change the sound level.... ...or read a CV to check what the settings are. The Elite is now reading the decoder in the Bachmann sound loco.... ...and the CV control value appears for CV63 which is the sound level setting on the Bachmann sound loco


In terms of controlling functions you can control up to 13 and these are selected and turned on one at a time. The on/off button enables you to turn the last function selected off and back on again so if the last function you have turned on is a blast of a horn then in quick time you can turn that function off and on again for another quick blast of the horn. There did not appear to be the function lag that you do get with the Select console and any function turned on worked very quickly. Functions that are on are shown in the display for each loco selected.
 

 
However I have decided I want to increase the sound volume so the CV setting is now been written into the decoder as 36.
 
Bach to "Stuart"... ...and "Greg"  
Hornby Elite manual contents Hornby Elite facts and set up instructions at the start of the manual

 

Hornby Elite Crib Sheet included with manual. Note it has changed since it was first shown a few months ago. Adjusting Speed Curves and Reading and Writing CV decoder control values
Changing and reading CV decoder control values. The point is made by Hornby that not all decoders permit you to read control values. Installing Hornby decoder into ViTrains Class 37 loco in 5 minutes! (1) Remove body in under 15 seconds! Installing Hornby decoder into ViTrains Class 37 loco in 5 minutes! (2) Clips removed from decoder socket.. Installing Hornby decoder into ViTrains Class 37 loco in 5 minutes! (3) Decoder plugged into socket.

Some new Hornby decoders that arrived at the same time as the Elite gave me the chance to try out the ViTrains Class 37 Loco with a Hornby decoder fitted and being operated by the Elite. As you can see it was a 5 minute job fitting the decoder and all locos should be as simple as this. Not one screw to remove and refit! The loco performed very smoothly with the decoder fitted under Elite control with no audible decoder buzz when stationary with good steady acceleration and deceleration.

Installing Hornby decoder into ViTrains Class 37 loco in 5 minutes! (4) Ready to replace body after test run. Note the Peco power track clips.
 

There is a lot that I have not touched on such as the RailCom feature, double and triple heading, being able to run 10 locos at the same time, the various language settings (French, German, etc), the locomotive favourite settings,  speed curve profiling, accessory programming and control, the use of ExpressNet to hook up up to 8 Select consoles to use as walkabout controllers, and more!


The Hornby Elite is an entirely different animal to it smaller brother the Hornby Select and could be considered to be a full feature system with a 4amp power supply as standard on offer at a very competitive and attractive price. Hornby have produced a very solid piece of fully specified DCC kit in the Hornby Elite that definitely does not have the shortcomings of a starter console such as the Select. If you have a traditional twin knob DC control system at home to control your model railway then you will definitely feel at home with the Hornby Elite!

 

18th April 2007 Update - Since the Hornby Elite review was prepared Hornby have released a firmware update (ver 1.1). Following the download of new software, CV values are now read back accurately. For visitors who wishes to update their Elite drivers there is a link to the Hornby firmware update in the review.

Elite 1.1 Firmware Update Info (opens in new window)


 

Thanks to OnTracks for giving us a great deal on this unit.
 

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