To start the ball rolling on my Nürnberg reports, here is some info on the Hornby Elite DCC unit.
Simon Kohler kindly gave me a demo of the Elite and let me have a go myself. He said that the Elite controllers were ready for dispatch in China and would be in Europe soon.
After the issues that came up around last Christmas after the release of the Hornby Select DCC system, I was keen to address those problems and see if the Elite was any better. I think that you have to look at the two products as two different concepts all together. I saw them as a "little brother" and a "big brother", but in reality they are more like "cousins". There is a relation, but they are two vastly different systems.
The Select is fine by itself as a train set controller. The Elite is a full-spec command controller that does what 95% of DCC users would ever want. The other 5% of DCC users are going to have to look elsewhere as Hornby are not going to produce a top of the range "Zimo-like" system in the foreseeable future. Try and understand where their market is and where they have to aim for regarding pricing and market share. Note that these percentages are not based on market research, but are arbitrary and used to get a point across.
Hornby had a DCC layout with a few locos running around separate tracks:
This might have been cool for Hornby, but they need to go over and see the likes of Märklin and see what automation is all about. Märklin had a DCC layout with 10 to 15 trains running at once including a Big-Boy bulling about 50 wagons. Very impressive. But back to Hornby:
Whilst we were testing the Elite, a representative of Electrotren was testing a Spanish loco on the "British" layout. Diesel locomotive 316 of the RENFE:
This loco had multiple functions including separately controlled indicator boxes. Very smart.
The Elite unit on demo was fully functional. It was a final production sample sent from China to Hornby for the show. The buttons were easy to press, they had a positive feel when pressed. The rotary encoders were smooth with a slight ratcheted feel. The dials were used to cycle through the menu and the dial is also uses as a confirm button when pressed. Good action and movement. Very solid construction.
The Hornby Elite unit:
The display is large - with very big characters. It will appeal to those with bad eyesight. Two rows of alpha-numeric characters, 8 per row. Direction allows, loco speed and 12 function status indicators make up the rest of the display.
The test setup with two rolling roads, one as a programming track and the other to run the loco:
The Elite is multi lingual. It is perhaps an indication of the intended direction that Hornby wishes to go. Just beware of setting the device to some foreign language as you may struggle to navigate back to English. The 9th press of the Unit button will take you to the system reset and you can get back to the default settings (which hopefully are English).
A fast clock that can go up to 10 times that of real time is provided. This makes protypical timetable operations possible and fun to follow in a few hours of play. Perhaps someone who uses a fast clock can enlighten us to what can be achieved on a layout that runs one.
Ok, I had to find out if the device could read a decoder's address (this is what happens when members send in questions). Yes it can. No the decoder was not the R8215 loco decoder, so it's address we able to be read. No problems there.
Each programming step is followed by the device flashing it's red LED 8 times. It seems a bit long - especially if you are doing things in a hurry. Programming is straight forward, simple and logical.
Running the programmed loco:
The menu structure can be seen below. It shows the simplicity and depth of features of the device. I was able to get the loco up and running without even looking at this sheet by simply following the order of menu items that came up on the display.
The 'crib sheet' giving the structure of the menu system:
So as we know, the Elite has 3 amps down to the track and can control about 6 to 10 locos at once. The twin control dials help in that respect. We are going to see more Hornby XpressNet cables and connectors that will help to add the walkabout units and to extend the XpressNet network around your layout.
A computer interface is provided, but no software. Apparently it has been tested with Railroad & Co, not sure about JMRI but I assume it uses basic XpressNet function calls and can emulate a Lenz system.
I don't expect many problems to arise when this is released as long as it does what this demo model did. Home users are going to be happy with this. Are British modellers going to hold off for Dynamis? I'm not sure. I think it will do well though and it will raise DCC awareness in the UK - that can only be good.
As an end note to the Hornby DCC segment, I asked Simon about the new Sapphire decoder. It is not a Lenz Gold, but it has features like a Lenz Gold. It is not in the 2007 catalogue as it has been produced in part due to the demands of the modelling fraternity who are expecting Hornby to produce a quality decoder. No news on it's release date or price yet.