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CaptOblivious

Railstars: Gauging interest in decoders for EMUs

Were specially designed EMU decoders (see below) to be offered for sale, would you buy?  

24 members have voted

  1. 1. Were specially designed EMU decoders (see below) to be offered for sale, would you buy?

    • No.
      7
    • Yes, but they'd have to be cheaper than what's out there now.
      4
    • Yes, and if it makes my life easier, I'd pay the same or more than what's available.
      10
    • Yes, I'll take 10 sets please.
      3


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CaptOblivious

As someone who has done a ton of DCC installations into various Japanese EMUs, I've longed for decoders that don't require me to modify the lightboards in my trains—especially since many recent Micro Ace releases are nearly impossible to modify at all. I've also longed for basic motor decoders that give up un-needed function leads to make for a smaller decoder.

 

Here's what I'm thinking. Initially, the decoders would come in sets of three, two for the cab cars and one for the motor car. The cab car decoders would have four leads: Two to the rails, and two to the lighting board. You'd only have to isolate the lightboard just like you would the motor: Not further modification necessary. The motor car decoder would also have only four leads: Rails and motor, no function leads at all. If there were interest, I'd consider expanding the line to work with DCC-controlled interior lighting too.

 

So, my question is: Would you be interested in a line of decoders meant to simplify (as far as possible, anyway!) installations into EMUs? If so, what other features (or lack thereof!) would you like to see in a specially tailored decoder?

 

(If this takes off, I'd consider expanding the range to include loco-specific decoders as well; we can discuss those when the time comes :D)

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keitaro

would you consider extra 2 wires for internal lighting for these?

 

i want to have control of lighting for all my trains.

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CaptOblivious

would you consider extra 2 wires for internal lighting for these?

 

i want to have control of lighting for all my trains.

 

Depends on what it does to size and cost, honestly. That said, I'd like to cater to those who, like you, want absolute lighting control. Just not sure if the best way is with a distinct model decoder or not.

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Nick_Burman

What I would like to see is a teeny-weeny decoder with just the traction functions - no lights, no bells and whistles, just backwards and forwards with the functions associated with movement (BEMF, inertia, etc...). Theses would come handy for cars without lighting (MODEMO, Tomytec, etc...) where an ordinary decoder is a bit of an overkill.

 

Cheers NB

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CaptOblivious

What I would like to see is a teeny-weeny decoder with just the traction functions - no lights, no bells and whistles, just backwards and forwards with the functions associated with movement (BEMF, inertia, etc...). Theses would come handy for cars without lighting (MODEMO, Tomytec, etc...) where an ordinary decoder is a bit of an overkill.

 

Cheers NB

 

This is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about too. Perhaps for folks like Keitaro, I'll design a second decoder that's a bit bigger, but I'd rather be able to offer the smallest possible motor decoders.

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mwsteele

I'd dig this a lot.

 

Unless it's a Kato model, and even then there are very few, it's super hard to find a decoder that will fit right or work without too much modification.

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Spaceman Spiff

I would be very interested.

 

Spiff

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Webskipper

I'd dig this a lot.

 

I'm hip to this.

 

Magically create those mini decoders Kato had someone else make with little to disappointing support.

 

ACME Instant decoder just add water.

post-436-13569930626646_thumb.png

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CaptOblivious

I'd dig this a lot.

 

I'm hip to this.

 

Magically create those mini decoders Kato had someone else make with little to disappointing support.

 

ACME Instant decoder just add water.

 

Excellent idea. Quite different from what I was proposing, but I like the way you think!

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Martijn Meerts

I don't think you can get all that much smaller than for example the Silver Mini's from Lenz, even if you leave out the 2 functions outputs. There's very little components on those specifically for the function outputs, and most of the space is taken up by essential components.

 

Like mentioned earlier, what I would really like to see is a decent lighting kit with a tiny decoder built right in.

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keitaro

What I would like to see is a teeny-weeny decoder with just the traction functions - no lights, no bells and whistles, just backwards and forwards with the functions associated with movement (BEMF, inertia, etc...). Theses would come handy for cars without lighting (MODEMO, Tomytec, etc...) where an ordinary decoder is a bit of an overkill.

 

Cheers NB

 

This is exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about too. Perhaps for folks like Keitaro, I'll design a second decoder that's a bit bigger, but I'd rather be able to offer the smallest possible motor decoders.

 

i'm all up for this having a complete basic one, plenty of models out there like world craft models with out lights.

 

maybe a 2 or 3 tier range would be good

 

I.e. mini basic (like NB said), one with traction and full lighting control and another with previous but other functions like bemf and consisting

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The_Ghan

Cap'n,

 

I'm using motor decoders in my cab cars because Digitrax just didn't get their TF1 and TF4 decoders right, ie: on automatic reverse of lighting on change of direction.  I love your idea, but for me it would need transponding in all decoders.  Here's my wish list:

 

Motor Decoder:

- transponding

- interior lighting

- bemf and other motion features (equal to the dn-125 would be great)

- needs to be able to do headlights and taillights for short consists where the cab car is also the motor car

 

Cab Decoders:

- trainsponding

- interior lighting

- auto reverse lighting (but manual override would be good)

- dip headlights on stop (or even below certain speed ie: approaching station)

 

Here's another thought: why not do a really simple single function decoder for interior lighting?  How cheap could you retail a pack of 5 or 10?  I wouldn't even need transponding in those and you could then market complete decoder packs for everything from a 16-car shinkansen down.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

Thanks for the feedback, everyone!

 

Martijn,

What you say is in many ways true. Last night I put together a first draft—it's got problems, to be sure—that is 7mm x 11mm (not sure how thick yet). Lenz Gold mini is 9mm x 11mm. TCS Z2 (what I use when I need a motoro decoder for converting stubborn cab cars) is 6.65mm x 12.95mm. CT Elektronik has one that is 7mm x 9mm, I know not how! This design would be usable for both motor decoders and the cab car decoders

 

keitaro,

Unfortunately, there's a floor to how cheap you can make a decoder, and it's frustratingly high. I'll look into a 1-function decoder, but I do not know that I can design something that will be able to compete on cost with the FL11 :(

 

The_Ghan,

Heard, and understood: Sounds good. Except Transponding. Can't do that without risking a lawsuit from Digitrax. Proprietary, patented technology that they don't readily license out to others. Bummer, that. Same story with RailCom now too (which is why the NMRA dropped it like a hot potato recently).

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Martijn Meerts

Cap, the silver mini is slightly smaller than the gold mini even. It's 10,6 x 7,5 x 2,6 mm. I don't think they'll be getting any smaller anytime soon either, unless someone starts mass producing them by the millions, and can use advanced machinery cost effectively. The silver mini can also be used as function decoder these days (with the latest software, it's released now), which basically means no modifications for cab cars other than isolating the boards. Of course, the silver mini is quite expensive to use as a function only decoder, and it's likely even more expensive in the US than it is here.

 

Another thing to consider is competition, there are a LOT of decoders to choose from, and even though they're not optimized for EMU/DMU motor cars, removing only the function outputs would likely not matter much with regards to cost. Brand loyalty might also come into play (I like the silver mini's, so I won't easily buy something else for example.) I think it's just a really difficult market to get into, unless you want to try and concentrate on the Japanese market, but DCC isn't quite mainstream there, so might not be the best idea.

 

That said, if the price, size and functionality is right, I'd definitely be interested, especially if there's a full range including single function interior lighting decoders, or, preferably, the already mentioned drop in lighting kits with decoder built in ;)

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CaptOblivious

Cap, the silver mini is slightly smaller than the gold mini even. It's 10,6 x 7,5 x 2,6 mm. I don't think they'll be getting any smaller anytime soon either, unless someone starts mass producing them by the millions, and can use advanced machinery cost effectively. The silver mini can also be used as function decoder these days (with the latest software, it's released now), which basically means no modifications for cab cars other than isolating the boards. Of course, the silver mini is quite expensive to use as a function only decoder, and it's likely even more expensive in the US than it is here.

 

Same with the TCS Z2; it's designed so that the motor outputs can be used to control a pair of functions; you can assign it a button and everything. But, even cheaper than the Lenz decoder, it's expensive for what it is when used that way. I'm aiming to make something less expensive for the cab cars, not necessarily smaller.

 

Another thing to consider is competition, there are a LOT of decoders to choose from, and even though they're not optimized for EMU/DMU motor cars, removing only the function outputs would likely not matter much with regards to cost. Brand loyalty might also come into play (I like the silver mini's, so I won't easily buy something else for example.) I think it's just a really difficult market to get into, unless you want to try and concentrate on the Japanese market, but DCC isn't quite mainstream there, so might not be the best idea.

 

Right now, I'm aiming at the specialty market. Yes, it would be very hard to break into a more mainstream market. I'm not looking to make a ton of money at this, but I do want an inexpensive product in my roster that can help maintain at least a trickle of income coming in while I work on bigger-ticket items.

 

 

So, all that said, I would need 50 preorders to get the ball rolling on this project. I have a target price of $20, but it might come in at more (I don't have a full design yet, so I can't really get an accurate estimate of the costs). Does this seem unrealistic to the folks here, being my primary market?

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Webskipper

So you are designing a decoder only or a drop-in that contains a light board for the bullets like the ones we are hard wiring? Pre- EM13 & FL12?

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CaptOblivious

So you are designing a decoder only or a drop-in that contains a light board for the bullets like the ones we are hard wiring? Pre- EM13 & FL12?

 

Not yet, no. I had played around with such a design with Martijn about a year ago, but I dropped it for lack of time. But it's still on my radar (see below).

 

What I am designing is a wire-in decoder with the following hardware feature set:

  • Smallest possible size
  • Lowest possible cost
  • Wire-in style installation for maximum flexibility
  • Can be used as 0-function motor decoder
  • Can be used as 2-function cab-car decoder that connects to lightboard without the need to cut them up

 

If there is a good response to these products, the next products might include:

  • Same decoder as above, but with function for controlling interior lighting
  • Wire-in 1-function decoder for interior lighting only
  • Drop-in replacements for Kato decoders EM13 FL12 and FR11
  • Interior lighting unit with integral decoder (difficult, requires custom plastics which I can't yet do)

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CaptOblivious

I've got a basic quote on the decoders; for the first run of 100 units, I would have to set MSRP at something like $35, and receive 50 preorders @ a 20% discount for a production run to be viable. That's not counting the prototyping costs, which I would incur myself. I could get the costs down considerably if there were significant volume demand, but I don't think that's likely…

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keitaro

I've got a basic quote on the decoders; for the first run of 100 units, I would have to set MSRP at something like $35, and receive 50 preorders @ a 20% discount for a production run to be viable. That's not counting the prototyping costs, which I would incur myself. I could get the costs down considerably if there were significant volume demand, but I don't think that's likely…

 

I don't know about that I recon if you float them on ebay in bulk packs people will see it on ebay and query it on forums etc thus spreading the word.

 

Then hopefully you get good feedback about them and hopefully start getting some buying going.

 

A tiny decoder would also be great for those with models such as the small diesel switchers and tank locos from manufacturers such as farish, dapol etc that don't support the 6 pin nem and are hard to even fit a lenz mini in and dapol and farish have plenty of those models.

 

I'd say would be good to sell in 10 and 25 packs I couldn't see any benefit in having sets for 6, 8, 10, 12 or 16 carriage sets as it's always good to have a few spares around anyway.

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CaptOblivious

I don't know about that I recon if you float them on ebay in bulk packs people will see it on ebay and query it on forums etc thus spreading the word.

 

This is a nice thought; unfortunately eBay doesn't permit, as I understand it, presales or sales of items of which the seller doesn't currently have stock. Also, the lead time is a bit long to keep costs down (about 4 weeks!), so I couldn't ship promptly. I am going to float these past my dealers, however, and see if they see much interest.

 

A tiny decoder would also be great for those with models such as the small diesel switchers and tank locos from manufacturers such as farish, dapol etc that don't support the 6 pin nem and are hard to even fit a lenz mini in and dapol and farish have plenty of those models.

 

This is something I hadn't thought about at all, thank you for bringing it up!

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The_Ghan

Cap'n

 

The news about Transponding and RailCom is pretty disappointing.  I would have thought that there would be value in licensing the technology to 3rd party decoder producers, particularly since Digitrax have already emailed me that they're not going to do a cab-car decoder with auto-reversing lights and dipped lights.  Perhaps you might at least talk to these guys again with a view to only providing decoders that fill voids in the Digitrax line-up?

 

I've had another thought also - how about selling decoders that are pre-tuned to a particular consist?  For example, we all know the running speeds and acceleration rates of most consists are available on the net.  You could market a set specifically for each shinkansen with all the settings pre-programmed.  Perhaps they have a separate piece of memory that is only programmable by the manufacturer (you) so that if we use the "reset" CV it resets to the default values for that type of consist.  All we need to do is install them and set the address.  Everytime HS releases a pre-order for a model, you release a pre-order for the decoder set.  Eg: Railstars EMU-E4, EMU-E5, EMU-200 for shinkansens, etc.  The reason I suggest this is simple: What is Railstars marketing angle?  Why should we be buying from Railstars?  To save a few dollars?  There has to be more to it than that!  Surely it's because Railstars is going to take at least some of the hard work out of setting up my decoders?

 

Just a thought.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

Cap'n

 

The news about Transponding and RailCom is pretty disappointing.  I would have thought that there would be value in licensing the technology to 3rd party decoder producers, particularly since Digitrax have already emailed me that they're not going to do a cab-car decoder with auto-reversing lights and dipped lights.  Perhaps you might at least talk to these guys again with a view to only providing decoders that fill voids in the Digitrax line-up?

 

Digitrax wants to be the Apple of the model railroading world: They don't take kindly to competition, and they certainly don't extend a hand to competitors. Sad, but that's the way it is.

 

I've had another thought also - how about selling decoders that are pre-tuned to a particular consist?  For example, we all know the running speeds and acceleration rates of most consists are available on the net.  You could market a set specifically for each shinkansen with all the settings pre-programmed.  Perhaps they have a separate piece of memory that is only programmable by the manufacturer (you) so that if we use the "reset" CV it resets to the default values for that type of consist.  All we need to do is install them and set the address.  Everytime HS releases a pre-order for a model, you release a pre-order for the decoder set.  Eg: Railstars EMU-E4, EMU-E5, EMU-200 for shinkansens, etc.  The reason I suggest this is simple: What is Railstars marketing angle?  Why should we be buying from Railstars?  To save a few dollars?  There has to be more to it than that!  Surely it's because Railstars is going to take at least some of the hard work out of setting up my decoders?

 

This is an awesome idea. The problem is that every model is geared differently, and so there's no way to know in advance how to tune a decoder. That said, there are still a couple of routes to this:

1) Get a sample of the train, and tune the decoder after the fact. Or at least to generate a table of CVs for users to look at, to take the guesswork out.

2) Make programming speed easier; the standard methods are required by the NMRA specifications, but there's no reason why I couldn't have CVs that can provide an alternate method. For example, the value in CVx is the top speed in km/h; the value in CVy is a scaling factor to correct for the gear ratio in a particular model, etc.

 

I like 1 the best. The difficulty is that the technology of DCC is pretty bad, and the specs tie my hands in ways neither of us care for.

 

The angle I'm going after, though, because there is one, is ease of conversion. Smaller decoders and fewer wires makes converting EMUs easier. That's why buy from me :D

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The_Ghan

Cap'n

 

Thanks for replying so quickly ... I guess you never sleep.

 

Point taken about gearing, manufacturer, etc.  There are a handful of consists that I have two of, the motor cars on each pair are always running at slightly different speeds.  So, here's a new product for you: Railstar Decoder Programmer.  Rather than programming each decoder, release a decoder programmer.  Here's how it works:

 

The Decoder Programmer is a little box, just like the Digitrax PC interface, that plugs into your USB port. 

 

Next, you connect the decoder you want to program.  To do this, the Decoder Programmer is fitted with two springs marked Rail A (red) and Rail B (black).  Simply bend each spring and slip the matching wire in between the coils - kind of like those old Tandy electronics kits for kids back in the 1970's.  If the decoder needs to think it is connected to a motor simply add two more springs to the product with a suitable resistor between.  Perhaps you can even include a couple of LEDs so that we have some visual feedback during programming.

 

Once everything is connected, you log onto the Railstar website and buy the programming settings, which get downloaded onto the software on the PC or MAC.  Perhaps the settings cost $1.

 

Just another thought.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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CaptOblivious

Intriguing, very creative. I like it. That said, you might be interested in looking up the SPROG and JMRI as a starting point for that that you can use today.

 

 

Cap'n

 

Thanks for replying so quickly ... I guess you never sleep.

 

Point taken about gearing, manufacturer, etc.  There are a handful of consists that I have two of, the motor cars on each pair are always running at slightly different speeds.  So, here's a new product for you: Railstar Decoder Programmer.  Rather than programming each decoder, release a decoder programmer.  Here's how it works:

 

The Decoder Programmer is a little box, just like the Digitrax PC interface, that plugs into your USB port.  

 

Next, you connect the decoder you want to program.  To do this, the Decoder Programmer is fitted with two springs marked Rail A (red) and Rail B (black).  Simply bend each spring and slip the matching wire in between the coils - kind of like those old Tandy electronics kits for kids back in the 1970's.  If the decoder needs to think it is connected to a motor simply add two more springs to the product with a suitable resistor between.  Perhaps you can even include a couple of LEDs so that we have some visual feedback during programming.

 

Once everything is connected, you log onto the Railstar website and buy the programming settings, which get downloaded onto the software on the PC or MAC.  Perhaps the settings cost $1.

 

Just another thought.

 

Cheers

 

The_Ghan

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keitaro

Alternatively you could also just have a forum for suggested cv's for a model.

 

Because I doubt capt wants to try and obtain every model released for cv's  :grin

 

You could however sell a box like ghan suggested to make it easy to modify these settings through a pc gui.

 

Though i question the usefullness of this as you still don't know until installing the decoder if it works good with your specific model as every motor will run a little different

 

Maybe a box with 2 small gator clips attached to rail with the decoder installed already and then you can upload the cv's that way with a pc gui.

 

Once uploaded simply unclip test it running and then if needs minor adjustments you can reclip to the track and modify with ease.

 

you could then also modify other settings/features of decoders as well with ease such as the address

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