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Digitrax Evolution advanced DCC starter set

Read this review from the May 2017 Model Railroader
Digitrax Evolution advanced DCC starter set
Digitrax Evolution advanced DCC starter set

Digitrax adds another advanced command station, the DCS210, and a new DT500 throttle to its Digital Command Control (DCC) lineup. The new throttle and command station are also key components of the firm’s Evolution DCC starter set. [Another new Digitrax product, the DCS240 advanced command station, was reviewed in the December 2016 issue. – Ed.]

In 2016, Digitrax began a process of overhauling its non-decoder Digital Command Control (DCC) product line. First Digitrax announced in February that the UR91 simplex radio receiver would be discontinued. In November came the word that simplex throttle production would be discontinued as of February 2017, and DCS100/200 command station production would come to an end after 20 years.

DCS210 Command Station. The DCS210 advanced DCC command station booster combination is essentially a little brother to the DCS240. The DCS210 has 100 address slots: less than the 400 slots available on the DCS240 but more than the 20 slots available on the Zephyr XTRA starter set. The number of slots determines the maximum number of locomotives and consists that the sytem can handle. Like the DCS240, the DCS210 has the loco reset button on the front of the unit that makes it easy to clear all the address slots.

There’s also the EZ Route quick start button on the its front, which allowed me to set up routes and control turnouts from the DT500 throttle.

Because these new command stations require clean DC power, a new 15VDC 5-amp switching power supply is also included. Like the DCS240, the DCS210 features a dual power option that supports either the included 5A power supply or a more powerful 8A power supply (not included).

While the DT500 throttle is available separately, the DCS210 command station is available only as part of the Evolution starter set. The DT500 throttle is available in either a tethered, infrared-ready version or duplex radio wireless version. Depending on the throttle type, either a UP5 connector panel (tethered) or UR92 duplex radio/infrared transceiver (wireless) is included along with a 2-foot connector cable and an LT1 LocoNet cable tester. A UR90 infrared receiver (sold separately) is required to upgrade the tethered/IR version of the DT500 to infrared wireless operations.

Unlike the DCS240, the DCS210 doesn’t have a built-in USB/PR3 computer interface, so those who wish to add that capability will need to purchase a PR3 Xtra separately.

DT500 throttle. On the surface the only apparent difference between the DT500 and its predecessors, the DT400 and DT402, is the DT500 designation. However, as soon as I installed a battery in the throttle I saw a big difference – instead of instantly turning on like other Digitrax throttles, the DT500 just sits there. Finally, Digitrax has incorporated an on-off switch into a throttle. By pressing the pwr key on the DT500, I could turn the unit on and off. No more fumbling with the slippery battery cover and flipping the battery around inside to turn the unit on or off.

The DT500 also sports power-saving features designed to help conserve the battery. If left unused for more than 3 minutes, the throttle will go into power-saving mode. While in this state it will ping the system every 60 seconds and maintain control of locomotives. Hitting the exit key or moving the control knob will cause the throttle to wake up. If left alone for 20 more minutes, the DT500 will fully turn off. Adjusting the brightness of the display backlight or turning it off also extends battery life. These power-saving features can be turned on and off in the throttle configuration.

More new features. While the DT500 is backwards-compatible with earlier command stations, the special features of the DT500 work only with the DCS210 and DCS240 advanced command stations. The most powerful is the Query Mode. By pressing the pwr then the disp key, the right throttle knob allowed me to scroll through a series of 32 separate pieces of information.

Included among these are the hardware and software versions of the device being queried, input voltage, track voltage, current being drawn from the device, and the number of address slots in use, idle, free, and in consists.

I could also adjust the track voltage with voltage trim mode using another series of key clicks and the throttle knob. For example, the HO scale track voltage can be adjusted over a range of 14.5V to 18V. There are other voltage ranges for N and O scale. On previous Digitrax systems, this adjustment required opening the command station’s case and turning a small knob.

Like its predecessors, the DT500 can be customized. Among the 27 different options are the ability to turn on the 20 minute shut down, turn off key clicks, turn on the fast clock, turn off ballistic tracking, alter the function of keys for F2 and F3, change the display backlight brightness, and turn off the power-saving mode. Most important is the ability to reset the throttle to factory defaults. For most folks these settings are a good starting point, but it’s easy to experiment with other options.

Easy upgrades. Most new components in the Digitrax non-decoder product line now share the ability for users to upgrade firmware. This requires a PR3 interface and the DigiIPL software that can be downloaded free from the Digitrax website. This feature allows users to keep all their devices up to date the same way you regularly update your computer operating system and smart mobile devices, extending their useful lifespans while adding new features.

It’s equally important to upgrade any old UR92 duplex radio transceivers on a layout to guarantee all the new features on the DT500 operate correctly. For example, I couldn’t get the new DT500 Steal/Zap feature to work until I upgraded the UR92 firmware. I could then use one throttle to “steal” or select a locomotive already in use by another throttle, while automatically de-selecting it from the previous throttle.

A winning combination. Digitrax reports that it developed the Evolution starter set for new DCC users, as an upgrade path from their Zephyr Extra set, or as a replacement for older DCS100/200 units. The features of the DT500 add so much to the operational capabilities of the DCS210 that the components should be purchased as a set. Likewise, many of the advanced features of the DT500 throttle are only available when used with an advanced command station like the DCS210 or DCS240.

The combination of the command station, throttle, and suitable power supply in the Evolution starter set offer anyone wanting to get into DCC an impressive entry point with plenty of power and the ability to expand in the future. Furthermore, it offers Digitrax owners a convenient way to upgrade their current system with new features and pick up the new DT500 throttle in the package.

Price: $450 (tethered, Infrared-ready), $660 (duplex wireless)

Digitrax, Inc.
2443 Transmitter Road
Panama City, FL USA 32404

▪▪DCS210 advanced command station/booster
▪▪DT500 throttle with on/off button
▪▪PS615 15 VDC 5 amp power supply
▪▪UP5 throttle connector panel or UR92 duplex transceiver
▪▪Supports up to 100 locomotives and 100 throttles
▪▪User updatable firmware
▪▪External reset button for clearing mobile decoder information
▪▪External button for EZ Routes setup
▪▪Improved programming track output with higher voltage
▪▪Non-volatile flash memory—no internal batteries required for DCS210
▪▪Easy track voltage setting using throttle
▪▪Support for either 5 or 8 amp output dependent on power supply

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