Matt and Me at TMTV

Matt and Me - TMTV
(State of the art throttles – in their eras)

I spent the day yesterday at the TrainMasters TV studios with Matt Herman from ESU (the “Loksound” people). Matt and I shot a number of segments together for future episodes, including two that will focus on ESU’s CabControl – a new DCC system designed for the North American and Australian markets. (I wrote more about this system in an earlier post.)

In the photo above, Matt is holding ESU’s Mobile Control II throttle. This is essentially an Android-based tablet, enhanced with a throttle knob and some physical buttons. I use a pair of these with my ECoS 50200 system from ESU and they’re the nicest throttles I’ve ever encountered. They combine the flexibility of a software defined throttle with the tactile feel and convenience of hardware-based controls to access the most commonly used functions while running a train. What’s more, the feel of the throttle itself is quite high-quality – like a high-end smart phone. They’re just nice in the hand.

The CabControl system has many attractive features, which we will delve into on upcoming segments of “DCC Decoded” on TrainMasters TV. But here’s a sampling:

– Support for at least 32 mobile throttles. (The system can probably handle more, but as Matt said, “We gave up opening packages at 32.”)

– An incredibly intuitive user interface based on common smart phone gestures. Swiping left or right lets you switch locomotives from your stack. Swiping up or down lets you scroll between the function button screens for the active locomotive.

– Artwork for decoder-equipped locomotives and rolling stock. The user can choose from a selection of stock photos, or create and load their own. It’s a great way to confirm, at a glance, what locomotive is active on the throttle.

– Icons that may be mapped onto any function button. Need to know where the headlight is? You don’t need to remember it’s at F0 – just look for the lightbulb symbol.

– Custom menus for each decoder-equipped locomotive or car. If you have a model that doesn’t have a bell, you can hide the bell function button from the menu, keeping more of the function buttons that you do need on the first menu page.

– A motorized throttle knob that automatically resets itself to the last-set speed when switching between locomotives. This knob also has built-in reverse (by rotating counterclockwise past the zero speed point) for true one-handed operation.

– Four physical buttons that may be assigned to any function. I use these for the functions I access most frequently during an ops session, such as the whistle and bell.

– The ability to load other apps onto the throttles. For example, one could load a fast clock app, a car forwarding app, and so on. The throttles could even be loaded with Skype, and used for radio communication between crews and a dispatcher – who does not even have to be in the same country! (The throttles include a jack for headphones/mic.)

– Easy programming via the throttle, using menus written in plain language instead of CVs – and full compatibility with JMRI/DecoderPro, of course.

If it sounds like I’m a fan, it’s because I am. If you’re in the market for a DCC system – or looking to upgrade the one you already have – then CabControl should definitely be on your list.

I’m really happy with my ECoS 50200 from ESU, although it has a number of features that I will never use – for example, support for command control protocols from Marklin, Motorola and others in addition to the NMRA’s DCC standard. But the new CabControl system does everything that I need for my layout, so I would’ve gone with this one had it been available.

I know some friends are already looking at CabControl, and I’ll be happy to bring along my two Mobile Control II throttles to future operating sessions.

13 thoughts on “Matt and Me at TMTV

  1. One thing I don’t understand, being a “European’*, is why ESU seems to think that their new CabControl is of less interest to us over here.

    * There is, of course, no such thing, just as using the word “American” can refer to two whole continents, rather than a union of 50 individual states. I mention this as I know Canadians in particular find being called “Americans”, without the “North” prefix, irksome.

    • I’m not sure it’s fair to say ESU feels the CabControl system is of less interest in Europe (including in the UK – which is still part of the European market at least until (if) Brexit happens).

      Rather, CabControl is a direct response to the fact that the ECoS system was of less interest in North America. It had features we would rarely, if ever, use. That, and the higher cost of entry – about three times the cost of most competitor’s starter sets with radio-based wireless cab – meant the ECoS had only limited appeal in the United States and Canada (and, I understand, in Australia). So, the CabControl system has been developed to address the cost issue, by deleting those features that really aren’t valued outside of Europe.

      I can’t speak to whether there are any plans to introduce CabControl to other markets, including the UK. I imagine some different regulatory approvals would be required – electrical standards, wireless standards, and so on – but of course ESU has experience with that…

      • Thanks, Trevor.
        But all those “North American objections” apply to this European (we can avoid the sometimes farcical politics by using it as a geographical reference) as well as many others.

        • The best answer I can offer is to suggest you contact ESU directly to ask them to offer this system in the UK. I’m pretty sure the version going on sale on North America (and Australia) is the direct result of people asking Matt Herman for it at train shows. If ESU in Europe doesn’t know it’s wanted they won’t know to produce it…
          Cheers!

          • I have sent them an email.

            Mind you, if the UK price of the Mobile II handsets is anything to go by, they won’t sell many.

          • And I’ll mention the interest to Matt next time I see him. He’s in charge of North America for ESU, but of course he talks to the folks in Europe.

            As for the price, maybe that’s why ESU isn’t introducing it there. That said, the Mobile Control II has an excellent radio – it uses WiFi protocols, so the signal is incredibly robust. And the price of the starter system is right in line with DCC systems from other manufacturers that include radio throttles: I did a price comparison in the comments section of my earlier posting about the CabControl system, and here’s what I said:

            The current-generation ECoS 50210 lists for US$675 at Tony’s Trains, while a Mobile Control II is US$256 with a wireless access point (US$240 without). So, an ECoS plus one wireless throttle would cost more than US$900. (It would give one three throttles, but two of them would be fixed to the command station.)

            The Cab Control system comes in at less than that, at US$390 on the Tony’s Trains site.

            By comparison (and if I’m reading the choices correctly on their website), Tony’s price on the cheapest Digitrax starter set with a radio cab is US$460 (although you can get one with an infrared cab for US$285.) And the cheapest NCE starter set with radio cab is US$480.

            Obviously, each has its own specs, features, throttle ergonomics, etc. But this will put ESU on the consideration list for many.

          • I asked them when it would be available in Europe, but their response simply and brusquely told me that it isn’t available in Europe, which I already knew.

            I can only assume disinterest on their part, so will go looking elsewhere.

            Matt, if you are reading this, you need to get HO to wise up on customer relations.

  2. This is exciting to read. I’m making the switch to CabControl and am eager to discover all that it offers.

    One thing I plan to do is modify the TrainCrew app by Ed Kapuscinski into an Android app, and then use a Bluetooth adapter plugged into the headphone jack to play the sounds through a speaker in the layout room (my room is small).

    Using this along with an actual riding conductor will make operations much more realistic on my branch line.

  3. I realize the point of the post is to feature the ESU throttle, but my contrarian eye can’t leave the chunky vintage home brew throttle you’re holding. In this era of retro products (i.e. tube amplifiers and vinyl LPs) I wonder if there’s a market for a simple DCC throttle packaged in a Masonite box with switches and knobs that look like what you’d find at Radio Shack…

  4. Trevor, that is some neat. Looks complicated to me, LOL. I am happy with my Pro Cab controller for now with my DCC layout. Sounds neat though. Have a great day.

    • On the contrary, Austin: it’s anything but complicated.

      ESU has created an interface that’s incredibly intuitive. Like using a smart phone. And they’ve placed a lot of the technical stuff that makes DCC complicated behind an easy to understand user interface.

      For example, while you can adjust settings using CVs, you no longer have to: you can simply scroll through the menus to find the attribute you want to adjust and make the change. In many systems, if you want to move a function to a different button (known as Function Mapping) you need to figure out what CV controls the function and what value determines which button it’s assigned to. In this system, you simply find the button in the menu and pick what you want it to do out of a list. You never need to look up a CV.

      Cheers!

    • I should add that as long as you’re happy with your current system, you’re doing it right. Well done – keep using what you know.

      But sometimes, something comes along that makes me think, “I would be even happier with this.” The ECoS 50200 from ESU was that type of revelation for me. This new CabControl system will be a revelation for others. Already, I know a few people who saw this system at the Chicagoland RPM last week who are planning to ditch their current system in favour of CabControl. It’s that good.

      But with everything in this hobby, your mileage may vary…

      Cheers!

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