Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Sprog 3 - Use as Command Station

1910 views
13 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Sprog 3 - Use as Command Station
Posted by swisstrain on Thursday, May 9, 2019 2:47 PM

I am thinking about purchasing a Sprog 3 to use it besides for programming with JMRI also as my command station, and use my cellphone as wireless throttle.  The 2.5A power that the Sprog 3 offers is plenty to run a couple of engines on my small layout.

If I understand correctly, in that case, my computer needs to be connected to the Spog 3 via USB cable at all times while I am running trains.  Is that assumption correct?

If so, I really don't want to have to find a place to set my laptop right next to my layout (If I would have that space, I would rather cram in another siding on my layout Big Smile).  Is there any way to replace that USB connection with some type of wireless connection, and have the laptop sit on a desk somewhere else in the room?

Any input, experience or setup ideas are welcome.

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,927 posts
Posted by rrinker on Thursday, May 9, 2019 5:13 PM

 Yes, it must be connected to a computer, because that's the only way you can have a throttle - either a JMRI throttle or throttle via the WiThrottle server.

You don;t need a full blown computer though, the Raspberry Pi is plenty powereful enough. SPROG is selling a complete setup, ready to go - just connect the parts together, hook it to the track, and turn it on. All software is already installed and configured. You might be able to buy a Pi and the software separately if you already have the SPROG. The whole thing is the size of the SPROG plus maybe twice as thick. Tiny. And you don't need an external wifi router to enable wifi throttles, either.

                              --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Friday, May 10, 2019 8:24 AM

Thanks for that advice, Randy.  I did hear about the Raspberry Pi, but was a bit intimidated.

I previously missed that Sprog is selling a complete preconfigured set with Pi and Sprog 3 and really like the idea of a completely isolated wifi just for the layout.  That might be the way to go.

The only thing that still makes me hesitate a little is using "soft" buttons and sliders on my cell, rather than "hard" knobs to turn on a throttle.  On the other hand, having buttons telling me "Bell", "Horn" rather than F1 or F2 sounds real tempting ...

Does anyone pro's and con's or experiences with that or is it just simply a matter of preference?

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,927 posts
Posted by rrinker on Friday, May 10, 2019 11:45 AM

 I am not a fan, I prefer knobs on my throttle, not touch screen sliders.

However, you can use both the new ESU cab (which runs Android and you cna install Engine Driver on it to connect to JMRI) and TCS is soon releasing their WiFi throttles which have wheels like the NCE cabs - in fact it looks like a reduced size NCE cab. So there is at least one current and one coming soon commercial option. And on the other magazine's site, Geoff Bunza has instructions for a DIY WiFi throttle that has a real knob and buttons - for about $20 in parts cost.

 I know others will say just use the volume buttons on the phone for the speed control, yes, you can do that. But you still have to look at the phone for direction or to tap the function buttons. 

                               --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Monday, May 13, 2019 12:05 PM

Thanks for that additional information, Randy.  I looked up the ESU and TCS throttles, and they look very nice, extremely functional and ergonomic, albeit somewhat pricey... I might start with using Engine Driver on my phone and see if I get used to it, but I see the point of wanting to be sure to keep an eye on the trains while driving.  It's good to know that the volume buttons can be used for speed control.

I also saw the article on building my own throttle in the "other" magazine, but not sure if my electronics skills are ready for prime time.

I just ordered a complete Sprog system, let's see where it takes me.  Worst case I just use it for programming decoders.

Thanks Randy, you helped me a great deal.

  • Member since
    May 2019
  • 27 posts
Posted by Mmbushnell on Monday, May 13, 2019 5:17 PM

Swiss, you don't need to have your laptop right on your layout, if you use Decoder Pro with a SPROG 3.  Configure Decoder Pro to use the SPROG, which will give you access to an internal WiTthrottle (under the "ACTIONS" tab).  This will let you use ENGINE DRIVER on your smart phone.  I use ENGINE DRIVER together with DECODER PRO/SPROG on my home programming track, without any problem.  Admittedly, it's not a very involved setup.  One benefit of ENGINE DRIVER is that it will show buttons for the many extended sound functions available on Broadway Limited locos, vice the conventional F0 - F10 or F12 on most throttles.  

With a Raspberry Pi, I understand that the laptop may even become superfluous.  We've recently installed a Raspberry Pi with a SPROG 2 on our club layout.  I've used it briefly, without any problems.  There has been some discussion about there being an upper limit to the number of remote throttles that this lashup can accommodate simultaneously, but I don't know for sure.  

I hope this helps. 

//  Michael

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Tuesday, May 14, 2019 12:29 PM

Thanks for those additional comments, Michael.

I meanwhile ordered a Raspberry Pi / Sprog 3 complete system, and I look forward to that arriving and checking it out.  I particularly like the fact that it creates it's own Wifi specifically for the layout. I won't run into the upper limit of throttles on my 9'x5' L shape layout, so that is no concern.

While I like some of the aspects of Engine Driver with named buttons and adjustable layout of the throttle, I am not yet certain if I will be comfortable controlling engine speed with a slider on my cell phone.  Will find out quickly once my system arrives ...  There is always the ESU throttle or the soon to be released TCS throttle (which looks very promising) as an alternative to the cell phone.  Those do not come cheap though.

Again, thanks for the input

Urs

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 3:32 PM

Got my Raspberry Pi /Sprog 3 system yesterday, and after a couple of hours of hooking it up and loading my roster on the pi, I ran trains.  Anyone looking for a low cost system for a small layout that is extremely small (4x3x2inches integrated in a nice little housing), includes a 3Amp command station, allows wireless control, and at the same time offers a solution for decoder programming look no further!  And basic computer skills will do, no need to understand any electronics.

Using my phone with Engine Driver loaded to control trains takes a little getting used to, but it works much better than imagined, even though you do need to look at the throttle when changing speed instead of looking at the engine. What I love is the fact that I don't have to remember F1, F2 , etc., I tap a button that says Bell, Whistle, Mute, Headlight, etc. and shows me the functions that are available for a particular decoder (admittedly, I needed to set up a roster in JMRI for that, but I had done that at an earlier point in time).

I may still get the TCS Wireless Throttle once it comes out, but so far, the experience is great.

Look for my Digitrax Zephyr DCS 50 on ebay that I will be selling shortly Big Smile

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 2:38 PM

I realize, it is an old thread that I am reviving here, but wanted to share some additional experience

As mentioned earlier in the thread, I purchased a Pi-Sprog DCC System, because I liked the idea of switching over to WiFi and using JMRI to control my trains and sold all my Digitrax stuff (DCS 50 Command Station, UR92 Transceiver Panel, UT4D Radio Throttle). It helped that I got substantially more money for my Digitrax system than what I spent for the Pi-Sprog, leaving me with $140 to play.

I initially operated using EngineDriver on an old cell phone, but pre-ordered a TCS Throttle for $240 at the then pre-order price (taking a leap of faith).  I do have to say I have a small HO layout (5x9ft L shape) in progress and essentially operate alone.

After a long wait, I finally got my throttle a couple of weeks back - what a difference compared to operating on the cell phone.  Starting up the system is a breeze, the throttle connects straight to my JMRI roster, and I won't even describe the difference in selecting an engine compared to the cumbersome way of doing it on my old Digitrax Radio Throttle (not really familiar with NCE).  The way the throttle lays in my hand and its ergonomics easily allows one handed operation.  The thumbweel is extremely nice to operate.  The display shows useful information.  I can choose bell, whistle and headlight on/off by name for my engines with a labeled button in thumbs reach (no need to program - directly pulled from the JMRI Roster info).... My only critique is that I would like the throttle to have a bit more grip.

Was the throttle somewhat expensive? Yes.  Is the experience worth it? YES!  And I don't think that for a WiFi controlled system, the complete system price (e.g. command station and throttle) is overly high - in the end, just over $400 - with no need to buy interfaces and other gadgets to make it WiFi compatible.  And when a friend comes over, he already has a throttle - most people get a kick out of downloading EngineDriver onto their cellphone and then running a train on my layout ...

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,927 posts
Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 3:26 PM

 Yes, a throttle with a knob is way better than a phone screen, at least for runnign trains. Since they released them there have been a few demos of the TCS throttle. I only with the smaller one would come with an encoder knob instead of the potentiometer.

 Though I'm not so sure what is 'cumbersome' about selecting a loco with Digitrax (NCE is the same, as are most any other systems using the native throttles). You press Loco, you key in the address, you press enter. WHat's complicated or cumbersome?

                                      --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    August 2016
  • 61 posts
Posted by swisstrain on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 4:13 PM

On the UT4D radio throttle it is cumbersome to select a loco: You need to use those lttle rotary selector knobs on the throttle (which are way too small for adult fingers) to select the loco address.  I agree, it is different on the command station.

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,927 posts
Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 4:29 PM

 I don;t have any of the UT throttles, nor will I, and I take my DT402 to the club instead of using their UT4s, not really because of the loco selection, but I really do not like potentometer throttles. Curious how TCS is going to handle switching between running locos. ESU goes way overboard - they use a motorized potentiometer so it physically tuens the knob to match the speed. On encoder throttles - there's nothing to match, it just updates the display to the speed of the newly acquired loco. On the old UT thtorrles, the LEDs would blink to tell you which way to turn the knob to match the speed. Now it just changes the speed of the loco to match the knob. 

 Apparently I am in a minority, as the UT4 was designed based on a survey conducted on the Digitrax Group about what features people wanted in a utility throttle. If I don;t use my DT400 or DT402, I bought an old DT100 on eBay cheap and use that. Same small form factor as the UT4, but it's an encoder knob with a display. It actually can be used like a DT40x to program but I wouldn't recommend it - the throttle with just 8 buttons, each of which performas multiple functions, is where the early reputation of Digitrax as being hard to use came from. And it only has 2 digits per side on the display so it uses this oddball fake hex display to represent numbers over 99. After 99 it goes A0-A9 for 100 to 109, then B0-B9 for 110-119, etc. 

 One thing I'm glad for, the WiThrottle protocol has become a defacto standard for wireless throttles. Not only does JMRI use it, but the direct wifi interfaces from Digitrax and MRC also use it. TCS took a bit of a leap of faith when they started designing their new throttles, but it seems to have worked out well. Plus they also support LCC, so there's that as well.

                                      --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

  • Member since
    December 2012
  • 59 posts
Posted by aj1s on Friday, October 9, 2020 10:07 PM

I remember when cell, er, mobile phones transitioned from physical keyboards to virtual, on screen ones. I was convinced it would never work. Then home button went away (on android phones). Doomed, for sure...

And the first voice controls were pretty spotty. They'll never get that to work!

Somewhere between users and phones adapting to each other, we have a far better interface. 

An on-screen slider throttle suits me fine. Perhaps it could be better, and I'm sure somebody will develop one, but it will still use the touch screen, and perhaps some haptic feedback (like at the full/off stops, and maybe intervals in between). 

And all such features cost $0 to manufacture. After all, it's only software! :)

Andy

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Reading, PA
  • 28,927 posts
Posted by rrinker on Saturday, October 10, 2020 12:58 PM

 Yeah I still don't talk to my phone or computer, even when I am completely alone. Feels too strange. People walking down the street mumbling (to passers-by) talking to their phone for commands, not being on phone calls, is strange enough. 

 Since this is a revived old thread - there are some other options since the original post was made, including canned, ready to go hardware witht he Pi and SPROG, and a memory card for the Pi already configured with an OS and JMRI, so all you really need to do is plug it in and turn it on. And of course the TCS throttle which works over WiFi so you don;t have to use a phone or tablet as throttle. There's also a DIY thing by Hans Tanner that mostly has realized something I've been talking about for years - a knob control to interface to a standard phone, so while most of the functions are touchscreen buttons, you have a real knob to control the train, not a slider or clicking the volume buttons. He uses something outside of WIThrottle, but it is also something already in JMRI. My concept would be to have the knob device connect to the phone running WiThrottle or Engine Driver via Bluetooth.

 There was sucha  thing back in the early days, before smartphones, when the Palm Pilot was the handheld device to have - Digitrax had a knob throttle that plugged in to certain models and connected to Loconet (so it wasn;t wireless) but it got discontinued as not many were sold. Time may be right today for someone to produce a commercial knob throttle add on for Android and IOS phones. I don;t see one of the major DCC brands doing this, it would have to come from the outside, as a DCC system manufacturer isn't going to jump right on making a product that allows the buyer to use a competitor's system. TCS is working from the other direction - they released a universal throttle first, the system is still in development.

                                    --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

Subscriber & Member Login

Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

Users Online

Search the Community

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Model Railroader Newsletter See all
Sign up for our FREE e-newsletter and get model railroad news in your inbox!