Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby dileTTante » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:07 pm

Following Bill Nielsen's advice I got a Sprog 2 DCC programmer instead of the ESU Navigator. First shop had sold out and after waiting a couple months I got one from another store. The device is tiny and costs just over $100. http://www.sprog-dcc.co.uk/index.html

Depending on what you use, the setup to control the trains could cost nearly what the ESU Navigator costs. But all you need is an old laptop or desktop computer to use the Sprog through a USB connection, and if you have one then the only cost is the Sprog. The software is JMRI which runs the Sprog easily and is free of charge. JMRI runs on Java so is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux which is what I use. Unlike the commercial DCC throttles, programming the decoders can be done with a large, easily viewed window on the laptop. JMRI also includes a throttle and control of layout accessories. http://jmri.sourceforge.net/

For a wireless hand held throttle, which only the Navigator offers in the low price range of throttles, I bought a cheap tablet computer based on the Android operating system. Most 7 inch tablets are around $400 or more. The one I bought was $150. A direct import from China, the tablet is less useful as a computer in N. America, but the Android application Engine Driver installed easily and works perfectly. It's free of charge and it connected with the JMRI from my laptop and works perfectly as a wireless hand held throttle. http://jmri.sourceforge.net/help/en/package/jmri/jmrit/withrottle/EngineDriverAndroidThrottle.shtml

The main limitation of the Sprog programmer is power but a booster can be added and as I mentioned elsewhere the booster is a simple amplifier that can be built inexpensively to produce 6 amps of power. This page shows booster and images of JMRI throttle. http://www.train35.com/dcc10.html

There is also RocRail software for train control and wireless throttle applications to use with it. http://wiki.rocrail.net/doku.php
I hope this information is useful for others. I'm really pleased with the results. Now I can finish decoder installation on my other locomotives -the question has been what resistor values to use to load the lighting LEDs.
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby ConducTTor » Mon Jul 25, 2011 7:14 pm

Good report. I'm sold. I'll order a SPROG 2 and be done with it.
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby dileTTante » Tue Jul 26, 2011 7:58 am

I'm glad the information was useful. I forgot to mention that a wireless router is needed to connect a wireless hand held throttle device to the computer. I tried without the router and couldn't connect. My router isn't the newest or the fastest, it's from recycling.

The Sprog comes with a CD containing JMRI software for installation on Windows, Mac or Linux. Linux has a USB driver in the kernel to run Sprog but it isn't loaded automatically and has to be loaded by a command in the terminal. There's a configurationI found on the internet for automatic loading of the USB driver but it didn't work on my version of linux, in fact the laptop wouldn't boot. It took a while to learn how to use DecoderPro and still couldn't get results. At some point DecoderPro started freezing up. Finally I removed the JMRI which was installed a few months ago and used the software from the Sprog CD and then things were good.

Later yesterday I learned how to add momentum to the locomotive. It's fun to watch.
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby railtwister » Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:19 am

ConducTTor wrote:Good report. I'm sold. I'll order a SPROG 2 and be done with it.


Hi Alex,

I thought you had a Lenz Compact DCC system, which should be better than the Sprog for operating a layout. Still, there's not much competition for the Sprog II at it's price for doing programming, especially if you already have a computer to connect to it.

JMRI DecoderPro and the Sprog II worked great with my little HP Netbook until, it seems one day MicroSoft grabbed control of it to do an update to Windows XP and screwed everything up. The Sprog & JMRI still worked, but became slow and usually required a few reboots before it would work properly, but what was really made useless was the wireless communication system. I didn't use my NetBook on the web that often, but it seems whenever I did, MS would grab control of it to install "updates", which it turns out, should have been my first clue. After many hours of unsuccessful troubleshooting, my wife finally took it in to the IT guy at the University where she works, and he found the problem, but said the only practical way to fix it was a clean install of the operating system, since there was no way to tell which "update" attempt had caused the problem. I remembered how one of the guys in the Mac user group I belonged to before moving out of Miami had done an install of Mac OSX on a PC netbook when they first came out, so more as a joke than anything else, I asked that since he had to do a clean install anyway, could he put Mac OSX on my HP Netbook rather than Windows XP. I fully expected him to say "No way", but to my surprise, he said he could, and installed Mac OS 10.5 on it (which my wife says works great)! Now, I'm still waiting for her to bring my NetBook home from her office so I can try the lastest JMRI software, but she keeps forgetting (so she claims). Hopefully, it will be as much of an improvement over Windows XP as I have heard about. At least MS won't be able grab control every time I connect to the internet...

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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby ConducTTor » Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:48 am

Yeah I do have the Lenz Compact but I really want computer control and got tired of trying to locate an XBus piece that would allow it to connect to my pc. After reading the first post above I said the hell with it and ordered a SPROG.

The Compact is a nice little system for the money but I find it a bit "clunky" to operate. With pc I can automate all trains and then control only shunters or whatever.........
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby JBr » Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:27 pm

Just be careful, Sprog is mentioned for decoder programming and layout control is just a bonus. If you intend to run more locos and to have digitally controlled turnouts etc. then you'll have to get a booster anyway. Also from what I gather about Sprog, they have their own proprietary protocol so programming your own app would probably be a lot harder than for anything XpressNet/Roconet compatible.

BTW, the cheapest way to get a DCC command station and computer interface is to ask someone good in electronics to build you NanoX + GenLI interface. Real costs (circuit board + parts) are lower ($30-40 max), it does everything Sprog can do and it is Xpressnet v3 compatible. See http://usuaris.tinet.cat/fmco/nanox_en.html
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby ConducTTor » Tue Jul 26, 2011 2:31 pm

Thanks for the warnings. I know a booster is pretty much required so I plan on getting one.

I may try the Compact with some sort of interface at some point. I just want to try different things out and see what I like. At ~$100 for each solution it's still cheaper to try both than most command stations cost anyway.
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby railtwister » Tue Jul 26, 2011 5:17 pm

Since I bought my Sprog II to use as a stand alone programmer along with a NetBook (for use at shows where either of my two module clubs (HO, On30) may be displaying, I don't have a lot of experience with it for operating a layout, other than test running freshly programmed locos on the test track (which is kind of like a very small layout). On occasion, I have tried to inadvertently open a second virtual throttle by mistake and JMRI wouldn't let me. Since this was always by accident and I didn't want a second throttle anyway, I simply closed it out and reverted to the throttle I had originally opened, without going further to see if there was some way to run a second train using the SPROG II. Having the virtual throttle doesn't really interest me that much other than for testing a programmed loco, but a lot of people I read about on the web are enjoying using the Sprog and JMRI along with their smart phone set up as a wireless throttle.

As for a computer interface to use with the Lenz Compact, I'm surprised to hear that finding one is that hard. When I looked into the Lenz USB version over a year ago, I did think they were a bit high priced, however (I seem to recall they were about $150), and since I had the Sprog II, I didn't look any further. I don't think one listed in any Lenz documentation that also mentions the Compact is likely to be the current USB version of the interface, but more likely is the older parallel/serial unit (which may be discontinued now). I would think the newer USB version would still work with the Compact, because Lenz is usually very good about making their new stuff backwards compatible with their older systems (but I can't say for certain).

I use three different types of DCC systems on a semi-regular basis (four, if you count the Sprog II), and actually own two of those types myself. The module clubs I mentioned above use Digitrax (HO) and Lenz (On30), plus I have friends who use Lenz, Digitrax, and Wangrow System One (now upgraded to current NCE) systems on their home layouts. My own first DCC system was a Digitrax Challenger bought at the National Train Show in Valley Forge in 1993, and I still have it, though I don't use it much at the moment. Shortly after that (in 1994 or early 1995), I bought a Lenz system which I have since upgraded to the newer software version every time one was released, and this is the system I use for my On30 modules (for about 5 years now). The HO club I belong to has used a Digitrax Chief system for well over 10 years now. I have friends who use MRC Prodigy systems on their own home layouts and some friends in a large On30 module club in Texas who use Bachmann's DCC systems on their modules and all love them, but I've never run anything on those layouts.

Of all the brands I am familiar with, my first choice and personal favorite is Lenz, because I like the idea that I have been able to keep my original equipment current through upgrades, while all of the other brands I have mentioned have required owners of obsoleted equipment to discard and replace components once they become outdated. Even though Digitrax is not my favorite DCC brand, my second favorite DCC System is the Digitrax Zephyr (now called the Zephyr Plus), because I feel it is the most complete DCC system for it's price on the market today, and it is expandable for use as your layout grows.

The point is though, all of my friends are happy with and enjoy their own DCC systems, whatever the brand, and they all have gotten good support and service from the respective manufacturers. I think this says something about DCC in general, despite it's sometimes daunting complexity and apparent expense.

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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby dileTTante » Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:03 pm

A friend gave me an Apple Powerbook G4 last year. He had dropped it slightly and it no longer worked. I got it running but don't use it because the dead battery is expensive to replace, the USB 1 is slow and the wireless won't link up to the WPA2 security level of my router. It's old and is running on OS X 10.4. For an experiment I loaded the software into it that came on the Sprog CD. I hooked it up to the router with ethernet cable. The photos show it running. I was able to operate the locomotive with either the throttle on the Mac or the one on the wireless tablet both open at the same time. The other photo shows one of the windows from the JMRI programming mode used to set up a locomotive in the the roster. You can see how easy it is to adjust a speed table for the decoder.

From what I've read a Lenz booster can be run by Sprog. I don't think the Lenz throttle and Sprog could be used at the same time but at least you could use one or the other with the booster.
Here is a video showing four trains being run at the same time just with the Sprog, albeit they're N scale. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0RmwNTxHPc

JBr mentioned NanoX and GenLI. I had considered these. The parts may be inexpensive but unless you know someone who will assemble the boards free of charge, you have another expense. I can do that, I've built power amps and preamps, but you also need to program the devices afterward. If you can't do these things then it's less of a bargain, but it does interface with XpressNet.
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Re: Sprog 2 Instead of Navigator

Postby railtwister » Tue Jul 26, 2011 10:28 pm

(This is being written on my new (sort of) "Hackintosh"/HP netbook running Mac OS 10.5 - my wife actually did remember to bring it home from her office today. Hooray!)

As far as boosters go, look into the NCE boosters if you can find any, and also check out the Zonemasters made by CVP in Texas, both look like pretty good units for the price. I'm pretty sure either of the would be usable with other brands of DCC systems.

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