This is my 100th post on germaN160 thus far and so I would like to end the year by showing off my surprised birthday gift – a Fleischmann z21 Digital Startset with ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railway) Rh1116 Taurus and passenger coaches (Art. no. 931383)
I wanted this set for quite some time. Guess, I was a good boy this year and thus, my Santa(rina) decided to reward me. If you have been following this blog, you would by now that I am modelling the German railways in Epoch 5/6. This era is marked by a few key characteristics, among other, liberalization/deregulation of the railway transport in Germany and Europe, rolling stocks with UIC identification numbers, etc. In particular, the liberalization of the railway market in Europe means the once state monopoly such as Deutsche Bahn (DB) is no longer the only passenger and freight railway provider in a country such as in Germany. You see more private operators in short-distance passenger transport as well as freight, and also neighbouring state operators plying certain routes in Germany. The Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB) for example operates all the way up to Frankfurt (Main), where I lived. You will see the ÖBB Rh1116 Taurus electric loco regularly stationed near Frankfurt station. Thus, having a foreign (or non-DB) trains running on my germaN160 layout would not be non-prototypical.
What are included?
This starter set consists of a Rh1116 Taurus DCC loco with sound (I believe it is Zimo sound decoder), 2 second-class coaches, 1 first-class coach, tracks and turnouts make an oval 45cm x 85cm, track connectors, and of course the heart of the system, the white z21 digital controller with WLAN router. Getting a starter set is a good way to get into a hobby or to expand you existing stuff. Buying all the above except the tracks/turnouts on piecemeal could be the same value as the whole z21 starter set. The value of all the tracks/turnouts is the same as the value of white z21 itself! Thus, consider the tracks/turnouts or z21 controller as “free”.
What are not included?
Where is the throttle? Well, you have to provide it yourself. The beauty of the white z21 or black Z21 (www.Z21.eu) is you could use your smart devices such iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet as a virtual throttle. Just download the Roco Z21 app and you are (almost) ready to go. On iPad or in my case Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition (Android tablet), you get to control two DCC-trains at the same time and from the same screen (in landscape format). In the photo below, I have the Rh1116 Taurus from the set and P42 Genesis (I will show how easy it was to add new loco to the list). I was able to run both trains on the same screen (left and right hands).
You need to supply your own pair of cables from the z21 controller to the track connectors. Other than that, a CAT5/6 cable is already included for connection between the WLAN router and the z21 controller.
Connect a pair of cables from the z21 controller (green terminal connector) to the track connectors as per below. The white cable is a LAN cable, one you normally find in office connections, connects to the WLAN router (sits above the z21).
Start the Z21 app and at main screen go to “Z21 Settings”. This is an important step before you put a DCC-loco on the track. This step is not explained in the online PDF manual. Notice the Track-Voltage reads Output Voltage “18” and Programming Voltage “16”. This output voltage applies to HO-scale. For N-scale, you need to change the output voltage to “12”. Failure to change this value would fry your N-scale decoder! The Programming Voltage should always be 2V below the Output Voltage.
Don’t forget to click “Send to Z21” to execute the changes in the z21 controller (make sure your WLAN connection to z21 controller is working). One thing I found lacking was the feedback from the Z21 whether any command or change from the app to the controller is properly executed. You just have to presume the command or change is executed; hence, the WLAN connection must always be on (some troubleshooting tips later).
Running the Trains
Click the large “PLAY” button on the main screen and you will see the following screen with two virtual throttles. At the bottom of each virtual throttle you will find a list of pre-configured locomotives. Just select your loco and all the settings for that loco will appear on Control One and/or Control Two panel(s). On top right of the screen, you will find a WLAN signal with a green check mark. This will tell you if your connection between Z21 app and WLAN is established (technically, it does not tell you if your WLAN connection to z21 controller is established. The green check mark could appear even if the LAN cable between WLAN router and z21 controller is not connected. So check the LAN cable is securely attached to the LAN ports on router and controller)
Adding other DCC-Locos
Adding DCC locos to the list is also easy steps. My Kato P42 Genesis address was changed from default “3” to “52” (the road number) about 7 years ago (using NCE PowerCab). Adding this to a pre-configured list, select “Railed Vehicles Settings” on the main screen. Press “+” /Add sign on top left corner and select “Locomotive”. To remove a loco from the list, select the pencil/ “Edit” sign.
Give the loco an easy-to-remember name. The road-number or some additional identification (if you have more than one loco of same type and the road number is not easily identifiable – this is the case with non-North American models). Enter the loco (decoder) address and specify the max. speed (in my case I have set it randomly at 200, although the max. speed is 177km/h, 110 mph (see Wiki)). Thanks to Wiki, you have a wealth of information about virtually any loco performance for traction fine-tuning.
Select DCC if you are not running Märklin locos and your choice of 14, 28 or 128 speed steps. The largest speed step 128 allows you run your train at crawling speed when you move the virtual throttle up 1/2 bar.
The display could either be in km/h (per hour kilometer, non-US speed measurement) or regulated steps (14, 28 or 128 steps).
Again, make sure the WLAN signal has a green check mark as any changes will be sent to the z21 controller (immediately??). Go back to main screen and click on the large “PLAY” button. See “Running the Trains” above.
I must say, I have been following the development of this z21 controller since I first saw it at Modellbau Süd, the annual N-scale convention and fair in Stuttgart in 2012. I was particularly impressed with the use of smart devices as virtual throttles which makes perfect sense for the hobby and the industry. The number of smart devices – phones and tablets – have increased tremendously in the last 4 years and surpassed the number of PC and laptops. The future is software-based rather than hardware-centric where the core intelligence of any system lies. The hardware will have to eventually keep up with the performance demand of the software processing and I am sure the hardware will. The diehards swear by their trust handheld throttles such as Digitrax, Lenz, Multimaus, NCE, etc. I am not again these handhelds. After all I own an 8-year old NCE PowerCab, which I have missed 4 chip upgrades. I would like to upgrade the PowerCab someday.
For a small- and medium-sized layout (or even a club layout using black Z21 controller and boosters), z21 provides a quick way to bring family members and friends into the model railway hobby. Just download the Z21 app into the phone or tablet, set up one or two locos per device and we are ready to run (I need to explore if there is an easy way to save one setting of all pre-configured locos as a master list and transfer to other devices either wirelessly (i.e. via Bluetooth) or conventionally (i.e. via cable). With a smart device, add additional player would be fast and at least transaction cost.
The Rh1116 Taurus runs smoothly and responses well to the virtual throttle. My home WLAN router was just next to the z21 WLAN router and there were occasionally signal interferences (you will notice on the WLAN signal (green check mark or red cross) on the main screen switching between green and red occasionally. I would need to find a better location in the next trial (after all this is the first unboxing trial).
On the virtual throttle screen, you will notice a “Stop/Go” button on middle top screen. If you have intermittent running problems, you could press stop and go to reset. I did this a few times especially at turnouts. I read that Fleischmann turnouts have contact problems. Proper wiring would solve this problem.
Overall, I am happy with the z21 controller. It was easy to set up and within 5 minutes you could run your first train. The control panels allow you to turn on/off specific functions like ditch or headlights, horn, bell, engine sound, announcements, brake and coupling/uncoupling sound. The Zimo sound was clear and loud. The decoder responded well.