z21 Review: Settings and Programming

Hello 2015! A good start for 2015 with my further review of the z21 controller. In my last post for 2014, I gave a quick run through of the setting up and running the trains. In this post, I would like to explain more about the Z21 settings and how to read and program decoder values.

z21 Settings
As mentioned in my last post, you need to change the default settings in z21 controller to suit your scale. The Output and Programming Voltages allow a value between 12V and 22V. The default settings are per the first photo.
20150101_133436Track-Voltage settings
The default Output Voltage was set at 18, a value typically applies to HO-scale (between 16V and 20V). For N-scale, this value varies between 12V and 16V. As the Programming Voltage could not go below 12V, you have to set this to “12” instead of “10” as earlier posted. You will get a notification “Data was sent”. For N-scale, I set to the following:

Common Settings
RailCom allows decoders that support decoders to feedback to command station (in our case z21 controller) the status of the decoder. This is particular useful when one would like to know the position of a loco (or train). This function is only possible if a decoder supports Railcom. The use of train automation software such as RocRail, iTrain allows TrainID to be reported on the display. You can turn this off/on anytime.

Center-Stop Key is found in the middle top panel. This is like an emergency stop button. You could set this to either “TrackPowerToggle” (i.e. turning the power on/off to the track. If you examine the z21 controller carefully, there is no power on/off button. Just “Stop”) or “EmergencyStopToggle” which stops all locos but not just the power to the track. See the difference. I like to set “TrackPowerToggle” since the z21 controller would be a distance from me and in the event of a short circuit, I could turn off the power to the track. When using “TrackPowerToggle”, you also stop all locos.

Programming-type allows you to specify using bit or byte (1 byte is 8 bits) value. Click any toggle (more about this later)

I am not sure what Program-Settings meant but these values were given by Roco/Fleischmann technical support for N-scale.

I tried out the Roco z21 app on my HTC Desire (Android phone) and found that the same track settings that I made earlier via the tablet were read by the the z21 app on the HTC too. In effect, the z21 is a mini computer. Any track settings sent to z21 controller are stored and could be retrieved by any smart devices connected to that z21 controller (via the WLAN). How I wish the train (mobile decoder) settings could also be stored and retrieved from z21 controller.
20150101_141116Programming Decoders
When you select “Programming” on the main screen, you will come the programming page with Program on Main (POM), Programming Track and Loco Address functions.

Loco Address function
I start with Loco Address function. The right panel allows you to read and program a decoder in a loco (could we read/program accessory decoders with z21 too? A good question to be answered). Click “Read” to read out the CVs on the decoder (known as CV Readback function). There are 4 CVs readable by z21 Loco Address function – CV1 (short address 0-255), C17/18 (extended address up to 4 digits 9999), CV29Bit5 (value 0 or 1) (note: this does not mean you cannot read other CVs. You can use Programming Track function to read/program other CVs)
20150101_134322 When you read or program a decoder, the loco headlights will blink intermittently and the loco will jump forward a few small steps. It sounds like a manual typewriter when a decoder is read or programmed. The LED will turn green when in programming mode and return to blue when the programming completes.
20150101_133825Programming Track function
When using (separate) Programming Track function, you must have only 1 loco at a time. You can read/program the decoder by first identifying which CV# you want to change. In the second photo above, you will see that the loco decoder has a short address “3” which corresponds to CV1.

In Programming Track function, you select the CV# you want to change, in this case CV1 (i.e. CV-Address) from CV-Value “3” to “52” (the road number of P42 Genesis). Again, the LED will turn green and the loco will jump a few steps.
20150101_134112 You can go to Loco Address function and click “Read” to see if the CV1 value has been updated.

Change Loco Images
I have shown how you could add new loco to the pre-configured list. Here I will show how to add a new image. Earlier the P42 Genesis had a blank loco image. Click on that image and you will be asked whether you want to select an image from a gallery or from a camera. I chose “camera” and snapped a picture of the P42.
20150101_14155420150101_141658You can then crop the image and the save the final version. I did this on my HTC phone and would need to repeat the same on my Samsung tablet or any other new devices.

20150101_141727z21 Updater
I was updating my Roco z21 mobile app and found that Roco/Fleischmann has published a z21 Updater app too.
20141231_171616The first app is your virtual throttle. The z21 Updater allows you to update the firmware in your z21 controller and SmartRail (aka “loco on threadmill”). When you click “Connect” (do not change the default IP address), the z21 Updater will check the current firmware version in your z21 controller. My current z21 firmware version is V1.21 (the latest versions for z21 and SmartRail are shown below the IP address)
20150101_142107Click “Update” and the server will push the latest version to your z21 controller (or SmartRail). So, the firmware version is now V1.25.

20150101_142213This z21 Updater app does no more than checking your current firmware version and send request to server to push the latest version to your z21 controller (and SmartRail). The z21 Maintenance.exe does more.

I hope this short review helps you to understand more about your z21 system and what it could and could not do. I look forward to your comments or feedback.


12 thoughts on “z21 Review: Settings and Programming

  1. The Z21 looks like a really nice piece of kit! The flexible software UI should really beat the primitive hardware controllers.

    I’m really interested in understanding how much of a “normal” DCC system it can replace. (In other words: should I start my layout with a Z21 and then extend, or start with cheaper DCC kit and then swap in a Z21.)

    One of the differences between the white and black Z21s is that only the black one has a port for a “programming track”. I think that’s what you need to program a loco decoder, right?

    • 1. I am not familiar with other traditional throttles such as those from Digitrax and how they upgrade their firmware. I have a NCE PowerCab. I know that their firmware is in the chip and the entire chip has to be physically replaced for every version upgrade (I skipped 4 versions).
      2. Nowadays, faster time-to-market requires manufacturers to respond to the market needs especially with new features (smartphone / tablet is an example). Bugs would be common and need new patches. Separating software UI from the hardware seems a more logical approach.
      3. Yes, it is a nice kit. I have been following the development of z21 for 2 years. I found the white z21 controller meets my needs.
      4. Without a “programming track” port, you can use a switch to toggle between main track and a separate programming track. The price difference between white z21 and black Z21, in my opinion, does not justify me having separate programming track or supporting non-Roco/Lenz throttles.
      5. Furthermore, how often would you program decoders while running trains? In my opinion, programming or other maintenance work is done off-session hours. Thus, you could have a separate programming track, which is not part of the layout, on your workbench and connect to z21 when needed. Anyway, all programming is done via the z21 app.
      6. On your question about swapping and extending Z21 and other DCC kits, this is only possible with a black Z21. I won’t have a chance to test this feature.

  2. One thing: the white lower case z21 has the same app interface as the black upper case Z21. So you may think that you are changing the output voltage from the preset 18V, but in fact the lower case white z21 does not have that capability. If you take a voltmeter to the track you will see that it still puts out the same 18V no matter what you set it to in the app. Only the more expensive upper case black Z21 has the capability to change the output voltage via the app interface. If you find that 18V is too much, the workaround on the lower case white z21 is to buy a different power adapter that provides a lower voltage *into* the z21 unit (e.g. replace the Fleischman/Roco 18V power adapter with a laptop adapter that puts out 12V).

    • Agreed, Misha. I was testing whether it was possible to change. The parameters were executed but the voltage did not change. I suggested to Roco that they have better acknowledge/response messages so that users would know if a setting is executed properly or does not apply to z21.

      Agreed with you that using lower voltage power adapter could be an alternative.

      Good to hear from you again 🙂

    • Hello Bam,

      Both z21 white and Z21 black supports DCC. There should not be any problem with Bachmann sound onboard. You need to know which sound function is assigned to which button.

      I don’t have a Bachmann loco to test.

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