TCS - Train Control System Decoders

Overview

TCS makes a lot of stuff, I won't cover it all.

Quality is OK, but it's not top of the line stuff, it's "upper middle class".

I've found fundamental bugs in their decoder firmware, read below, and the new WOW sound only decoder is ok, but for $150 it's the wrong price point, it needs to cost $100, or have features of the $190 motor and sound decoders from QSI, Massoth, Zimo, etc.

Wow sound decoder for large scale

First off, I have to say the Youtube video really set me off in a negative direction, the intro and ending music on the video is, well, egotistical and insulting. Almost a minute of just the 2001 theme and loud, nothing else. Dear TCS: the WOW sound decoder is nice, has a good price point, but is not even on par with the movie 2001 and Stanley Kubrick. 52 seconds of music with no train! Also "coming in 2013" was on the original video shown, but now gone, I guess the "halleuja" chorus was indicative of TCS' celebration that it was only 3 years late from their prediction? Sorry guys, I have to poke fun at this. Guys, please edit the 52 seconds at the beginning and the chorus at the end from the video, it's really gives the wrong impression.

 

OK, on to the decoder.

 

I'm actually evaluating the Diesel unit and having some issues, so will report here as it goes, but going to investigate thoroughly before posting negatively.

On the steam decoder, from the video:

The dynamo spins up, but the headlight goes on in a burst. Other decoders go from dim to birght like a real locomotive.

The next thing I did not like is that the transition from open drain cocks to closed was like a light switch, one chuff they are open and the next closed, no fade and all 4 close at the same time? Yuck. Just sounds artificial.

The first movement with the drain cocks on is not too bad, although you hear there is a sound with chuff and drain cock open, and there is a chuff and drain cock and rod clank, a little weird.

Whistle sounded nice.

The "dynamic chuff" is volume only. Compare this to a QSI or Zimo or Massoth where the sound of the chuff is different under load, heavy load, and coasting.

Also, for example, when you reverse direction, the QSI will give you the sound of the reversing linkage.

So, is it a good sound system, yes. Is it GREAT? No. Is it worth $160 vs. $200 for a QSI or Zimo? That's your decision. It's not as good, but there is a $40 difference. You need to decide.

In it's present state, I will continue to use mostly QSI and Zimo, I get better sound for $40 more and more lighting controls and the ability to puff smoke, and synchronization of drivers and chuffing and a very sophisticated motor control, as well as servo control (Zimo).

Problem with setting "crew announcements" using AirWire

If your loco runs for a while and then puts on the brakes (makes the brake noise and stops), this is most likely the result of a poorly documented "feature".

What happens with this feature on, if you do not issue a command to the decoder for 43 seconds (default setting), then for the next 15 seconds, the system beeps, warning you of imminent "stopping" and after this 15 seconds elapses, the system will set the brakes, you will hear the squeal and the loco will stop.

In a quest for prototype operation, this feature basically emulates the "dead man's switch" in a loco... it makes sense from a prototype view, and from a "normal" DCC viewpoint makes perfect sense. DCC normally spends it's "spare time" sending redundant "speed commands", so this timeout never happens, and if it does, then that usually means something bad has happened, power is there but the DCC signal is corrupt.

OK, so why the problem using AirWire? Because a compromise has been made on some  "wireless DCC" systems. Power is never an issue for normal DCC since you have a 5 to 20 amp supply, but when your DCC command station is in a battery powered handheld, having the transmitter transmitting continuously is an issue. So normally products like AirWire ONLY transmit when there is a change, like you press a function button, or CHANGE the speed.

So what happens is you are merrily rolling along, everything is fine, but if you don't change the speed or push a function button every 1 minute, your train will stop because of the timeout in the "crew announcements" mode, which we have figured out is also a "deadmans switch".

So, the moral here is don't enable this feature in AirWire or any other system that does not work like "normal DCC".

 

Z scale decoders

TCS makes several mobile decoders, the AZL4 drop in for many AZL locos, the MZA4 drop in for many MT locos, and the Z2 wired decoder for hardwired installations.

As an overview, many people like these decoders because they have 4 lighting outputs (the standard headlights and 2 more) so for extra lighting it's nice to have.

They also make 2 function only decoders, the FL2 and FL4.

 

My biggest gripe is the custom speed table. A bit of background: very few people use a custom speed table. Usually Vmin, Vmax, and Vmid (if implemented) is sufficient.

Many people complain about different speeds of locos at the same Speed Step, but don't do anything about it, and it's easy with the above settings.

I've used speed matching in G scale for a long time, since I run mainline trains with multiple locos on a train more often than not.

In Z scale, there is a VERY wide variation in speeds, due to different gearing, and something more common in Z scale, identical locos will run at different speeds, due to small differences in friction, mechanicals, etc. It's just a fact of life in this tiny scale where a cat hair on an axle makes a big difference.

So, I use custom speed tables, where you get 28 different values for "voltage" at each speed step. Suffice it to say in 128 SS mode, different manufacturers do different things, some do not support custom speed tables in 128 SS modes (stupid, mostly old designs), but most modern ones do, and interpolate the speed from 28 to the 128 steps.

Suffice it to say here that TCS decoders are crap (yes this adjective/noun is deserved) in this respect, the short answer is that there are 2 symptoms, both I think of a common issue internally.

1. setting a progressive set of entries does NOT give a progessive set of resulting speeds.

2. modifying certain steps in the custom table can produce wild and unpredictable results.

I'm stopping here, to finish later, and fill in the details, and how you can demonstrate this for yourself. I also need to check out the G scale decoder and see if it has the same problem.

 

MZA4

The picture below shows the MZA4. This is a drop in decoder for the MT GP9, GP35, and SD40. There was a "recall" where there was copper very close to where the motor springs go. This copper was connected to the circular "land" that the chassis "pins" connect to, thus creating a short between the motor and the track pickups. Don't know the dates on this. http://www.tcsdcc.com/Customer_Content/Technical_Info/Tech_Info/FAQPage.php?q=64

The solution is to cut/grind away the little chunk of copper in the picture (or you could use kapton tape it seems)

There are 4 functions, counting the two headlights. There are 3 pads to support the 2 extra function outputs. In addition, they indicate the location of the current limiting resistors for the 2 stock leds.

Z2

The Z2 does not have the extra 2 solder pads for the extra 2 functions like the drop in.

Version information:

CV 7 - version number

CV249 version?

 

CV250 - month

CV 251 - day

CV 252 - year

 

BEMF

Many people have performance issues with BEMF enabled.

Years ago, general counsel was to turn off BEMF when consisting, not sure this is still true for all manufacturers

BEMF is enabled by default,

CV182 has some interesting BEMF features..

bit 0 - automatic bemf / stop on dc enabled / no keep alive

bit 1 - set for special bemf for 3 pole motors

bit 2 - automatic bemf - stop on dc disabled / keep alive enabled,  this is set by default..

bit 3 - disable safety check (need function packet received twice to act on it) (wowsound)

bit 4 - approx 2 second motor delay (wowsound diesel)

 

TCS DCC function list:

The "manual" supplied with the decoders, well, it basically "sucks" in my "DCC" opinion. I'm creating a single list here, because some are not listed, and many are listed in a confusing way, and some are on separate documents.  Here's my cheat sheet and comments.

Things in bold are stuff that is "different" or "interesting".

CV 1 - short DCC address (default 3)

CV 2 - start speed, (default 0)

CV 3 - acceleration momentum (default 1)

CV 4 - deceleration momentum (default 1)

CV 5 - top speed (default 0)

CV 6 - mid speed (nice) nice (default is 0, straight line between CV 2 and CV 5)

CV7 - decoder version?

CV 8 is decoder reset, set to 2 for reset, resets most stuff. Read back for manufacturer id, should be 153 for TCS

Factory reset can be done on the main track or on the programming track. To reset CV's to their factory setting write a value of 2 into CV8. The reset occurs the moment the decoder gets the reset command. (Earlier decoder versions had to go through a power on/off before the reset occurred.) CV's that will reset to factory default: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 17, 18, 19, 29, 30, 49, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 61 . The user-loadable speed table is not affected by the reset

CV  10 sets BEMF cutout speed

defaults to 0, i.e. BEMF always on... range is almost exactly mapped to speed steps, so if you want it to cut out at ss 10, set to 10. This might be helpful in consists.

CV 13 - analog power control "turn off black or red powered functions"

analog power conversion (DC mode) must be enabled in CV29... also refers to "brake on DC". Apparently if the loco crosses from DCC into a DC "block", the loco will slow to a stop (subject to CV4 setting), "convert" to analog power, and then accelerate to  a speed appropriate to the DC voltage level. Weird, but I think some of this is legacy stuff for when DCC was young. (Thanks for the explanation: Garth Hamilton) default is 255, don't know what different values do.

CV 15 is decoder lock

to unlock set to zero or equal to CV16, setting CV 15 to 7 locks all decoders that are at same address, same address decoders need different CV16 subaddress.  (I guess this implies POM)

CV 16 works with CV 15

convention is to set to a number for groups, can be set to anything apparently, see the manual for a confusing explanation, but =1 for mobile, =2 for sound, =3 lights only as defaults, you can set it to anything if you want a unique lock.

CV 17 & 18 - standard long address registers (default 0)

CV 19 - standard consist address register (default 0)

CV 21 - consist lighting control - affects function output wires, green, purple, brown wires in a consist. (only green and purple on Z2)

green is 1, purple is 2, brown is 4. add them in if you want them active in consist.

CV 22 - consist lighting control - headlight/white wire = 1, rear headlight/yellow wire = 2, set these for active in consist as in cv 21

so lead loco wants cv22 =1, rear loco wants cv22 = 2

Note: there is something erratic in this programming, had to program locos several times for it to work right, even though reading CV22 gave the right result. Also seems that changing any other lighting configuration wipes this setting out.

CV 23 & 24 - standard acceleration and deceleration in consist (default 0)

CV 29 - follows standard (default 6) Note that 28 speed steps and DC mode are the default, the manual is really backwards, implies 6 means 14 steps and disable DC mode

bit - value - meaning when "on"/set

0 - 1 - reverse direction (default forward)

1 - 2 - enable 28 speed steps (default)

2 - 4 - enable DC mode (default)

4 - 16 - activate loadable speed table (default use standard speed table)

5 - 32 - enable long address (default short address enabled)

CV 49-52 control the lighting effects for the outputs for white, yellow, green, purple respectively. (white and yellow are front and rear lights) (note Z2 only has white and yellow)

set to 0 through 13 for front light only, add 16 for reverse light only , add 32 for both - see their table http://www.tcsdcc.com/Customer_Content/Literature/Decoders/Z_Scale/MZA4/MZA4_WEB.pdf

CV 56, 57, "dither" frequency and voltage - when enabled, it is enabled all the time. (defaults 3 and 10 respectively)(enable with cv 61) (My opinion is the TCS BEMF is fine, even in consists)

Like "kick start" in NCE, only works if BEMF is off. Both need to be greater than 0 to be working.

56 is frequency, default is 3, 1 is highest freq, 255 is lowest

57 is voltage, default it 10, lowest is 1, highest 255

TCS recommends using dither of 15 as a starting point, and increase by 5 at a time until you get proper low speed starting. Then play with frequency by 1 at a time to see when it improves.

CV 61 - BEMF control and dimmed lighting (default 1, BEMF on, no dimming)

bit - value - meaning when "on"/set

0 - 1 - enable BEMF

1 - 2 - enable function button control of BEMF (won't come on unless bit 0 is 1) (default is function key 6)

2 - 4 - maybe enhanced button control, auto control - f2 on/off, direction for reversing

3 - 8 - no definition

4 - 16 - enables dim when stopped

5 - 32 - enables the "opposite" light dimmed (rear light dimmed in forward)

6 - 64 - maybe used in button control of motor output (f2 forward, f3 reverse)

CV 64 - sets dimmed brightness

2-6 for LEDs, 12-18 for bulbs. Default is 15 - need to experiment

CV 67-94 (custom speed table)

note: seems you have to do this in service mode, not pom

CV 105, 106 - user registers

CV 125-132, supplemental acceleration curves "variable momentum", that "enhance" CV3 and 4. (not sure these are implemented)

For acceleration, cv 129 - 132 take over from CV3, cv 129 is the rate 2 starting point, and cv 130 is the rate 2 acceleration, cv 131 is rate 3 starting point, and cv132 is the rate 3 acceleration.

Similarly, cv125 and 126 are the rate 2 "pairs" for rate 2 deceleration, and cv127 and 128 are the rate 3 pairs.

CV 136 - sets which function button can turn BEMF on and off

Default is 6, but this is off by default in CV 61 (bits 0-7 correspond to functions 5-12, 1=5, 2=6, 4=7, 8=8, 16=9, 32=10, 64=11, 128=12 (very weird)

CV249 - read TCS model number.

  • MZA4 is 40
  • Z2 is 41
  • FL2 is 6
  • FL4 is 7

CV250 - month

CV 251 - day

CV 252 - year

 

Tips / Problems:

Speed control:

I noticed that if you set CV 5 or CV 6 to anything other than zero, then the speed of the loco does NOT increase with increasing speed steps, but has a "glitch" approximately ever 4 speed steps.

If you set cv 5 nonzero, and then step up from SS 0  by increments of 1 SS, (use 128 ss, it's easier to notice) you will hear/see the loco increase speed with every step, except at the "glitch points", where increasing the speed by one step actually results in a lower speed than the previous step.

The glitches I noticed were as SS 5, 9, 14, 18, 23, 27, 32, 36, 41, 45, 50 (did not bother going higher)

I found this out because I was working on a different problem, in a Marklin Mikado, increasing the speed near max, results in a runaway at full speed, uncontrollable. It appears the motor noise masks the ability of the decoder to receive commands.

By setting CV5 to about 70, this tendency was almost completely eliminated, and when the "runaway" occurred, usually a second speed command brought it back.

I surmise the first problem above is caused by bad coding, a math error in the firmware. Thus I reasoned a custom speed table would solve the "speed step glitch". It did.

The problem has been noticed by many people, although the "loyal" followers will deny it, often stating they have installed "dozens" and never seen the problem.

Here's a link to a discussion and description of the issue:

https://www.therailwire.net/forum/index.php?topic=40182.0

Apparently a TCS rep acknowledged the problem in October 2016, so maybe we will have some resolution.

 

 

 

 

 

advanced consisting and cv21 and 22

make sure all lights are off before doing any programming

 

 

CV
Description
Default
1
Primary Address
3
2
Start Volts
0
3
Acceleration
0
4
Deceleration
0
5
Vhigh
0
6
Mid Volts
0
7
Manufacturer Version
8
Manufacturer ID + Factory Reset
153
10
BEMF Cutout
0
13
Funct. Active in Analog Mode
255
15
Decoder Unlock
0
16
Decoder Unlock Number
1
17
Upper Byte extended Address
0
18
Lower Byte extended Address
0
19
Consist Add.
0
21
Consist Function Control
0
22
Consist Function Control
0
23
Acceleration In Consist
0
24
Deceleration In Consist
0
28
RailCom Configuration
0
29
Decoder Configuration
6
30
Not in USE
33
Forward Light Map
1
34
Reverse Light Map
2
35
Function 1 Map (Green 0-6)
4
36
Function 2 Map (Purple 0-6)
8
37
Function 1 Map (Green 7-12)
0
38
Function 2 Map (Purple 7-12)
0
39
Function 3 Map (Brown 0-6)
16
40
Function 4 Map (Pink 0-6)
32
41
Function 3 Map (Brown 7-12)
0
42
Function 4 Map (Pink 7-12)
0
43
Function 5 Map (Pink/Purple 0-6)
64
44
Function 6 Map (Green/Brown 0-6)
128
45
Function 5 Map (Pink/Purple 7-12)
0
46
Function 6 Map (Green/Brown 7-12)
0
49
Forward Light Feature (White)
0
50
Reverse Light Feature (Yellow)
16
51
Function One Feature (Green)
32
52
Function Two Feature (Violet)
32
53
Function Three feature (Brown)
32
54
Function Four Feature (Pink)
32
55
Function Five Feature (Pink/Purple)
32
56
Dither Frequency
3
57
Dither Amplitude
10
58
Function Six Features (Green/Brown)
32
59
Not in USE
46
60
Not in USE
61
Adding 8 enables brake button control
(default button 6)
1
62
Not in USE
63
Ditch Light Blink Hold Over
64
64
Constant Dim 1
64
65
Not in USE
66
Forward Motor Trim
128
67
Step 1 Speed Table
2
68
Step 2 Speed Table
5
69
Step 3 Speed Table
7
70
Step 4 Speed Table
12
71
Step 5 Speed Table
16
72
Step 6 Speed Table
21
73
Step 7 Speed Table
26
74
Step 8 Speed Table
30
75
Step 9 Speed Table
35
76
Step 10 Speed Table
40
77
Step 11 Speed Table
47
78
Step 12 Speed Table
51
79
Step 13 Speed Table
58
80
Step 14 Speed Table
65
81
Step 15 Speed Table
72
82
Step 16 Speed Table
79
CV
Description
Default
83
Step 17 Speed Table
84
84
Step 18 Speed Table
93
85
Step 19 Speed Table
100
86
Step 20 Speed Table
112
87
Step 21 Speed Table
121
88
Step 22 Speed Table
135
89
Step 23 Speed Table
147
90
Step 24 Speed Table
161
91
Step 25 Speed Table
177
92
Step 26 Speed Table
196
93
Step 27 Speed Table
219
94
Step 28 Speed Table
255
95
Reverse Motor Trim
128
104
userID
0
105
userID
0
106
userID
0
112
Mars Min Brightness
113
Mars Max Bright Time
9
114
Mars Total Light Cycle
1
115
Mars Mid Brightness
6
116
Mars Max Brightness
22
117
Ditch Light Blink Rate
3
118
Rotary Min. Bright
1
119
Rotary Max. Bright Time
5
120
Rotary Total Light Cycle
1
121
Rotary Mid Brightness
15
122
Rotary Max Brightness
25
123
On/Off rule 17 Dimming
32
124
On/Off Ditch Light Blink
8
124
Ditch Light button map.
8
125
Rate 2 Starting Point
0
126
Acceleration Rate 2
0
127
Rate 3 Starting Point
0
128
Acceleration Rate 3
0
129
Rate 5 Ending Point
0
130
Deceleration Rate 5
0
131
Rate 4 Ending Point
0
132
Deceleration Rate 4
0
133
Power for Button Control
255
134
Button Control of Motor Circ.
2
135
Flicker Adjust
16
135
Random Flicker 1 Adjustment
16
136
BEMF Map
2
137
Brake light off delay (Fine Adjustment)
128
138
Brake light off delay (Course Adjustment)
16
139
Brake map (button)
128
140
Single Pulse Strobe 1 Length of OFF pulse
140
141
Single Pulse Strobe 1 Length of ON pulse
5
142
Single Pulse Strobe 2 Length of OFF pulse
124
143
Single Pulse Strobe 2 Length of ON pulse
4
144
Flash off time
144
145
Flash on time
48
146
Double Pulse Strobe 1 off time
112
147
Double Pulse Strobe 1 on time
5
148
Double Pulse Strobe 1 short off time
16
149
Double Pulse Strobe 2 off time
117
150
Double Pulse Strobe 2 on time
5
151
Double Pulse Strobe 2 short off time
16
152
Random Flicker 2 Adjustment
16
153
Constant Dim 2 Adjustment
5
154
Constant Dim 3 Adjustment
5
155
Constant Dim 4 Adjustment
5
156
Headlight (0 no dimming, 1-32 goes from
dimmest [1] to least dim [32]))
0
157
Reverse Light (0 no dimming, 1-32 goes from
dimmest [1] to least dim [32])
0
178
Railcom CV content address pointer
0
180
Select railcom identifiers
0
181
Options for RailCom Identifiers
0
182
Enable Keep-Alive
2
249
Decoder Identification
Read Only
250
Month of Manufacturing
Read Only
251
Day of Manufacturing
Read Only
252
Year of Manufacturing
Read Only

 

 

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