Are the technological advances wholly good for the hobby?

It’s not often I’ll sit and write a general opinion piece. Personally I much preferring talking about actual physical modelling. However, something I read on a Facebook N Gauge group got me thinking.

Is Next 18 DCC truly good for the hobby?

The advances of Next 18 DCC seem to be a bit divisive. Some would argue the features it brings are long overdue. Some would argue the features are over priced and over the top.

What is Next 18?

Next18 takes N Gauge DCC to the next level of complexity. A standard Next 18 chip supports motor control, independent control of front and rear headlights. As well as this it also provides an impressive total of 6 auxiliary output functions.

The entire connector is only 8mm long and 5mm wide. Because of their small size, connector pins are only rated for 500 milliamps, so some connections are allocated two pins. The result being that although there are 18 pins, some are redundant, and the 18 pins provide only 12 discrete connections.

A key feature of the interface is “smokeless symmetry”. Pins are assigned in a somewhat symmetric fashion, such that if installed backward, no harm is done to either the locomotive or the decoder; it will not function properly, but nothing will be damaged or melted as was oft the case with previous standards of DCC Chip.

What did it replace?

Before Next 18 N Gauge modellers converting to DCC would ordinarily use an NEM 651 6 Pin Chip.

Much simpler in looks and ability. The 6 Pin Decoder controlled typically just motor and directional lighting. Often referred to as a 2 function decoder, quality varied massively between manufacturers.

One of the key benefits in my opinion however was cost. Comparatively 6 Pin DCC as a control method could be achieved fairly cost effectively.

Why no love for Next 18

I do like Next 18, and the features it brings, however I can equally understand why those that are in differing positions don’t.

Why set me on this tangent was the notion that someone was after a blanking plate for a Next18 socket. This was to cost them £9.88 + P&P

This shows how whilst standards in this hobby have marched on, so have costs. My preferred manufacturer of 6 Pin Chips has always been LAISDCC. Whilst they are not for everyone I find that they offer a good balance of price and quality.

The price of a 2 function 6 Pin decoder? Less than the new blanking plate cost! These chips could normally be purchased for less than £10 including P&P. Blanking plates I remember buying at 6 for £5.

It’s clear to see from the pictures (Next18 blanking plate on the right) that much more goes into the new kid on the block. But personally I think that is a bad thing in some regards. Locomotives are already expensive, with new ones rarely coming on the market sub £100 each. N Gauge is starting to become a rich persons hobby with no cheap way in.

At least in OO gauge you have the Hornby railroad collection which provides an affordable entry point. I know in N Gauge there is not the demand for such a separate range. But, how do you expect to improve demand in the hobby with such high barriers to entry.

For me?

A true chick and egg situation I know, but for me the hobby is going the wrong way. I’m a fit and healthy 30 something year old, and chose to model in N scale due to space constraints. If I struggle to see some of the finer details coming on models without a magnifier you have to wonder “what is the point”. Something I also wonder with the march of Next18 – I can’t see me using half the functions it brings.

Personally, I’m just not anal enough to want the extra detail and functions. I enjoy making a mess and playing trains. Complexity and delving into high tech settings is not what I call a relaxing Sunday afternoon.