Lenz, the inventor of DCC, has been adding features to the Lenz Digital Plus Systems since the early 1980s. This review talks about the changes since earlier reviews.
by Mike Greenwood
The Digital Plus system by Lenz offers a complete Digital Command and Control (DCC) system in an elegant, compact package. This system provides all of the usual features we’ve come to expect in today’s DCC systems and a few extras not seen with other manufacturers. The command station, known as the “LZV100” is an integrated DCC controller and 5amp booster all packaged in a single aluminum enclosure. The system can be expanded up to a full 10amps with the addition of the “LV102” 5amp booster module, which is housed in the same type of case as the “LZV100”. The system operates utilizing a 5 or 10 amp AC or DC power supply (supplied separately), with a voltage range of 14 to 27 volts.
The “LZV100” provides several connection options on the back of the unit; these include power and track hook-ups, two “ExpressNet” communication connections, Feedback and programming track connections, and additional booster connections. The system also provides the ability to add emergency stop “push buttons” to your layout, providing a convenient way of shutting down the layout rapidly without the use of a handheld controller. Additional plug-in connections can be added around the layout to facilitate the use of additional throttles (handheld controllers) or provide multiple locations for throttle connections. These adaptors known as “LA152” can be connected to the base system utilizing standard wire or readily available “DIN” plugs. The system does not use any type of “proprietary” connection plugs making it very easy and economical to add additional adaptors. Multiple adaptors can be “daisy” changed together using conventional wiring, “DIN” plugs or Telephone type extension cables providing even more connection flexibility. In addition to the “LA152” adaptor, Lenz offers a wide variety of other “ExpressNet” devices which allow the user to accomplish such tasks as connecting a computer, feedback and block monitoring, accessory control, and even using a “Smartphone” as a controller.
While it’s true that the command station is the heart of any DCC system, most systems today are measured by the handheld controller or throttle. Lenz currently offers two throttle options, the “LH90” and the “LH100”. The “LH90” is a basic throttle with a big control knob for controlling speed. It has your typical control functions associated with today’s DCC systems and can perform all DCC functions necessary for operating and programming your layout. However because of its basic design and limited screen display characteristics I would consider it a good operators throttle, but challenging to use as a programming throttle. Enter the “LH100”, in comparison with other systems on the market today, this digital handheld controller provides a nice balance between the amount of information displayed on the screen as well as the number of control buttons. The throttle is a comfortable size and well laid out with intuitive buttons, many providing multiple functionality depending on the task at hand. It is this throttle that was used to provide this review and all the subsequent information is based on the features of the “LH100”
I think it’s worth noting that it’s not the intent of this review to cover all the features and control functions of the Digital Plus system, especially those that are considered standard on today’s DCC systems, but instead, focus on the unique features of the Lenz Digital Plus system to aid the reader when it comes to making a decision about which system to choose.
Starting with the display, the Digital Plus system provides the user with plenty of operating information including the current engine number the state of functions 0 through 9, and the locomotives direction. The screen changes to display information relevant to the operation at hand, for example pressing one button allows you to view the status of all the function keys, F0 through F28. The buttons are laid out in a very logical manor with direction and speed control keys in the center of the throttle, function keys are placed on the lower portion. All buttons are very easy to access using one hand regardless of your finger size.
To start operating a locomotive, you select the “Cl”, Clear button, enter the locomotives address and press the “Enter” key. The throttle can store up to twelve locomotives in its memory called a “Stack”. The Stack is adjustable for storing 1 to 12 locomotives, giving the user control over how many locomotives are available for recall. The throttle has 10 direct access keys for function control labeled 0 thru 9. These keys access functions 0 through 28 and their status is displayed on the screen. To access functions 10 through 19 and 20 through 28 you use the “+” or “-“ key to change the function group. The display also shows which function group is active. The user can also program each function key to be latched or momentary. These settings are stored for each locomotive individually so one locomotive can have function 2 latched and another can be momentary, this applies to all function keys.
Most DCC systems available today offer methods for operating multiple locomotives lashed together into one train called a multi-unit “consist”. When a consist is set up, all locomotives in the consist are controlled with a new address known as the MU consist address. Unique to the Digital Plus system, from a speed and direction standpoint, all engine addresses in the MU consist are related to the MU address. When you are in a MU consist you can use the “+/-” key to scroll between locomotives in the consist, allowing you to easily select which locomotive functions you want to control, and all the engine functions, for all the engines in the consist are available, not just the leading or trailing engine like other systems. Speed and direction for the entire consist can be controlled from any locomotive address in the consist or from the consist address. The Lenz system also provides a simple mechanism for running two locomotives together called a “Double Header”. Unlike consisting, setting up a Double Header is very easy and does not require the use of a new consist address, both locomotives respond to either of the two original engine numbers.
When it comes to decoder programming, the system provides both operation mode programming on the main line as well as service mode programming on a programming track. Also, the system does not need a booster for programming any of the sound decoders available today. The Digital Plus system provides plenty of power in service mode programming while still providing very quick short protection to protect decoders. There are also some unique features that help the user perform these tasks in a very efficient manor. First the system allows fast changing of CV’s (Control Values). When entering a CV, you can use the “+” or “-“ key to increase or decrease the entered value by one step without having to re enter the CV number or a new value. Each time the “+” or “-“ key is pressed the new value is sent to the decoder allowing you to immediately see the effect of the change without leaving programming mode. This is really handy when you want to see the effect of changing the dimming characteristics of a lighting output for example. Lenz also provides shortcuts to several common programming CV’s including the Start voltage, acceleration and deceleration, and Max voltage.
On most DCC systems the CV values are entered either as decimal or hex values. Many CV’s don’t use numeric values, but instead use individual bits (or switches) to turn features on and off. This requires the user to do some math to convert the bits to a decimal value and calculate the correct value for a particular CV. The Lenz system provides a very easy method for entering bits or decimal values. Once the CV number is entered, you can choose to enter a decimal value or switch to bit mode and turn the individual bits on and off. The status of each bit is displayed on the screen making it very easy to adjust the individual bits without having to do any math or decimal conversion. For anyone who has ever had to do a lot of CV programming with Bit values, this is a real time saver and insures you get the results you were looking for the first time.
Other features worth noting on the system include its memory status. The Lenz system remembers the status of each locomotive and accessory when the system is powered down. This includes all the function key settings, direction, locomotive speed and turnout status. What this means is that when the system is powered back up, locomotives return to their previous state, lights on, previous direction of travel, etc. The system can also optionally be configured to return all locomotives to the operating speed they were traveling at when the system was shut down. This is really handy for automated layouts. Utilizing these memory features, the Lenz system allows you to control accessories like turnouts and still control the engine at the same time. When you switch to “Switch Mode” for controlling turnouts, you can continue to control the locomotives direction and speed. The throttle will be in “SM” mode, allowing you to throw the turnout using the +/- key. Pressing the ESC key returns you back to the current locomotive or you can press the “CL” key to go to a new turnout number. Being able to stay in a “mode” saves button pushing. The Lenz system can also perform “emergency stops” without erasing the locomotives current status. In other words performing an emergency stop, stops all locomotive’s travel without “killing” the power to the layout, allowing the user to make changes to a locomotives speed, direction or function status while in the “stop” mode. When operation is resumed, the changes take effect. This also applies to accessories; changes to turnouts and other accessories can be made while in an “emergency stop” mode. The system can be configured to “kill” the power on an emergency stop, stop all trains without shutting down the power or both, stop the trains and optionally shut off the power.
In conclusion, the Lenz Digital Plus System is a great DCC control system, with a lot of functionality and is competitively priced. Sales, Service and parts are all available in the US with Sales and Service provided by Lenz Agency North America, American Hobby Distributors. With a 10-year warranty on all of their products, the Digital Plus system will provide years of trouble free service. And one final note, Lenz invented DCC, and since DCC’s inception, Lenz has worked closely with the NMRA to establish the DCC standards. Today, Lenz continues that commitment to provide 100% compliant systems and decoders.