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Review of MRC Prodigy Advance Wireless Cab

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by Don Fiehmann

A few years ago it would be hard for us to envision the ability to walk along with our train using a wireless control in hand. Model railroading has come a long way from the old stationary power packs, to tethered walk-around and now wireless cabs. MRC’s introduction of a wireless DCC cab adds another manufacturer to the growing list of radio controlled cabs/throttles that are available.

MRC’s new wireless cab system is called the “Total Control Radio System” or TCRS. This new cab is compatible with their Prodigy Advance Systems and simply plugs into the same connections as the tethered cabs. The wireless cab can be used either wireless or tethered.

The new Prodigy Advance Wireless cab has a number of unique features. It is the same size and appearance as the other Prodigy cabs and most of the keys are the same. The wireless cab adds a few new features. There is a “Prog CV On Main” key that allows you to quickly change a CV on the main without going through extra steps. This is handy for changing acceleration and deceleration rates or sound levels on-the-fly. Another addition is the “Save” key. If you are using a locomotive and wish to add it to the recall stack simply press this key. The other new key is the “Bat Voltage” key that lets you read the battery voltage on the LCD screen. This lets you check the voltage to determine if you need to plug in for a recharge.

This is the new wireless throttle on the left and the receiver unit on the right.

There is a battery compartment behind the LCD display that holds four “AAA” size batteries. It comes with four 600 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries. These batteries are recharged simply by plugging the cab into the normal cab connector. The rechargeable batteries can be replaced with four “AAA” alkaline batteries in a pinch if the rechargeable batteries are low. The recharge time is about 5 hours with the cab powered off. There is a small switch on the right side of the cab to turn the radio feature on and off. One interesting feature is there is no external antenna, it is built into the cab.

The power switch must be on (up) to work either wireless or tethered.

The communications between the “base station” and the cab is duplex (two-way). This allows the DCC system to update the cab display. This also allows any function that can be done when tethered to also be done while wireless. The “Base Station” called a “receiver unit” is a small circuit board covered with shrink tubing on the end of a short cable that plugs into the Prodigy system or one of the remote panels. These connections use an 8 wire cab connection. The Prodigy wireless link operates on 433 MHz. This means that any MRC system using MRC wireless with a modular layout going to a train show will not generate or receive problems with other DCC wireless systems. The breakdown is as follows:

Digitrax, NCE, EASYDCC, TrainCam, LGB (USA) = 900 MHz band covering 900MHz to 922MHz.
Lionel TMCC: 26.75MHz
AristoCraft: 27MHz
LocoLink: 75.4MHz
(Thanks to Mark Gurries for providing this radio information.)

The battery compartment door is easy to open. There is a reference guide
on the back that has most of the operational commands.

System Test

To test out the wireless cab I connected it to a Prodigy Advance system on my layout. I first checked out the battery voltage, it was 4.7 volts. If it is below 4 volts it should be charged before use. I plugged in the receiver unit to the system. With the wireless cab tethered it took a couple of seconds before the system recognized the new cab. Then I started to key in the addresses of a few of my locomotives that were on the layout. I could not detect any difference in speed between tethered and wireless. I even did some program track address changes using the wireless cab. There was only a few inches between the cab and receiver when I did this test. This close and the system did not overload! The next test was how far away could I go and still communicate with the system. I tested this by walking out the door of my train room and down the driveway. As I walked I pressed F2 to blow the horn on a very loud locomotive. The horn responded correctly until I got about 40 feet from the receiver unit. This was not line of sight, but through a wall and part of the layout. There was a slight decrease of the distance if I held the cab so my body was in the signal path between the cab and receiver.

The consisting operation was tested using the old, universal style of consisting. You can do both universal and advanced consisting with the Prodigy system. The only problem I had was a failure on my part to read the instructions that come with the system. Once I read the instructions, the consisting worked.

The cab would only work when the power switch is in the on position, even when it was tethered to the system. There is a recall key that allows recalls of previously used locomotives. The memory for the recall is in the cab. I was able to turn the cab on and recall locomotives on the cab display even with the system turned off.

Spare Batteries

When recharging the batteries you need to leave the system on. An alternative would be to remove the batteries and put them into a charger for AAA batteries. This could also give you two sets of batteries, one working and one in the charger. The nickel metal hydride batteries seem to loose charge when not in use faster then NiCad batteries. On the other hand, the NiMH batteries do not have the memory problems of NiCad batteries.

Information Available

If you would like more information or have a question about the MRC Prodigy System there is a Yahoo group called MRC-DCC. I understand this group is also monitored by Frank at MRC. This is a good way to get questions answered.

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