Want to program decoders more easily, with your computer? Here is the SPROG 2.
Programming locomotive/cars decoders with a computer comes with a few advantages:
Why I decided to try the SPROG 2:
Of course, there is always the possibility to program decoders directly with the DCC command station, without a computer. To that extend, the ESU Ecos II has an excellent programming interface. It even presents the bits of the CVs, an advantage I mentioned in another post. But I would loose all the advantages listed above. For me, this is where the SPROG 2 comes in…
The SPROG 2 is a USB DCC-decoder programming device. It can be used as a mini DCC command station (google it), but it was not designed for that. It is said to be able to program nearly all DCC decoders on the market. I learned about it on the German forum 1zu160 that I visit often. It does not, however, allow to upload custom sounds to decoders. For this, you will need the specific programming device matching your decoder’s brand. There is also a “SPROG 3”, with a more powerful booster. It is irrelevant for programming in N.
Sprogs are built by a small UK company. I am not the first one to discover it, far from it. It has existed for years. There are many web pages that mention the device. From most countries, you can order directly from http://sprog-dcc.co.uk (they accept paypal payments). For a number of countries (incl. US, FR, NL, SE…) you need to go through a designated local dealer.
The device costs about €60 incl. shipping, without power supply. That’s very reasonable.
There is no “SPROG” software: the device works with third party applications.
It is recommended for use with JMRI DecoderPro. JMRI is an American open-source project for DCC train control. Its also contains a programming interface (DecoderPro), which has a very good reputation. Although JMRI seems less popular in Europe, I strongly advise downloading it and testing the programming side of it: it’s very good. Of note as well: JMRI is java-based, which means it will work with the SPROG 2 on Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
But the SPROG is not limited to JMRI. It also works with an European equivalent of JMRI: RocRail (also free).
Finally, it is compatible with some commercial solutions. For example, Freiwald software (the company making “TrainController”) has a separate programming software package. It is called “TrainProgrammer” and works with the SPROG 2 as well (in English and German).
These are just examples. There must be many other software solutions out there.
The box contains:
It’s really a small device (about 6x4x3cm):
The SPROG 2 is sold from the UK without a power supply. It requires 12-15V DC, 1A suggested. Since N doesn’t require much power, I will be reusing the power supply of my ESU lokpogrammer (12V, 500mA). This is not recommended, but it works for me.
Connecting it is easy. 2 screw connectors for power, and 2 others for the programing track are on one side. The USB is on the other. Of course, don’t connect the SPROG’s and your command station’s programming track outputs to the same track section!
I am using a good old Windows XP, that asked me for drivers as expected. The latest ones can be downloaded, including for Windows 8 (none are needed for Max OS X or Linux). Installation was a breeze. You just need to note which COM port was attributed to the SPROG, so you can enter this port as a setting in the program of your choice.
Then you need to install a programming software. I went for JMRI and fired up DecoderPro 3 (the programming interface of JMRI).
No extensive review is needed: the device simply works. I have read and programmed decoders from several brand (CT-Elektronik, Zimo, Tams) without a problem.
How (and how easily) the programming actually works depends on which software you use. In the case of JMRI DecoderPro, it also depends on the decoder model.
Here is an example of the programming page for one of my Tams Decoder, with JMRI DecoderPro 3:
Any more comments would be about the software (JMRI), more than the hardware (the SPROG 2). So this concludes my short gadget review of the day!
I have already started checking/fine-tuning several of my old locomotives. I could barely remember which decoders I had built in. The SPROG is a welcome addition to my useful train gadgets.
I always try to be fair and square when giving grades, see the details about the evaluation criteria here !
Reminder: I am a hobbyist and these articles only represent my personal views. I am not receiving any compensation, in any form, from the brands or stores mentioned here. The product names, marketing names, and brands mentioned here are the property of their respective owners.
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