Try a function (re)mapping workaround
Don’s comment to my post on sound decoders brings up the topic of function (re)mapping. As Don pointed out some throttles cannot access the extended range of functions now available in some DCC decoders. There is another issue here as well, as I all too often hear from many modelers, they get frustrated because manufacturers all too often put the same function on different control buttons. Don’s solution was to upgrade to a throttle which can access all functions, but that doesn’t solve the second problem. There is of course another option—function remapping.
Of course one way around the second problem is to buy all your decoders from the same manufacturer and that way they would all behave the same, which is one solution Don alluded to. However now that locomotive manufacturers are offering their models with decoders already installed and they often change the decoder maker every few years, it makes it difficult to keep a “clean” roster. And of course the manufacturers are always coming up with some new feature or sound package to entice you to buy their products.
But what about Don’s problem of having too few function button? Throttles typically are equipped with only 8-10 buttons limiting how many of the 28 NMRA sanctioned functions you can control. Some of these throttles offer ways to expand the number of functions using the equivalent of a shift key, but I find it awkward to try and hold down two keys to access a function while also trying to operate a locomotive. TCS has added a kink to this by creating dual function buttons that control sound mode and light mode functions. But to toggle between them you have to hit the “8” button twice before hitting the desired function key. So in the end folks usually just use the horn and bell functions and ignore the rest.
The work around is twofold. First, the manufacturers have gone to adding automated functions. These include sounds like brake squeal, brake release sounds, automated crossing logic, and sounds that play when direction is changed. But again some decoders will have this while others do not. So what kind of work around is there? How about function remapping! This capability has been around since the early mobile decoders but really didn’t get much use until sound came along. The idea behind this feature is to change the functions assigned to the various buttons on your throttles so that you have a consistent set that can be accessed on all your throttles.
So how do you do that? First make up a spreadsheet of all the functions offered on your various decoders. Then circle all those that are controlled by the same button. Next go through the rest of the functions and pick out those that you would like to add to your consistent set. Finally use DecoderPro or your throttle to reprogram all your decoders to achieve this. However, this is another place where you will run into roadblocks.
Most decoders are limited as to which functions can be remapped to certain buttons. For example you typically can’t move the lights, bell, and whistle from the 0, 1, and 2 buttons or at least not move them far. The same is true for other groups of functions. You might be able to piece together a set of functions that will work for most of your decoders and throttles, but not all of them. With the increasing number of supported functions in decoders it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find enough buttons to remap them to. This is especially true for folks who depend on utility throttles. Econami decoders are now offering a way around this limitation–using their new function mapping capability you can remap any function to any button. I know you want to know more about this neat feature, so I’ll save that for another post coming soon.