Summary: Some locomotive packages seen in the hobby shop display a badge proclaiming DCC Ready. This does not mean the locomotive has a factory-installed multifunction decoder, it indicates the locomotive can be equipped with an NMRA DCC decoder later, without a lot of trouble. One of the primary features is a motor that is isolated from the frame, making it easier to wire when installing a decoder. Some manufacturers may include a locomotive interface to simplify the upgrade.
What Does DCC Ready Mean?
Some will have a light board that requires modification (by breaking the connections to the motor), others may have a plug that can be used with a matching connector. A simple installation will not require a lot of skill or special tools. Often no soldering is required, often just removing the shorting plug from the NMRA Connector and inserting the multifunction decoder's plug completes the installation. (Not all multifunction decoders are available with matching NMRA 8 or 6 pin connectors, ask your dealer.) You should still check the wiring to make sure that the motor is indeed isolated from the chassis.
It should not be too difficult to install a multifunction decoder, unlike some older models that may be more difficult. It is important to remember that the motor must be completely isolated from the frame, which didn't become an issue until DCC appeared.
Also see the article on the various connectors used, both current and proposed.
It may be sound equipped as well. Keep in mind that the OEM multifunction decoders are often are stripped down versions with a limited feature set, which can be (and usually is) true for sound equipped decoders as well. Some desirable features may be absent. The CVs available may not be equivalent to the retail version of the decoder.
Some multifunction decoders will allow firmware upgrades, but OEM versions may impose limits on making changes. The locomotive manufacturer may offer software upgrades which are specific to their product's decoder, and will not work with other decoders. The decoder may have to be returned for upgrades. Aftermarket versions tend to more flexible.
Some manufacturers will use an OEM multifunction decoder from a well-known company with exclusive features, such as lighting effects and custom sounds. The only way to get a decoder like this is to buy it installed in a locomotive. The OEM will not sell them and may provide limited support, referring you to the manufacturer of the locomotive. Some manufacturers may have decoders specific to their product, and may offer them as upgrades.
Plug and Play
The multifunction decoder can be installed with a minimum of work. It usually just plugs into a connector and is ready to play.
This is a cousin of DCC Plug and Play, meaning that you can install a multifunction decoder, often a drop – in type is available, without a lot of fuss. Sometimes the decoder simply replaces the light board. With a screwdriver and a few minutes, conversion is easily accomplished. The packaging or instructions will often mention the interface it is equipped with. Older locomotives sold as DCC Ready may require a much more involved installation process.
Turnout - DCC Compatible
It is not impossible to convert this locomotive to DCC, but it will take some time and effort to do so. Just about any locomotive can be considered DCC capable. The only real issue is the size of the decoder.