Starter sets are packaged systems offered by Digital Command Control manufacturers which provide all the components needed by a new user to get started with Digital Command Control.
A starter set provides most or all the features a new user needs to get started with DCC. At a minimum, a starter set contains a command station, cab, and booster. Many systems combine the command station and booster into a single unit.
Starter sets usually fall into two categories, entry level or advanced.
Entry Level Starter Set
Entry Level Starter Sets are usually designed to sell at a price point that will be attractive to a beginner. Currently in the US that means a suggested retail price under US$300. Entry level sets often have limited capabilities, such as the ability to control a lesser number of trains compared to the manufacturer's more fully featured command station. They may also lack expandability, such as fewer cabs compared to their advanced equipment. They may even limit the number of addresses available to the user.
Starter sets often combine the cab or throttle, command station, and booster into a single package. This is analogous to a table top audio system that combines the receiver, tape deck/CD Player and speakers into a single package, rather than having a separate tuner, amplifier, tape deck/CD player, and speakers.
These sets are more likely to provide a power supply as part of the package.
Some first generation starter sets had severe limitations, such as restricting decoder addresses to the older two-digit standard, or even a more restricted range, such as ten addresses maximum. They may also limit what functions may be controlled on a decoder. These limited the usability of these systems, for example a friend's engine may not be able to be run due to an inability of the command station to handle a four digit address.
Most modern starter sets provide full functionality as to addressing and function control. Be sure to read the specifications to determine the capabilities of the system under consideration, as low end systems may limit some features.
If you are considering Digital Command Control, and are looking at a DCC system, be sure to compare features and options available between choices. Keep in mind the future: How expandable is the system? As noted above, many low cost systems have a limited feature set and may not be expandable. Or lack the ability to add options like a computer interface.
Examples of Entry Level Starter Sets
These are only a few of the starter sets on the market.
Advanced Starter Set
The Advanced Starter Set provides a convenient way for a user to get a start on configuring an advanced DCC system. They usually consist of a fully featured command station, a dispatcher's cab, and a booster. The command station and booster may also be combined into one unit. Power supplies are often not provided, and must be purchased separately.
These sets are generally designed for expansion in mind, and can control a large number of locomotives and accessory decoders and a large number of cabs. The command station, cab and booster will usually be separate components. They may have a computer interface, and may be designed to work with infra-red or radio cabs.
One feature is a more powerful booster, which can supply more current to the track. The manufacturer may offer optional high current power supplies to complement their system. In many cases, you are not required to buy a power supply of the same brand, allowing you to choose from a number of power supplies from a variety of suppliers.