Besides the graphic displays, which can be viewed as you ring, or afterwards to see how well you have done, the latest releases of all three software packages include the facility to record your ringing and to play it back afterwards.
The packages also include accuracy statistics, so that you can measure how your accuracy improves over time. There are usually two statistics: one measures the overall error at each stroke; this can be useful in a tower situation to tell whether you are consistently quick on one stroke or another. As errors can be positive or negative and cancel each other out, a second statistic, ‘average error’ or ‘standard deviation’, is usually provided, which measures how variable the striking is overall.
Once you have mastered ringing a bell at a steady speed in ‘rounds’, you can then move on to practising call changes. At home or on your smartphone, you can use the software to help understand the theory. In the tower, with an instructor, you can practice physically ringing the bell quicker or slower at handstroke. Kaleidoscope exercises then allow you to practice changing at backstroke as well, and increasing the frequency of the changes of speed, till you have mastered the three speeds of ringing at both strokes. These exercises are pre-programmed in to some of the packages, as are most of the exercises for Learning the Ropes Levels 2 to 5.
All of the packages have video clips of moving ringers so that when practising on a bell with a sensor you can watch the other ropes and practise your ropesight. They also include features to help you spot which bell you should be following, such as flashes or winks.
All of the packages have huge amounts of functionality and this is evolving all of the time. There are currently three main software applications offering full simulation on PCs. All have developed a "moving ropes" screen with videos of real ringers to give a virtual reality effect.
ART merely informs and advises where it can – it does not have any software or hardware bias or recommendation.
Abel is probably the commonest application in use and was first released by Chris Hughes in 1993. Since then ringers have bought more than 10,000 copies. If you have an older version of Abel it can be upgraded for free by downloading an update from the Abel website.
Developed by Derek Ballard, Beltower is packed with features. The licence has been extended to allow any version of Beltower previously supplied by the author to be installed in any bell tower or mini-ring for training purposes. BelTutor (the cut down version for training) is effectively shareware and may be copied and passed around freely.
Developed by Doug Nichols, Virtual Belfry is user friendly with excellent help files. The graphics are the clearest of the three applications. Virtual Belfry has some functionality that the others do not have. The striking varies according to the size of the bell, so little bells need to keep away from the bigger bells, as in real life. The striking analysis tool also shows if ringers are making typical ropesight errors of ringing too close to the big bells or not close enough to the small ones. Virtual Belfry is also capable of simulating the raise and lower very well including single to double strike and even chiming with a bit of practice. There is a "bells" view, which shows videos of the bells in motion, which is useful in demonstrating the action of a bell. Each copy is licensed to a particular computer, although if you own several computers, additional licence keys are provided free of charge.