I can’t comment on CCD Autopilot, I did consider it and sent a couple of pre-purchase technical questions to CCD Ware that weren’t answered so I gave it a miss. It still has a busy forum though so I guess there must be quite a few users out there.
I was using CCD Commander when I began automation and I found that very easy to use. The scripting interface is simple to understand and doesn’t require a degree in computer languages to operate. CCD Commander worked very reliably for a managed observatory operation. By managed I mean remotely operated or locally operated but manually administered on a daily basis. Once a target or sequence of targets was programmed CCD Commander could be left to acquire the data and close up the observatory at the end of a session or shut down and restart a session in the case of a weather event.
I decided to move to ACP and ACP Scheduler mainly because of our fickle UK weather and by the limited unobstructed view afforded by my observatory location. I can only see around 55% of the hemisphere because of surrounding buildings and trees.
I found with CCD Commander I would start a target sequence and then we would have four or five weeks of bad weather, by the time the weather was clear the target was no longer accessible and after a few years I ended up with a large number of folders of incomplete targets and I found it hard to remember which target folders needed completion on any given night as the year turned and a particular target presented itself’ again in favourable conditions.
The basic ACP program has not that much on offer to differentiate itself from other automation programs. The price is higher than others and on technical ability alone the high price is not justified but the programs author considers ACP to be a service and not a product. If you run into problems during the initial software support period, or if you buy a subscription for ongoing support you will be given one-to-one help, either by remote desktop direct to your PC, Skype, or regular telephone and a dedicated user forum. In this respect ACP can be considered a package, software and support, and providing this level of one-to-one support is obviously expensive hence the initial high purchase cost and annual subscription fees for ongoing support and updates.
If you have a fairly straight forward automation setup and can resolve most technical issues yourself, or are happy with a slower customer support then the basic ACP is hard to recommend on cost against technical ability, and bear in mind that ACP requires Maxim DL and FocusMax to function so the total software spend can be staggeringly large for an amateur observatory to carry.
For me, the power of ACP is only revealed once you buy the add-on, ACP Scheduler. Scheduler will look at all the incomplete targets you have begun as well as new targets and decide which target is in the most favourable position for imaging and will start acquiring data as soon as conditions are right. If weather stops the acquisition before completion and a few hours later the weather improves then scheduler will look at the current best target from the outstanding list and continue on with that instead of returning to the earlier one which may no longer be ideally placed. And of course, you can override this sequencing at anytime and go for a target of opportunity, follow up on a supernova alert, whatever, then go back to the original target sequence. All the while Scheduler keeps track of what needs doing and manages the observatory.
Since the move to ACP and ACP Scheduler two years ago I would say my acquired data and completed target rate has increased around 200% to 300%.
Initial setting up of ACP is complex and a first time user will need to make extensive use of the help files provided with the program, they are well written though and I was able to set up ACP and start running without needing support, I had more problems with TheSkYX and my Paramount MX than with ACP.
I don’t know if the above is of any help….it’s certainly a complex subject area and finding an automation product to suit your own needs can be difficult with so many competing applications on the market. Do make use of the free trial periods that most of the software vendors offer before jumping in to one package and be sure to determine what functions are essential for your automation project and which are wish-list items, it may help to narrow down the choice.