RV Satellite Television(TV) is a subscription service that you contract for a monthly fee. You must also purchase a satellite antenna (dish or dome) to capture the signal, and buy or lease the receiver that processes it for your TV.
Equipment costs for a satellite system can be anywhere from around $100.00 for a simple tripod-mounted dish to as much as $1800.00 for an in-motion dome system or automatic RV satellite dish. The receiver for the satellite signals is extra and may be leased from the satellite provider or purchased outright.
Some new RVs come equipped with a satellite dome or may be pre-wired for RV satellite TV service. Equipment may also be present in a used RV, but you still have to contract with a satellite TV service to utilize it. Getting set up for RV satellite service can be frustrating—the local satellite dealers rarely know much about mobile satellite service for RVs and many will not work on them at all.
An RV dealer or a store like Camping World is a better source for help in getting started with RV satellite TV service, but they tend to sell canned packages that may or may not be exactly what you want.
All forms of RV satellite TV need a clear view of the southern sky (the satellites are all located over the Equator, pretty much due south of Texas). For those of you who love to camp under trees or nestled in a mountain valley, you may find that the satellite is not visible from your location and, therefore, no RV satellite TV is available.
This requirement affects your choice of equipment as well as your choice of campsite. And as you move further north, the satellite dish as to be pointed every lower in elevation (upward angle), placing more things in the path of the signal.
In addition to being blocked by trees or adjacent mountains, all satellite service suffers from “rain fade.” This is caused by water droplets in the air degrading the signal to the point where it becomes unusable.
Dome type RV satellite TV antennas are more susceptible to rain and dew than are the open face dish types because the water droplets accumulate on the dome itself.
All RV Satellite TV service is not the same across North America and this creates difficulties for RVers who travel widely. The local channels for most regions are broadcast only to that region, and specialty channels such as HDTV programming or HBO may be handled by different satellites than the mainstream channels.
You have to be able to find the right satellite(s) for your current location and programming package, and you may have to receive signals from multiple satellites to get everything you want. Automatic equipment is available to handle most of these chores, but at a price, of course. On the other hand, if you stay mostly in one local area and want only local network channels and a few popular national ones, you may be able to meet your needs with fairly basic – and inexpensive – equipment.
Figuring out what will suit your TV-watching needs can be complex.
You will need to determine answers to these questions:
- Which RV satellite TV service provider & programming?
- Buy or lease equipment?
- SDTV or HDTV?
- Will you stay in one area or travel widely?
- Local stations or national networks only?
- RV Satellite Dish Options: Portable antenna or fixed mount?
- Automatic or manual set-up?
I’ll try to explain these enough so that you can choose from among the many available options.
RV Satellite TV Services
There is little material difference between the major satellite TV services so individual choice is normally based on the programming packages available (DISH, DIRECT TV). One service may excel at sports, or another may carry a favorite show, so look over the channel offerings closely. Programming packages are offered at several different prices and you can select what you like and the amount your budget will handle. Monthly service fees range from around $30 for a basic package to over $90 for 250+ channels with High-definition service.
Dish has traditionally been a bit more friendly to RVers, so some choose Dish for that reason alone. Another factor is that Dish currently is the only one with a Pay-As-You-Go plan that allows you to turn your service on for just a month at a time. This can be a good cost-saver if you only need RV satellite TV during the summer months. However, you have to buy your own equipment up front (no lease). Direct TV allows you to suspend your service for up to 6 months in any 12 month period, but that may still leave you paying for some months of service you don’t need.
Buy or Lease?
Generally you have to buy the RV satellite dish or dome (satellite antenna) yourself, but basic open face dishes are often free. You probably know somebody who has an unused open dish left on their house or yard and that you can have just for the effort of removing it. You can also buy cheaply online, e.g. Ebay. In most cases, you will need to get an antenna compatible with your chosen service, either Dish or Direct TV.
The RV satellite receiver, the box that processes the satellite signal and sends it to the TV, is unique to the satellite service and also for SD (Standard Definition) or HD (High Definition). It also contains the DVR, if you want one. Be careful when buying one of these in a retail store – the fee you pay may not give you actually ownership. Often the price is just a retailer handling fee and you still pay $6-$10 per month to the satellite service for the equipment lease.
Ask about this before you buy.
The receiver connects to your TV via cables and you may have to route new cables for the hook-up. An HDTV receiver requires HDMI or Component Video cables to carry the HD signal to the TV – plain old coax won’t do the job.
Standard or High Definition RV Satellite TV?
Chances are your RV TV is smaller than what you enjoy at home. On small screens HD isn’t a whole lot better than SD, but starting around 26” it begins to make a very noticeable difference. As the TV gets larger, the lines that paint the picture on the screen get further apart and picture quality worsens. Thus a larger digital TV makes higher definition (HDTV) more desirable.
The RV satellite TV services charge a substantial premium to receive their special HD channels, so cost is a factor in this decision. So is the type of antenna required to receive HD (more on this later).
Still, an SDTV signal on a small-to-medium size LCD or LED TV will look pretty darn good. Don’t feel that you absolutely must have HD unless your TV is fairly large. And if your TV is analog rather than digital, don’t worry about HD at all.
If HDTV is a requirement for you, be aware that Direct TV broadcasts their HDTV channels via a satellite type known as Ka band service. There is no way to receive a Ka band signal using a dome type satellite dish, so your choice of satellite antenna will be limited to an open-face dish (more on this later).
Homebody or Traveler?
As mentioned previously, local TV channels for a metropolitan TV market area) are broadcast only to that area. This is called a “spot beam” and the area covered is typically an oval and maybe only 100 x 200 miles.
In some northern areas it may be much larger. Think of a spot beam as a flashlight in a dark room. If you shine it at an angle to the wall, the lighted area distorts from a circle to an oval. It also gets dimmer near the edges, until it is finally dark.
If you stay close enough to home you can get all the same channels, but if you move out from under your spot beam, you no longer can see the signal for your area. The “locals” will be different stations than at home and you may even need a different dish to receive them (more LNBs or an automatic aiming dish). Network shows may also appear at different times. The upside of that is that the weather is for your current location, not your “home” which may be hundreds of miles away.
In some areas you can pick up all local and major national channels with a single LNB dish but in others two or more may be needed for full service. In a few areas Direct TV uses as many as 5 LNBs per dish to get their full channel line-up in HDTV. If you travel widely, you may want a more sophisticated RV satellite dish that can automatically find the satellites needed in that area. Article Continues on the Next Page.