Selecting the Proper Satellites and Equipment for Enhanced Signal Reception in Your RV Will Have You Surfing in No Time
Watching TV just ain’t what it used to be, whether at your residence or from the comfort of your favorite campsite. And that’s a good thing. New technology continues to lead to vastly improved audio and video quality, as well as a seemingly endless ocean of programming that can even be tailor-made for the specific viewer. But in order to reap the benefits of all those new bells and whistles, RVers need to ensure their rigs are properly set up, and that means so much more than a pair of pliers and a bent clothes hanger.
It all starts with acquiring a signal. And, as you know from your residential home, that is accomplished via a satellite TV provider, DISH Network and DirecTV being the two most prominent options stateside (Bell in Canada). The decision as to which provider to select can be as simple as continuing to use your current provider (in which case you may even be able to use the same receiver that’s in your living room). Both DISH and DirecTV offer pay-as-you-go options that don’t require you to lock in to a two-year contract.
Once you’ve selected a provider, you can then determine the number of receivers you’ll need, and also if you’d like high-definition programming, a DVR, etc. Then it’s time to grab a bucket of popcorn and beam in the signal from the sky. But how does that happen, really?
It’s that signal acquisition that we are focusing on: satellite and broadcast antennas and accessories. What we generally call a satellite (the dish on the RV’s roof) is actually an antenna, the same as a batwing unit found on many RVs. They are designed to pull in the provider’s signal, and as with any products, all are not created equal (You’ll also notice that some of the products are designed for in-motion use, which is great for motorhome owners who ride inside the RV, but trailerists can save money on non in-motion models). That’s why we’ve included some of the top antenna products from the “Big Three” to help you turn your mobile living room into a campsite home theater. Just be sure to keep the volume at a reasonable level so as not to disturb the neighbors ….
The Tailgater VQ2500 ($349) features fully integrated antenna and receiver software, which leads to automatic satellite acquisition with no separate remote control or power source required. Just connect the Tailgater to a DISH receiver via the supplied 50-foot coaxial cable and you’ll be enjoying DISH HD programming in no time. The custom designed user interface with on-screen graphics makes for easy setup. Just place it anywhere in your campsite with a clear view to the southern sky; it even displays that the satellite signal is partially or completely blocked via on-screen diagnostics. For reception of DISH Network SD and HD programming only; requires customer supplied DISH-Network-compatible receiver.
The Relay ($699.95) offers the same features as the Tailgater but in a traditional roof-mounted dome designed for permanent installation. The Relay is ideal for RVers who want a quick DISH Network satellite TV setup while parked in areas generally clear of trees and other obstacles.
The Relay can be wired through an A/B switch to allow use of a Tailgater portable antenna when parked in the trees, and also enables users to upgrade their existing roof mounted satellite dish, King-Dome or others, to full HDTV capabilities with no need to install additional cables or find an external power source. Dual LNB (low-noise block) allows viewers to watch different channels on the same satellite with a second receiver.
The Rover ($899) offers one-touch, automatic satellite acquisition in a full-sized dome, which helps get the best possible picture quality during inclement weather. The Rover works with a variety of satellite receivers for DirecTV, DISH and Bell, though its HD reception is limited to some DISH receivers only. The Rover features dual LNB, which enables viewers to watch different channels from the same satellite, provided they have connected a second receiver. The Rover is connected via coax cable only, meaning there is no need for a separate power cable.
The portable VuQube satellite antenna is designed to get reception anywhere, though users will need to provide a receiver and TV. The VuQube FLEX ($649) features a wireless remote for easy operation, and is completely self-contained in a weather-resistant enclosure. Simply push a button to
automatically lock-on the satellite(s) for the service provider of your choice. The FLEX works with a variety of receivers for DirecTV, DISH and BELL TV (DISH-HD-Capable only). Simple coaxial cable connection with no external power cable required. Owners have the option to add a second receiver to watch different channels off the same satellite on two different TVs.
King-Dome’s JACK broadcast antenna ($159.99) includes a built-in amplifier for improved reception. The JACK also includes a built-in digital TV signal meter that displays the best direction to point the antenna before scanning for available channels. This feature, called SureLock, is also available à la carte ($39.95) to add to an existing antenna. A JACK replacement head for Winegard’s popular Sensar antennas ($49.95) is available as well.
KVH’s crown jewel, the in-motion TracVision A7 ($3,995), is only 5 inches tall and supports more than one TV. The dome is available in a high-gloss black or silver automotive-grade finish, and is compatible with virtually all standard factory-installed and aftermarket video systems, including those with S-video inputs. The A7 includes an exclusive compact 12-volt DC DirecTV receiver that retains the program guide for a quicker start-up process. The system is easily controlled thanks to onscreen messaging and a backlit RF/IR remote control that allows users to change channels even if the receiver is out of your sightline (i.e., in a cabinet). As of presstime, the TracVision A7 is currently only available with DirecTV standard-definition programming.
KVH also offers the SlimLine Series multi-directional roof-mount antennas. The TracVision R1DX ($2,195) is billed as the smallest and lightest in-motion satellite TV system on the market. The compact, 12.5-inch-diameter system allows users to enjoy DISH Network standard/HD programming throughout the continental U.S. Plus, the R1DX supports automatic satellite switching from your remote control (a KVH exclusive), and gives viewers the ability to hook up multiple receivers in different locations within the RV. The antenna features single-cable installation, plus the WhisperDrive motor technology leads to super-quiet operation.
The R1ST ($2,195) offers the same benefits as the R1DX, but is compatible with DirecTV standard-definition programming only.
New from Winegard is the Pathway X2, which is a fully electric portable DISH-Network only system designed to support two receivers. The X2 ($449) features a grip handle for easy carrying, while an eyelet on its base provides the ability to lock up the unit for added security. Included is a 25-foot coaxial cable, along with two coaxial outputs. It is also available bundled with a compatible DISH Network receiver for $499.
Winegard’s popular Sensar bat-wing broadcast antennas feature a built-in amplifier designed to offer users VHF/UHF reception wherever they park their RV. The antenna can be raised, lowered and rotated from inside the trailer or motorhome. The Sensar IV VHF UHF HDTV ($106.25) antenna integrates the UHF-enhanced Wingman antenna to capture even more programming. The Wingman UHF Performance Enhancer ($29.99) is also available à la carte.
The RS 3000 ($89.99) is an omni-directional broadcast antenna designed to support two receivers and to continuously find and acquire any available VHF, UHF and FM broadcast signals within a 35-mile radius of a parked vehicle. Plus, it is capable of receiving free over-the-air programming from many major networks (note that subscribing to a provider will always result in more channels).
Trav’ler dish antennas are designed to allow viewers to watch all satellites simultaneously, eliminating the delay of satellite switching. They are available for DISH Network, DirecTV, Bell and Shaw Direct; the Trav’ler SK SWM3 Slimline ($1,799) is touted by Winegard as the only satellite antenna to offer full DirecTV HD programming. The SWM3 is a good choice for RVers who wish to utilize the HD DVR functions on their equipment.
RoadTrip roof-mounted antennas feature a compact 20-inch footprint and support two receivers. The RT 4000S ($1,199) is a stationary antenna that is 15.6 inches tall, while the RT 4000T ($1,499) is an in-motion unit that’s 12.9 inches tall. Both models are compatible with the major satellite providers (DISH/Shaw HD, SD; DirecTV SD).
The GM-1518 Carryout Portable Satellite Antenna ($699) is a portable antenna that works with most receivers. It supports two TVs (on the same satellite) and is compatible with DISH Network, DirecTV and Bell. The Carryout weighs only 11.5 pounds and plugs in to a 12-volt DC outlet. Other popular versions of the Carryout Antenna include the rugged RealTree camouflage edition ($899) and the GM-5000 Carryout Anser Hybrid Automatic Portable Satellite Antenna ($449), which can support two receivers watching separate shows.
Once you’ve purchased a portable antenna, there is still one more option to consider: a tripod. Although many conventional antennas require roof mounting, sometimes that is just not practical, as drilling holes into your roof or side wall just to watch Matlock reruns doesn’t seem too appealing. And, although the portable systems are often designed to stand on the ground, it’s generally a good idea to use a tripod to help minimize the moisture, mud and grime that these units can collect. Traditional “home-made” remedies often include plywood, pavers, bricks and/or milk jugs, but for true durability, we recommend a sturdy tripod designed specifically for the job.
Generally, a simple Internet search for satellite tripods will reveal a variety of options. I found an especially helpful site to be www.satelliteoasis.com. The site features tripods and accessories for all the major providers, and a category search can generally produce the product you need. Another resource is www.campingworld.com, which carries Winegard tripods (listed below), often for even better prices than offered by the manufacturer.
3The TR-1518 Carryout Tripod Mount ($89.99) is an aluminum tripod designed to elevate the Carryout portable satellite antenna off the ground for protection from mud and water. The mount is easy to assemble and features adjustable height and leveling settings ranging from 14.5 inches to 22 inches. The TR-1518 can be secured against wind using an anchor loop, and quickly disassembles when it’s time to break camp. Plus, Winegard claims the mount is compatible with the King Controls VuQube antennas, offering versatility across the board.
3The TR-3535 Satellite Tripod Mount with Carry Bag ($89.95) is constructed using sturdy powdercoated steel with 1.66-inch OD mount pipe. The TR-3535 is compatible with all DISH Network, Shaw Direct and Bell home antennas, plus all DirecTV home antennas except the Slimline models. The tripod features fully adjustable legs that allow up to a 45-degree angle setting for increased stability. The legs also expand and retract between 28 and 37 inches for a sturdy base. The kit includes a nylon tote bag which attaches to a leg when not in use to store the included three ground anchors, satellite-alignment compass and bubble level. When not in use, the 10 ½-pound tripod folds to a compact 36 inches.
3The TR-2077 Satellite Tripod Mount ($49.99) is constructed on a heavy-duty ABS flat base with convenient azimuth degree markings molded in. The 18-inch pole and detachable legs attach to the base but can be easily removed for storage and portability. The TR-2077 works with most standard 18-inch satellite antennas and mounts. The kit also contains a ground anchor/bungee, a compass and a level.
Bell Express | 888-759-3474 | www.bell.ca
DirecTV | 800-370-3587 | www.directv.com
DISH Network | 800-823-4929, | www.dishnetwork.com
King Controls | 952-922-6889 | www.kingcontrols.com
KVH Industries | 401-847-3327 | www.kvh.com
Winegard | 800-288-8094 | www.winegard.com