Information to assist you in choosing the right satellite TV system for your motorhome.
Watching television in a traditional stick and-brick residence is pretty straightforward.
Over-the-air broadcast television can be viewed on either a digital TV or an analog TV equipped with a converter box. If you aren't satisfied with over-the-air content, you can call your local cable company or a satellite provider and have them come to your home and set up a system of your choosing. Unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple for motorhome owners because of the very nature of their travel lifestyle.
Some RVers choose to rely on over-the-air broadcasts when on the road, but reception can be nonexistent outside of metro areas.
Many campgrounds offer cable TV service at the utility post, and most motorhomes are outfitted to hook up to this service. But if cable service isn't offered at the campground you choose to stay at, you're out of luck.
A number of folks have chosen to have their motorhomes set up to receive satellite TV service so they can enjoy TV programming no matter where they camp.
Satellite TV has evolved quite a bit since it was introduced in the 1980s. High-definition (HD) video and interactive programming are joined by digital video recorders (DVRs) that can record up to eight different channels at once on hard drives that are capable of storing hundreds of hours of programming. Season passes and wish lists automate the process so that your favorite shows automatically will record while you are away.
Motorhome technology also has changed to embrace these technological advances, and it's common to find coaches with multiple high definition flat-screen televisions and surround-sound systems all interconnected with high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) cables. However, it can be daunting to get everything to work together. The equipment usually is made by different vendors, and there are several content providers to choose from in the United States and Canada.
To help you gain a better understanding about the intricacies of the various systems, let's first discuss the basics of satellite television.
HOW SATELLITE TV WORKS
Satellite TV operates by originating a signal at the provider's base station and transmitting it through a large dish, called the uplink, toward a specific satellite. The signal then is relayed from the satellite to a subscriber's dish, called the downlink, where it is sent to the receiver so that it can be decoded and viewed. The satellites circle the Earth in a geostationary orbit, which means that each satellite is always in the same location in reference to the Earth beneath it. This is necessary because any satellite dish must be precisely aimed at the satellite in order to receive the signal. The satellites are orbiting approximately 22,000 miles above the Earth, so even a slight amount of misalignment in the dish moves the target many miles away from the satellite, and reception is lost.
Each service provider has a number of satellites in orbit in the southern sky above the equator. Each satellite is referred to according to the longitude of its orbital position, such as 10lW, 119W, 93W, etc. Because the satellites are located near the equator, the vertical angle between the satellite and horizon is shallow, and the satellite will appear to be lower the farther north you go. Satellite signals don't pass through trees or other objects, so you'll find less interference when you travel in the southern United States than you will in the northern portions.
The satellite dish is aimed at a specific satellite, but each satellite is equipped with 32 transponders, which relay the signal back to earth. Each transponder is capable of handling multiple channels via digital signal compression and multiplexing, so it's possible to broadcast a large number of channels if desired. Further expansion of the satellite's capabilities is accomplished through spot beaming. If a given transponder is set to broadcast a narrow spot beam to a given geographical area, that same transponder also can be used to broadcast additional spot beams to other areas of the country without requiring additional frequencies. The most common use of this is in providing local channels. A single transponder can send a spot beam of the Milwaukee channels to a 150- mile radius around that city, a second spot beam of the Denver channels to the Denver area, a third spot beam to Seattle, and so on, using the same frequency without any interference. Any nearby cities with spot beams that may overlap will use a different frequency. For a motorhome owner, this means that you will lose your local channels when traveling; however, you can subscribe to national East Coast or West Coast feeds that will give you access to the major broadcast networks when traveling.
Most programming is sent over the KU band, which is 12 to 18 gigahertz (GHz). However, the KU band is very popular with commercial satellite users, and that band is running out of room; so, DirecTVhas begun sending additional programming via the higher-frequency KA band, which is between 26.5 and 40 GHz. The KA band can pack more information into its bandwidth, and any future expansion of satellite usage will take place in that spectrum.
VuQube VQ1000 Portable Satellite System
Winegard roof-mounted crank-up satellite antenna
King-Dome KD3000 In-Motion Series
The satellite receiver is useless without an antenna. Satellite systems use a dish-type antenna in both uplink and downlink applications. The actual dish itself is a parabolic reflector that collects the signal and focuses it to the round receiver, known as the low noise block converter (LNB),which is mounted on the end of the arm. When you select a channel on your receiver, it will check the integrated software to determine which satellite and transponder it needs to see. It then sends a signal to the LNB to power it.
A single LNB is capable of seeing only one-half of the transponders at one time. The receiver sends a 13-volt signal to the LNB to view the even transponders or an 18-volt signal to view the odd transponders. This works fine for a single receiver, but if you have two receivers, you won't
be able to watch separate channels
unless they are all on the same even
or odd bank of transponders. To
handle this, most satellite dishes now
come with a dual LNB. A dual LNB
allows multiple receivers to view any
available channels, because one LNB
can be set to receive a I3-volt signal
while the other can receive an I8-volt
signal from either receiver.
The size of the dish plays a big role
in the reception of the signal. A larger
dish gathers more signal to reflect
onto the LNB. Smaller dishes don't
gather as much signal, so the LNB '
will receive less, possibly resulting in interference or bad reception.
Satellite signals don't pass through
objects, so it's important to have a
clear line of sight with no trees or
obstructions in the way. In addition
to solid objects, satellite reception
also can be impacted by rain fade
and cloud cover. The satellite signal
can diffuse and scatter when it passes
through rain or dense clouds. If the
interference is severe, the signal can
be lost. Having a larger dish will help
minimize rain fade, because it is able
to gather more of the signal.
Satellite dishes can be permanently
mounted or portable. Portable dishes
have to be precisely aimed in order to work. For an RVowner, this means
the dish has to be set up and dialed in every time you move to a new
campsite. Setup consists of acquiring the desired coordinates from the
Internet or by entering your ZIP code
into the satellite receiver and then
adjusting the dish to the parameters
displayed on your television screen.
The location of the satellite from any
point on Earth is described by two
measurements in degrees, azimuth
and elevation. Azimuth refers to the
magnetic compass direction that the
dish is rotated to (north is 0 degrees),
while elevation refers to the angle
above the horizon at which the dish is raised. You'll need a compass to set
the azimuth, but the dish should have
elevation markings, and using them
will be close as long as you use a level
to ensure that the dish tripod is set up vertically and not at an angle. A
signal strength meter is then used to
fine-tune the alignment to gain the
best possible signal. Oval dishes that
look at multiple satellites add a third
adjustment called skew, which rotates
the dish upon the mounting pole to
cock it at an angle. Manually adjusting a portable antenna on a tripod
can be tedious, so most motorhome
owners opt for a roof-mounted dish.
Automatic-tuning units also are
Acutrac III signal strength meter
They feature an enclosed
case that can be set on the ground
next to the RV and connected to
the RV via a coaxial cable. The
Winegard Carryout (also requires
a power cable in addition to the
coaxial cable) and the VuQube
and Tailgater antennas from
King Controls (require only a
coaxial cable) are popular
examples of these handy,
portable units. The
drawback to these is that
the dishes inside them are
small, so their signal strength may be marginal in less-than-ideal,
Roof-mounted dishes can be manually operated or fully automatic.
Automatic dishes greatly simplify the
task, because they seek out the signal
and fine-tune to lock on it. Automatic
dishes come in two versions, open
reflector and enclosed dome. The
domes are popular as original equipment offerings on many motorhomes
and are available as either stationary
or in-motion models. In-motion models utilize sophisticated technology to
lock on to the satellite and stay with it
even while the motorhome is moving,
so that your passengers can watch TV
while you drive. Domed units also
never have to be retracted and are
protected from the elements by the
cover. The downside to any dome is
that the reflector dish must be small
enough to fit inside it; therefore, the
signal won't be as strong as that of a
larger dish. Rain fade problems are
much greater with a dome, and early
morning frost or dew that condenses
on the dome can affect the signal.
Lastly, most domed units that are
currently on the market support only
the KU band satellites, so if you want
DirecTV's HD programming you'll
need to find another alternative,
because that programming requires
SATELLITE SERVICE PROVIDERS
Four primary satellite TV providers operate in North America. In the United States, your options are DirecTV and DISH Network, while Canadians' can choose between Bell TV and Shaw Direct . All four offer different tiers of programming, including both standard (SD) and HD channels, pay-per-view options, and digital recording devices (digital video recorder - DVR - in the U.S.; personal video recorder - PVR - in Canada). If you have one of these providers in your stationary residence; you probably will want to stick with that service on the road. But if this is your first foray into satellite TV; you will want to compare the programming offered by each and choose which best satisfies your viewing needs while traveling.
Both DirecTV and DISH Network offer plans specifically for RVers. The DirecTV Choice Mobile plan includes access to more than 185 channels. DISH Network offers four different plans for RVers, including a "Pay-As- You-Go" option for those who may not travel year-round. While mobile TV is available from Bell TV and Shaw Direct, at this writing neither have specific plans just for RVers.
No matter which service provider you decide on, each requires special equipment (dish and receiver) manufactured by KVH (401-847-3327; ). King Controls (952-922-6889, MoSAT Systems (801-441-2060). RF Mogul (801-895-3308). or Winegard (800-288-8094). If you do not have satellite TV service at home, or this is the first time you are adding this to your motorhome, you may want to call one of these companies before contacting the service provider. The reason is that they work with mobile consumers all the time, while the content providers deal mostly with residential customers. There are also many companies throughout North America to help select and install the system of your choice. A list of some of these companies can be found on page 307 of the January 2013 issue of Family Motor Coaching and at the RV Marketplace page on FMCA.com.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Motorhome installations of satellite
TV can vary greatly, depending on
which provider you choose, what type
of dish is installed on your coach, how
many receivers or DVRs/PVRs you
want, and where they will be located.
One of the simpler installations
is a pair of receivers, one located in
the bedroom and the other in the main living area. A dual-LNB satellite
dish or dome will come with a pair
of coaxial cables so you can run one
cable to each location. DVRs are a bit
different. DVRs have dual tuners and
feature two inputs so that you can
watch or record a show on one channel while recording a second show on
another channel. (DISH has a single-
tuner HD receiver that can be turned
into a DVR by adding your own
external hard drive.) You can connect
one DVR in the same manner as two
standard receivers, except that both
of the coaxial cables are connected
to the two inputs on the DVR rather
than split off to a second location.
It gets a bit more complex when
you want to add a second receiver
or DVR in addition to the first DVR:
You will need either three or four
cables, depending on whether the
second unit is a dual-channel DVR
or a single-channel receiver. Your
dish has only two output cables,
and adding a splitter doesn't work
for satellite TV. The receiver needs
to send a 13-volt or 18-volt signal to
power the LNB, and it also needs
to connect to the correct set of
transponders. To accomplish this,
a multiswitch must be installed.
HYMS44 2x4 multiswitch
Directv SWM 8 Channel Multiswitch
multiswitch will pass bidirectional
signals and automatically switch the
receivers to the input cable that is
connected to the correct transponder.
Multiswitches generally have two
inputs that connect to the dish and
four; eight, or 16 outputs that can feed
the various receivers or DVRs on the
system. One input line will apply 13
volts to the LNB while the other will
apply 18 volts, so that all transponders
are available at the multiswitch. The
output terminals will automatically
switch and connect to the appropriate input line according to the
signal sent up from the receiver or
DVR. To connect a pair of DVRs or
an additional receiver to the above
system, a simple 2x4 multiswitch will
work fine and provide the four cable
connections needed to feed your
The biggest issue with having dual
DVRs is the physical running of the coaxial cable. It's easy enough to add
a multiswitch in the front of the coach
where the receivers are located, but
most coaches are equipped only
with a single satellite coax feed to the
bedroom receiver location. In order
to feed a dual-channel DVR located
in the bedroom, you'll need a pair of
coaxial cables, but it's not easy to fish
a second cable back to that location
once the coach is finished. However,
it may be possible for you to use
single-wire multiple-channel (SWM)
technology to overcome this hurdle.
represents another technological
advancement in satellite TV. Without
SWM it takes a pair of cables to
handle the even and odd transponder
feeds from a dual LNB. If more than
two feeds are desired, a multiswitch
is needed to raise that number. SWM
requires only a single coaxial cable to
do all of this. It does so by utilizing a
bandwidth between 950 megahertz
(MHz) and 1,800 MHz and dividing
it up into eight dedicated frequency
ranges of 100 MHz bandwidth each.
This allows up to eight receivers
or four dual-channel DVRs to
communicate with the dish or dome
via one single coaxial cable. High-
bandwidth splitters that are rated for
SWM use are then used to split the
signal off to the desired locations.
In order to use SWM technology,
your DVR or satellite receiver must
be SWM-capable. If it is an older unit,
chances are it may not be compatible
and will need to be upgraded. You'll
also need a SWM dish. (No dome
dishes used in the RV market can
use SWM technology.) For satellite
dishes that are not SWM-ready, a
SWM-8 multiswitch (requires a
29-volt power inserter) can be used
to convert any dish or dome to SWM.
Traditional systems use the satellite
receiver to power the LNB via 13-volt
or 18-volt tones. SWM systems don't
need that kind of switch, because all
of the data is encoded, multiplexed,
and then decoded at the proper
receiver. But the LNB still needs to be powered, so a power inserter is
connected to the coaxial cable via an
unused port on the high-bandwidth
SWM splitter, allowing it to send 21
volts upstream to power the LNBs.
Because this power inserter requires
an available port, you'll have to add
a second lx2 splitter or replace the
original with a lx4 splitter. SWM .
technology makes it easy to integrate
the latest DVRs into any motorhome
with the least amount of effort.
DirecTV also offers whole-house
viewing, which allows anyone
receiver or DVR to view recorded
programming on another DVR. This
requires communication between.
the various DVRs, and a DirecTV
Ethernet coaxial adaptor (DECA) is
used to connect your DirecTV system
to the Internet. This allows Internet
communications to utilize the
existing coaxial cabling within the
SWM system by placing the Internet
data in the 500- to 600-MHz band,
where it doesn't interfere with the
programming content. If you choose
to implement a whole-house system,
you will need a wireless router, such
as a Cradlepoint, and an air card
or WiFi/MiFi connection. You then
can connect the DECA to the router
with a Cat5 cable so that the DECA
can communicate with your DVRs
via the coaxial cabling. This gives
you access to a number of Internet
features. You will be able to view local
data on The Weather Channel instead
of the regional information during
their local forecasts, view YouTube
videos, play music, and even watch
your DirecTV programs on an iPad
if you have a wireless connection
to your motorhome's router.
The various systems available
offer many possibilities. You can add
an A/B switch or two to utilize multiple dishes so that you can switch
between a powered automatic dish
and an in-motion dome. A wide
choice of programming packages and
hardware is available to meet any-
one's expectations. That way, even
when you're camping in the wilderness, you won't miss any of your
favorite shows or the big game. FMC