Satellite TV for RV use is fairly popular among RVers, but how does RV satellite TV work, and how do you get it?
Is satellite TV preferable to streaming your favorite TV shows or using an OTA (over-the-air) TV antenna? What are the pros and cons of satellite TV for RVers?
Today we’re exploring the ins and outs of satellite TV for travelers and what it takes to get satellite TV on the road.
- 1) What Is Satellite TV?
- 2) What Are the Advantages of Satellite TV for RVers?
- 3) What Are the Disadvantages of RV Satellite TV?
- 4) What Do You Need to Get Satellite TV for your RV?
- 5) Is Satellite TV Right For You?
What Is Satellite TV?
You may have seen our post on RV portable satellite internet in which we defined satellite internet as wireless internet access beamed down from satellites that orbit the Earth.
Similarly, satellite TV delivers television programming by beaming signals from a communications satellite orbiting the Earth. The signals are received by a satellite dish which acts as the antenna.
On a building, a dish would be permanently mounted. But an RV satellite dish travels with you. It could be a portable satellite dish that you set up whenever you reach your camping destination, or it may be permanently mounted on the roof of the RV. This type of automatic satellite dish can be raised when you’re stationary and lowered when it’s time to travel.
Mounted onto the satellite dish is a low-noise block (LNB), sometimes called a low-noise converter (or downconverter). This device converts radio waves to a signal that’s sent through a wire into the RV or building where the television is located.
A satellite receiver (which may be a set-top box or a TV tuner) converts the frequencies received into audio and video, allowing you to watch your favorite television shows on your TV.
What Are the Advantages of Satellite TV for RVers?
Satellite TV can work very well in certain situations. Let’s take a look at the advantages of RV satellite TV.
With satellite TV (theoretically, at least), reception can be found nearly anywhere. (However, this isn’t always true for RVers, but we’ll get into that in the section on disadvantages.)
Satellite TV reception, provided there’s nothing obstructing the signal, typically offers better, more consistent reception than OTA (over-the-air) TV or streaming your favorite content.
Satellite TV can provide hundreds of channels, including ones from outside the country. No matter what you want to watch, you should be able to find a channel to provide the content you’re interested in watching.
This can include news from around the world and a massive number of sports options if that’s your thing.
Portability and Permanent Installation
While you can carry a portable RV satellite dish with you and set it up on a tripod whenever you reach your camping destination (and if you have the storage to spare), an RV satellite dish can also be permanently installed on the roof of your rig.
There are pros and cons to both the portable and the permanently installed options because both types need to be optimally positioned to receive the necessary signal.
The upside of the portable dish is that it can be moved to the best signal location without moving the RV (i.e. out from under the tree that blocks the view of the satellites), while the upside of the permanently-installed dish is that it can be automatically raised/lowered as needed, right from inside your RV.
What Are the Disadvantages of RV Satellite TV?
Along with the benefits of satellite TV for RVs come a few disadvantages. Let’s take a look at those now.
Inclement weather or any significant precipitation in the air can cause issues with signal acquisition & strength.
This could be a significant problem for anyone whose reason for having satellite TV is to enjoy a cozy day indoors whenever the weather is bad.
Aside from issues caused by inclement weather, other signal obstructions can pose a big problem to RVers.
If you’re parked at a beautiful campsite surrounded by trees, while pretty, those trees could prevent you from getting a signal.
Of course, if you’re more inclined to boondock in wide open spaces, this might not be an issue for you. But chances are good that, at some point, there will be an obstruction between your RV satellite dish and the satellite signal, and it will prevent you from being able to use the service for which you’ve paid.
Need to Acquire a Signal at Each New Location
When the RV moves to a new location, it’s necessary for the system to acquire a new lock on the satellite signal. This takes time, and some users say it takes an annoying amount of time.
Often Need to Park in Open Spaces to Get a Signal
If your RV satellite dish is permanently installed on the roof of your rig, you may need to park in wide-open spaces to acquire a signal.
This not only can take away from your scenic camping experience, but it can also mean that you’re parking in the hot sun in order to get a TV signal.
Storage of Equipment
If you have a portable satellite dish for your travels, you’ll need to have adequate space to store the dish and tripod when you travel.
The cost of the equipment needed to set up satellite TV for an RV (plus the cost of professional installation if you permanently mount the hardware) can be quite significant.
Add to that the monthly fees associated with satellite TV and you’re looking at a pretty expensive setup.
This may be well worthwhile for RVers who spend a lot of time on the road and tend to enjoy a lot of television, but it may not be worthwhile for travelers who only want to watch a show every now and then or on a rainy day.
What Do You Need to Get Satellite TV for your RV?
Now that you’re aware of the pros and cons, let’s discuss what’s needed to get satellite TV for your RV.
You’ll need a satellite dish, of course. The dish serves as the antenna for the satellite TV signal.
There are a couple of options as we’ve discussed above, and each of those options is best suited to different uses.
There are two different types of roof-mounted satellite dishes for your RV.
- Stationary Use Only: The first type of roof-mounted satellite dish is for stationary use only and needs to be deployed when you reach your destination. This can be done conveniently from inside your RV, usually with the push of a button once you’ve parked your rig.
- In-Motion Use: This type of mounted RV satellite dish is taller and larger and can be used while the RV is underway. These are dome-style units that will track the satellite while the RV is moving. Families with children tend to appreciate this option so that the kids can be entertained on long road trips…while safely belted in place, of course!
Tripod-mounted portable satellite TV dishes must be set up and manually aimed each time you set up camp in a new location.
This type of portable dish does give you the option of moving the dish to the best location for a signal without moving the entire RV (within reason since there are wires involved).
You’ll also need a receiver, usually provided by the satellite service provider. Its purpose is to decode the signal being received from the satellites.
Satellite TV Service Plan
You’ll need a service plan from a provider of satellite TV.
Your choices are mostly limited to DISH® and DIRECTV®.
Both providers offer hundreds of content channels, and their services are very similar; however, there are a couple of differences in their plans which might make a significant difference to some users.
DISH® Network offers 30-day pay-as-you-go plans while DIRECTV® does not.
On the other hand, sports fans may want to know that DIRECTV® offers NFL Sunday Ticket, (live-streaming of sporting events), but DISH® service does not. RVers should note, however, that NFL Sunday Ticket is not included with all RV plans through DIRECTV® (so be aware before purchasing).
We should probably also note that users say that DISH® has a very simple, seamless signup process. In contrast, DIRECTV® has a more complicated signup system with equipment provided by a third-party company.
With DIRECTV® you’ll need to sign up for your choice of RV plan, and then you’ll need to sign up separately with an equipment provider (KING, Signal Connect, or Winegard).
Both providers offer a choice between mounted or portable satellite dishes.
A Television (or Several)
Finally, of course, you’ll need at least one television in your RV.
Note that if you have multiple TVs in your rig, you may need multiple satellite receivers, depending on how your RV is wired. Some RVs may have a switch box that controls what signal is sent to what TV, so you may be able to get away with a single receiver.
Is Satellite TV Right For You?
There are many ways to catch up on your favorite TV shows and movies.
There are lots of RV internet options that could allow you to stream shows. And there are over-the-air TV stations that require an appropriate antenna, like one of these:
- Enhanced antenna exceeds at receiving digital TV signals.Fit Type: Universal Fit
- Receives all VHF and UHF programming available within 55 mile radius
- Long-range signal acquisition gets more channels
- Built-in King SureLock signal finder for simple signal acquisition
- ✔️FULL HD CHANNELS: With UPGRADED 2023 TV antenna no more need to pay a HUGE bill on TV. Our HD antenna can receive FULL HD Channels like ABC,...
There are also a number of ways to satisfy the various entertainment desires of RVers. Whether your appetite requires a setup like RV satellite TV provides or whether you’re satisfied streaming a show on your cell phone, there’s something that’ll work for you.
We use our internet connection to do everything, including watching TV and movies. Drop us a comment and let us know how you roll!
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Saturday 17th of December 2022
Back in the decade when the RVgeeks used a satellite TV what provider did you use?
Sunday 18th of December 2022
LOL! Luckily, it hasn't been long enough for that brain cell to have atrophied/died! We used to use DirecTV with or old MotoSat/HughesNet Internet satellite dish. At the time, it was the preferred option for that setup because of where the HughesNet satellites were... DirecTV's satellites were in a more complementary orbit, so we could pickup all channels. We seem to recall that with DISH on the same setup, there were some sacrifices. But... times change! LOL!
Saturday 17th of December 2022
Just finished reading your excellent article above and watching your great video on internet connectivity.
Being a full time Canadian RVer spending lots of time in USA, I’m wondering how you specifically deal with phone, internet and TV services in both countries. Do you have info available on these on your site?
I’m following Mobile Internet Resources but it’s unfortunately, and understandingly, not very helpful for Canadians when it comes to services.
It would be great to have reliable, knowledgeable and first end Canadians users guiding other Canadians RVers.
Thanks for your great work!
Tuesday 20th of December 2022
@TheRVgeeks, Hi Guys I am wondering what device you are referring to in the above statement, Settings/Cellular/Cellular Plans… etc. I can’t find those options on my iPhone. I am full time in our Mountain Aire are we are permanent residents in the US and travel back to Canada every year to visit family & Friends. We currently use AT&T cellular plans that allow roaming into Canada & Mexico. Our phones & iPads all roam onto whatever network is currently available, Bell, Rogers or Telus. Thanks for your reply, looking forward to meeting you guys someday. Jim B.
Sunday 18th of December 2022
Hey MCP! Being cross border definitely adds complexity to the connectivity equation! It used to be that Canadian cell plans were (1) abysmally overpriced (they're still not exactly CHEAP, but they're trending the correct direction), (2) shamefully low on data allowances, and (3) limited to travel within Canada (or your own province, even!) without paying exorbitant add-on fees. Luckily, that's been changing for the better. And, in some situations, having a Canadian cell plan can actually be a BENEFIT when traveling in the States!
We say that because we currently have a Bell Mobility plan that includes voice, text, and data usage while traveling in the US. We're currently using a 30GB plan as a backup to our other (US-based) data plans that we use in our Pepwave cellular router. The NICE part about the Bell plan is that it will choose whichever US carrier has the strongest signal in any one area. So we're not limited to just Verizon... or just AT&T... or even just T-Mobile! Left to its own devices, your phone will just choose the strongest network (there may be a priority based on which US carrier offers the cheapest roaming rate to Bell, but we haven't seen that).
Now... sometimes the strongest carrier is also the busiest... so even though you're getting 3 or 4 bars of signal, your web experience may be slow because of congestion. No problem! Just go to Settings / Cellular / Cellular Plans (in this case Bell Mobility) and then go to the "Network Selection" option. Toggle the "Automatic" off... wait for it to scan... then choose a different network from the list that shows (they're usually sorted in strength order, so the next one in the list is usually the best choice... though you should only pick from the big names (Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile/Sprint) as you'll sometimes see others listed). Wait a minute for it to re-negotiate a connection and see how you do.
Telus used to have a similar plan to the one we're on now with Bell, though we haven't kept up to confirm if it's still available.
Barring that, you may be best served by picking up a pre-paid plan with one of the big three (Verizon/AT&T/T-Mobile) for use in a device. You can use an eSIM if your phone supports it... or a physical SIM in a second device (another phone or a hotspot, which we prefer because it's usually more reliable than hotspotting off a phone).
Hope this all helps!
Saturday 17th of December 2022
I’ve been using the Winegard Trav’ler with DISHnet on my RV roof for several years. Also have DISHnet at home. That way I can have 24/7 availability in my RV for $5/mo. Although many RVers swear by streaming in lieu of Satellite, I know that as long as I have a clear view of the southern sky anywhere I travel, I’ll have instant access to full TV programming. That is…WI-FI is not needed. So for now, Satellite is my preference.
Sunday 18th of December 2022
That's great, RWT! It's handy that there are so many options available, so that each person can find the one that works best for them! Enjoy your watching! 📺📡