Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Satellite TV: Lots of difficult decisions

One of the most difficult things to plan for the RV is the satellite TV system.  If the manufacturer is  going to mount a dish on the roof of the RV, then you need to know which service you're going to use before you order.

DirectTV or DISH?

From everything I hear, both are good for RVs.  Whenever someone posts this question to a RV Facebook group or in a forum, it seems like the responses are pretty evenly divided.  In terms of responses, and this is not scientific (it's my take on it), I'd say about 60%+ favor DISH.

In looking at both options, I wanted to keep several things in mind (in random order):

  • Ability to move stuff (like receivers) between a house and the RV, if desired
  • Ease of setup
  • Programming
  • Customer service; ability to call after a move to re-establish local stations
  • Ease of use (such as movement between satellites when changing channels)
  • Payment plans and temporary suspension of service
  • Experiences of RVers
I also wanted the option, just in case, to be able to set up an external satellite dish on a tripod in case the RV was under a lot of tree cover. 

The internet is full of great advice and how-to information about satellite dishes for RVers.  I'll bet I looked at 20 videos and read quite a few blogs, articles and forums before making a decision.  In the long run, I decided to go with DISH.  My reasons, although sure that there are some DirectTV supporters who would disagree with some of them, are below:
  • They have a plan where you can start the service up or suspend it with a phone call
  • To get most of their HD channels, you only have to point to one satellite
  • Calling them to report that you're at a new location (to view local channels) is generally easier than with DirectTV
  • You can't get HD channels with DirectTV unless your external satellite antenna is an open-faced dish that must be manually aimed.  The DirectTV-compatible automatic-aiming domes don't support HD.  DISH has several automatic dome models that support HD.
That being said, I've already had several frustrations with DISH and their ability to handle customer service for RVs.  Check out my post on called Frustrating day trying to get DISH network info.  The saving grace is that I hear that DirectTV isn't much different.

Satellite TV retailer support isn't very good in many cases because dealers are scattered everywhere (for example, there aren't any "official" ones within a two hour drive of Orlando) and they sometimes do satellite as a sideline.  I wanted to have some things installed when I'm up in Indiana next year and the nearest DISH dealer, in Elkhart, is actually "Cellular Communications".  

Prepping the RV for Satellite TV

Ideally, when you get your coach it'll be completely ready for Satellite TV.  However, the RV setup can get complicated real fast.  The manufacturer has probably already included a Blu-Ray player and a rooftop over-the-air (OTA) antenna.  You also have the rooftop satellite dish, so you get the coach having at least three possible inputs for each TV.  In my case, there will be four TVs:  living Room, over the cab, bedroom and outside.

My technical radar spotted the possible trouble spots:
  • How does each TV switch from one input to another?  Probably the "Input" setting on each TV.
  • How does each TV change channels?  If you're changing channels on the outside TV and its receiver is in the coach, how does the receiver "see" the remote control?  Do you have to have RF (radio frequency) remotes?  Do they pre-wire IR (infrared) repeaters next to each TV?
  • If you are only going to have two receivers, does the wiring support locating them in different locations and will that work?  For example, if we want the bedroom TV and the one over the cab to work off of the same receiver, can that receiver be in the bedroom?  If so, does wiring run from the bedroom to the A/V (audio/video) cabinet and then to the over-cab TV?  Isn't that non-standard wiring?
I had quite a few more questions, but getting the answers wasn't easy.  And once I thought I knew what I wanted, I discovered that it wasn't necessarily a given that the manufacturer would be willing to run all of the wiring.  I'm still waiting on the answers to some of those questions listed above.

The nice thing about Newmar is that they will try to work with you.  As of this writing, we're still going back-and-forth with the dealer and Newmar to resolve a few of the issues and questions.

Home Satellite vs. RV Satellite

One of the things that I honestly don't understand about DirectTV and DISH is that they don't allow certain equipment designated for houses to officially be used in RVs.  In my case, I've communicated with several DISH RV customers who have installed Hoppers and Joeys into their RVs, even though DISH won't sell those units to RV customers.  The Hopper is a receiver with lots of hard disk storage and has record/playback capabilities.  Joeys are small boxes that connect to a Hopper.  Each Joey has its own remote control and communicates what the user wants back to the Hopper and it sends it back to the Joey.  In a four-TV system like mine, it would be great to have one Hopper and three Joeys (each is paired with one TV).  With that system, you can be watching a show in the bedroom, pause it, and go outside to pick up where you left off.  Very nice. 

But DISH only sells the Hopper/Joeys for installation in stationary dwellings (translation:  not your  RV).  So a lot of RVers are telling me that the best thing to do is order what you want for your house  and then walk it out to your RV.  Hoppers and Joeys work great in RVs - just like they do in a house.  So why does DISH (and DirectTV) make us jump through hoops like this?

Still not totally decided about the wiring

At this point, I've asked Newmar to install the DISH Traveler on the roof and put in their standard wiring.  I also asked for HDMI wiring to be run from the A/V cabinet to all of the TVs (denied on the first pass - I don't know why), extra wiring to the power bay for an external tripod-mounted dish (also denied), and an explanation about how the remotes will be "seen"  by the receivers (haven't received that answer yet).  Everyone's pretty busy with the Hershey Show right now.  My wife is there today and she's meeting with people from the factory.

So we know what service we're using and have the rooftop dish locked in, but I'm still not totally sure about all of the wiring.  We'll see how it goes this next week or so.

What did we end up doing?

See Choosing and Installing Satellite TV for the details!!


  1. Given a local digital antena, redbox, and internet streaming services such as netflix, amazon plus, hulu and Google play; along with all the internet costs, does it make sense to even pay directtv or dish a monthly fee.

    1. The problem with streaming is that you've got to have good Internet. Your best bet for that is an unlimited data plan somewhere. We like to watch things like ESPN, CNN, and several other stations. But you make a valid point and a lot of people seem to agree with you. Between a good OTA (over the air) antenna, campground-provided cable TV, and a good Internet plan, there are a lot of choices!