Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Choosing and Installing Satellite TV

The two main satellite TV options for RVers are Directv and Dish Network.  Both offer tons of programming and are easily comparable to cable TV in a S&B (sticks & bricks) home.  They offer a variety of programming packages, digital video recorders (DVRs), and on-demand movies.

I could take a day to create charts showing the differences between the two, but they are minimal.  If you look up comparison charts with Google, don't pay much attention to the ones on the sites for Directv or Dish.  They are biased and actually distort their competitor's features by saying that something isn't offered when it IS offered, but may not be included in the most basic package(s).

When I started looking at the possibility of installing satellite TV in my motorhome, I was overwhelmed by all of the information available on web sites, Facebook, magazine articles and in books.  Even talking to RVers about their own satellite systems, I learned a lot about things to look for when it came time to buy my own. In this article, I'm going to discuss things, obviously from my point of view, "in a nutshell".  Condensing a lot of research into a small space is a good thing.

The number of channels and availability of packages, like the one for NFL games, is the biggest "plus" for Directv.  For Dish Network, it's their pricing - including a "pay as you go" plan for RVers.

Both DTV and DN want to cater to RVers, but they've got quite a way to go.  The links in the first sentence of this post will take you to their sites for "travelers".   They are minimal sites, and will give you minimal information.


Directv sells a system called a Genie, which is a fancy satellite receiver and a DVR combined in a unit like the one you get from a cable TV company. You can put a Genie in your house then get one or more "mini -Genie's" to put in different rooms of your house, again just like you would put different cable TV boxes in different rooms.

However, for reasons that must be locked up in the basement of the Pentagon, Directv doesn't want to install Genie's or mini-Genie's in RVs.  Instead, they want you to buy other "mobile" receivers from several third-party companies like Winegard and KVH Industries.  They provide links to the company's sites on their "traveler's" site.  The issue with some of the receivers not only is that the number of tuners is more limited (number of different shows you can watch or record at the same time), but that you may have to attach a separate hard disk drive so that you can record TV shows.

For antennas (satellite dishes), Directv offers several.  Many of the ones they have for travelers are called  "carryouts" or "tracvisions".  They also offer the typical antenna that sits on a tripod, but the  most talked about ones are the carryouts. [Although there are several different types of portable antennas, I'll refer to them all as carryouts for brevity.]

The great thing about the carryouts is that they're very easy to use:   you just connect one to a receiver and it automatically searches for and finds the necessary satellite(s).  You don't have to do anything other than ensure that there is unobstructed sky in the right place.  The downside is that most of them can only provide one receiver with HD programming (the rest get standard definition).  Still, if you don't want the hassle of setting up your own tripod antenna (ensuring that it's level, setting the  azimuth, setting the elevation and then fine-tuning it), the carryouts are a great option.

Dish Network

Dish Network is similar to Directv in the way they want to distribute receivers.  Their best receiver is called a Hopper, and the smaller ones that go in secondary rooms of your house are called Joeys.  Like Directv's mini-Genie, a Joey can be wireless and "talks" to the Hopper, so that all of the main functions like recording and tuning are handled by the Hopper.   Both the Genie and the Hopper, with their mini-Genie's and Joeys, allow you to watch recorded shows in any room or to start watching something in one room, pause it, and continue watching in another room.

Just like DTV, Dish Network doesn't want to sell you a Hopper for your RV (same secret, same room in the Pentagon).  Instead, they have other receivers like their 211Z or "Wally's" that they'd like you to put in your coach.

Dish Network has several antennas to choose from, including the standard tripod mounted dish and the portable automatic dishes that you just put on the ground and let them do the work.  For Dish Network, these automatic dishes are usually called "Tailgaters", "Pathways", "Roadtrips", or "Playmakers".   With these portable dishes, you can get more HD than you can from Directv, but they only work with certain receivers.

Getting help

Confused yet?  I am.  It's a mess to figure out.

The best way to navigate the satellite dish options for you is to call a local satellite installation store.  Ask if they've done installations in RVs before.  If they haven't, hang up and call another one.  The bigger the city, the better chance you have of finding someone who can  help you.

Directv or Dish Network?

In my case, I chose Dish Network.  I did this because I didn't feel the need for the NFL package and I liked their pricing structure.  Although they have a pay-as-you-go plan (you can turn off the service for full-month periods if you want), I plan to use mine year 'round and liked their Top 200 package.

Another reason for choosing Dish Network was that I repeatedly saw on Facebook posts that Dish  users had an easier time than Directv users when they called their provider to change their local stations.   You'll hear about this a lot.  When you establish service, you will be assigned your local stations (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, etc.) based on your service zip code.  If you take your RV out of that area, whether it's another county or across the country, you probably won't get those "local" channels.  If you travel from your home zip code in Florida to Beverly Hills, California and want to see their local stations (for news, weather, or just network shows in that time zone), you need to call your provider (Directv or Dish) and tell them that you're in zip code 90210 instead of 32812.  From everything I've read but not personally experienced yet, Dish Network is much faster and easier to call and get this done. [Update:  Dish Network is easy to call and set up local channels wherever we go.  I call them all the time - even for a one-night stop.  It takes about 5-10 minutes (tops) and isn't hard to do.  You can also go to and do it with your computer OR do it from your phone with the MyDish app.]

I also didn't want the typical receivers that they push for RVs.  I wanted the Hopper and a couple of Joeys.  Since I intend to use the entire setup in my house when we're not in the RV, I plan to move the receivers from the RV to the house (and vice versa) whenever we want.  I like the Hopper because it can "hop" over the commercials for some shows, has three tuners, and includes a feature called Primetime America that automatically records all prime-time network shows every night of the week and lets you go back and view them within eight days.

RV satellite antennas

RV satellite antennas are usually located on the roof of the RV.  For Directv, the best option is a Traveler antenna called the SWM-3.  For Dish Network, it's the Traveler SK-1000.  Inside your coach is a little controller box that you simply turn on and let the antenna do the work:  it raises and automatically finds and locks onto the correct satellites.  When you are about to leave your campsite, you press the button again and it lowers.

The problem with rooftop antennas is that you may sometimes park under trees.  Trees are the worst enemy of the satellite dish:  no clear view of the sky = no signal = no football game.  For this reason, it's best to have some sort of external antenna as a backup.  If you have enough cable, you can often put the antenna somewhere on your campsite that's away from the rig - but that still has a clear view in the direction of the satellites.  You can choose to get one of the carryouts/tailgaters, with their limitations but ease of setup, or get a "real" satellite dish mounted on a tripod that has few limitations but is more difficult to setup and align.

In my case, our coach originally had a Directv SWM-3 on the roof from the factory.  I wanted Dish Network, so I had to have a conversion kit installed to essentially convert it to a SK-1000.  I also wanted to be able to receive HD on all receivers in the coach, so I needed to get a tripod-mounted  dish instead of a tailgater.   Another bump in the road happened when I was told that the external dishes won't work with the newest version of the Hopper, the Hopper 3.  Instead, it works with the previous version, the Hopper Sling. So that's what I got.  The Hopper Sling is a well-proven receiver, so I'm not bothered by this in the least bit.

Setting up and aligning an external tripod-mounted antenna

When my installer was out and saw I wanted the external dish on a tripod, he told me that it wasn't worth it and that I would likely have to call a professional installer to set it up and aim it for me whenever I needed it.  I told him that I have spoken with many RVers who do it all the time and they tell me that, with practice, it only takes them about five minutes to do it.  He shook his head and said "Did they have a Hopper?  Hopper's are very sensitive.".    I ignored what he said and asked him to walk me through it when we set up the tripod and antenna.

The first thing you have to do is make sure that you have clear sky to the satellite.  Dish Network uses satellites at 110, 119 and (I think, will verify later)  129 degrees.   I downloaded an app called Satellite Finder Pro on my phone.  You hold the phone up to the sky and look at the sky through the camera.  When you do, it overlays a green arc on the screen and shows the location of the satellites by position (110, 119, etc).  If you see those numbers on the screen with clear sky behind them, you've got a place to aim.

After he set up the antenna, I said that I had read that it's very important to ensure that the tripod is level because that can severely affect the elevation.  He said that this was true, but "all you really need to do is eyeball it" and make sure it looks level.  I just nodded because I wanted to see where this would lead.  I asked about using the new digital satellite signal finder I had bought on Amazon.  "Those things are worthless.  Don't bother." was his response.  Okay.  I'm just observing; let's see how it goes.

Inside, we called up the receiver's satellite finder screen by going to Settings->Diagnostics.  Using menus, he selected 119 because it's the satellite in the middle of the other two.

Next, he tells me to ALWAYS set the azimuth (left and right) to 135 degrees.  I asked if this was true even if I was in a different state.  He repeated "Always!".  He then took out his compass, pointed in the direction of 135 degrees, and rotated the dish to that position. [Note: I'm in Orlando, and since we  finished I went home and looked it up, I see that the azimuth should be at 244 degrees.  I don't so much remember the details about his aiming the dish, but it is supposed to be 244 degrees in Orlando.] As he was doing this, he asked me how I would align the dish's azimuth to 135 degrees if he hadn't shown me.  I looked at the arm extending away from the dish told him that I would make sure that the arm (holding the LNB's on the  end) "pointed" towards 135 degrees.  He said "Nope.  The signal enters the dish at an angle, so you turn the dish so that the seam at the back of the dish [on the clamp that attaches the antenna to the tripod] aligns with 135 degrees."  Okay, never would have thought of that. [See the bottom of this article for updated pointing info.]

The next thing to do is to set the elevation (up and down).  For this,  you look up (use an app or the Internet) the proper elevation for your current zip code [See below].  Behind the dish is a clamp with elevation markings.  He loosened a bolt and adjusted the elevation until it was at 38 degrees.  Once that was completed, we headed inside the coach.

At the main receiver, we went back to the satellite information display.  On the screen, there's a "meter" that shows signal strength. At the moment, it read zero.  Now it becomes a two-person job, so I get out the walkie-talkies and hand him one.  He said that he would go outside and move the dish a little bit left and right.  I would call him when I saw the signal strength change.  By making a few minor  adjustments, we had the signal strength up to 71 in about four minutes and we were done!

Given everything that we did, I think that it'll take me longer to set up the dish (assemble it to the tripod and connect cables)  than it will to align it with my wife's help on the radio.  It doesn't look bad at all.  Five minutes sounds about right. At least I hope so.

[Update:  I've set it up several times now and, believe me, practice makes perfect.  The easiest way to do it is to follow these steps:

1.  Find a place in the sky that has a clear view to the satellites (110, 119 and 129).  You can use the SatFinder app on your phone to do this.
2.  Set up your tripod and make sure it's level.  I got a compass from Amazon for $13 that has a bubble level in it.
3.  Go to  Enter your location and find "Dish 1000.2 (110, 119, 129) in the pull-down list.  
4.  All of your peak values (Azimuth, Elevation and Skew will come up for your current location)
5.  Set the dish (loosen some nuts and adjust - markings are on the dish and stand) for the correct Elevation and Skew.
6.  Using the compass, point the dish in the direction of the Azimuth.
7.  With someone inside looking at the setup/diagnostics screen on the TV, fine tune your Azimuth (left and right) on the dish until you get the best picture.  Wait several seconds between each movement and listen for audio.  If you get the audio, chances are high that you'll have the video too.
8.  Tighten the "azimuth" nuts on the dish.
9.  You're done.  Once you do this a few times, it should get easier and faster.]

Your Questions

I hope this has helped to answer some of the questions you might have about selecting a company and setting up your antennas.  Sorry there are no pictures.  I'll try to come back here and add some photos later.

If you have questions, check out the direct links above and some of these:

  • Technical information about Dish Network installations in RVs (unusual configurations).  See Tom's RVSeniorMoments blog.  Tom is very knowledgeable and has help a lot of RVers.
  •'s Technology Forum.  Ask questions ye shall receive answers.
  • David Bott publishes lots of good videos for RVers (and has a good blog!).  Here's his video where he discusses "RV Satellite TV: Making a Choice".
  • is a great place to find out where you should be pointing your antenna.  Put in your location and it gives you everything you need.  Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reference.

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