A do-it-yourself guide for satellite dish installation.
By George Fox, F98123
Today’s RVers enjoy a far different lifestyle than the campers of yesteryear. Modern motorhomes have more amenities and conveniences than many houses did in the days of our youth.
Television is a convenience that is taken for granted in motorhomes of this generation. Satellite TV is becoming more popular as a means of enjoying your favorite programs no matter where you are traveling or how remote the location. With a small satellite dish mounted on top of the motorhome, you can receive TV programming with great reception virtually anywhere in the United States and in the border areas of Canada and Mexico.
Satellite TV for recreation vehicles started with large, C-band dishes that had to be realigned from satellite to satellite, depending on which program or set of channels users wanted to watch. These large dishes were heavy, awkward, expensive, and involved a complicated learning curve in order to be able to operate them and position them correctly.
Next came DSS (digital satellite system), which uses an 18-inch-diameter dish and has to be aimed at only one satellite. RVers soon adapted this concept for use in their travels by mounting the dish on a portable stand and using a compass and guesswork to aim the dish each time they parked. With a little experience, a person could set up the dish in a short period of time.
This was followed by satellite dish systems specifically designed to be mounted permanently on recreation vehicles. Some of these systems must be aimed manually, while others will automatically locate the satellite. The early automatic systems were quite expensive, with most of them selling in the $3,000 range, plus installation.
Over time, prices have come down, and the reliability and convenience of the systems have improved. Systems available today include those that can acquire the signal from a fixed location and those that can track the signal and maintain programming while the vehicle is in motion (as long as there is a clear line of sight to the satellite). Many of these systems will automatically seek the satellite with the press of a button, and they are relatively inexpensive. (Note: Satellite TV systems transmit scrambled signals and require subscriptions from the service providers, which vary in cost based on the level of programming the customer desires.)
This article describes the installation of a King-Dome automatic satellite system marketed by King Controls (5100 W. 36th St., St. Louis Park, MN 55416; (800) 982-9920, (952) 922-6889; www.kingcontrols.com). This system is simple, easy to install, can be used with either the DirecTV or Dish Network system, has dual LNB (low noise block converter) capability, and operates with the push of a single button. It carried a suggested retail price of $1,195 at the time of this writing.
Different makes of satellite dishes use controls specific to their respective manufacturer, but the basics involved in installation and operation are similar. Thus, the process described in this article is fairly typical regardless of the make and model of one’s satellite dish.
Figure 1 is a schematic of the components involved in a satellite system for RVs. The system consists of a satellite dish (antenna) with an aiming/mounting base, a control unit for the dish, a satellite receiver, and a television. The configuration of the dishes provided by manufacturers varies, but they all serve the same purpose. Regardless of the brand used, the components will be similar. Photo 1 shows the components as they come out of the shipping box.
The first step is to select a location to mount the satellite dish unit on top of the vehicle. It should be located in a level spot with no protruding equipment nearby, such as air conditioners, storage boxes, etc. The unit should have a clear vision line within 20 degrees of the roofline. The dish attaches to the roof of the vehicle with screws or bolts. To prevent leaks, all screws into the roof membrane must be sealed with silicone cement or a quality sealer that is compatible with the particular type of motorhome roof. The method of mounting and sealing the fastener penetrations will vary depending on the type of roof involved. Photo 2 illustrates the mounting method used in my installation.
The cables should be wrapped in a cable-protecting sheath and routed in such a manner that they will not interfere with any other equipment on the roof. Route the cables so as to avoid any sharp corners and secure them to the roof at frequent intervals. This installation used an RG6 coaxial cable, a six-conductor telephone wire, and a two-conductor 12-volt DC supply wire. Photo 3 illustrates a typical wiring routing.
An appropriate position must be determined for the cable sheath to penetrate the RV’s roof. In this installation, a metal shell clip was fabricated to protect the cable at its entrance point and was securely sealed with silicone caulking compound. Again, the caulking compound must be compatible with the type of roof. Stainless-steel shell clips may be purchased at nearly any boat supply store. If the refrigerator vent is located in a suitable position, the cable may be routed through it. Photo 4 illustrates a typical penetration using a shell clip.
Route the cables through the RV’s cabinets to the desired location for the receiver.
The receiver and the controller for the dish may be located in any convenient area, depending on the particular RV. In this installation, all satellite components, video equipment, and audio components were located in one cabinet for convenience and accessibility. Photo 5 shows the video equipment installation on this unit.
The 12-volt DC positive and ground wires may be connected to any circuit that has continuous voltage or can be switched on when the unit is in service. In this application, a switched circuit was used so the unit could be turned off to conserve battery power when boondocking. The coaxial cable is connected from the dish to the “satellite in” port on the receiver. A coaxial cable is connected from the “out to TV” port on the receiver to the TV console’s “antenna” port. The six-wire telephone wire is connected from the dish base unit to the control switchbox.
A standard infrared-beam satellite/TV hand controller cannot be used in this case, because all the components are located in a cabinet with a solid door. Therefore, a wireless remote-control extender (available at RadioShack, catalog number 15-1959) was installed with the transmitter located on the dashboard and the receiver located inside the electronic equipment cabinet. With this wireless unit, you may point the satellite/TV controller toward the television, and it will operate all the components except the satellite dish switch. The cabinet door is opened to activate the switch to begin a satellite search.
Photo 5 also shows the VHF receiver, which is the pyramid located in the lower left corner of the equipment cabinet.
Photo 6 shows the VHF transmitter unit, which is the small pyramid located just to the right of the windshield center post on the dashboard.
Once all components are installed and connected, the satellite/TV hand control unit is used to turn on the television and turn on the satellite receiver. The next step is to push and hold the “On/Search” switch on the King-Dome control unit for two seconds.
Photo 7 illustrates the simplicity of the satellite dish controller. You then relax until the satellite picture appears on your TV screen. This normally takes less than two minutes.
This is a project that any RV owner with basic mechanical skills and simple hand tools can accomplish — and then enjoy the benefits of satellite TV.