A compilation of information to assist RVers in making decisions related to satellite television equipment and service.
By Bill Hendrix, F761S
It is no simple task when selecting the equipment and service for satellite TV. The RV industry currently offers a very wide range of antennas for receiving satellite TV signals, with a baffling array of terminology that leads to more than a little confusion. However, we are fortunate that the pending change to digital signals does not affect satellite or cable transmissions.
If you are just acquiring a motorhome and it is already equipped with a satellite antenna, find out what services it is capable of receiving. This may tie you to only one satellite TV service provider. If it is not so equipped, it would be prudent to decide on the provider before you purchase an antenna.
For the lower 48 states, satellite TV programming is available from DISH Network and DIRECTV. For Canada, programming is available from Bell TV and Star Choice. Visit the companies’ Web sites or call and ask about available program packages and prices. Also review the geographical area of coverage; they are not all the same.
Select the package that gives you the most stations of interest for the best price. Getting 150 channels for $29.95 is not a bargain if it does not include the channels you prefer. You also can subscribe to many sports and premium channels for additional fees. This is going to take some time to investigate. Sort through the material and then consult your travel mate to help make the decision.
Most packages include the local major network stations, but the signal may be beamed only to that market. If you drive out of the coverage area, those stations would not be available. Then you would have to rely upon a cable hookup or the terrestrial antenna to get the major networks from local area stations. This is where the change to digital TV may affect you if you haven’t converted. Another important question: does the provider offer “Distant Network Service for Mobile Customers” and if so, what is necessary to qualify and what does it cost? The satellite service providers have some restrictions for this service, and it is money-driven. Advertisers want to know that their message is going to the demographics they are paying to reach. So, some maneuvering may be necessary in order to get what is commonly called “East Coast and West Coast networks.” If you can wiggle through the roadblocks and qualify, for an extra $11.99 per month (on DIRECTV) you can receive all of the major networks from stations on the East Coast and from stations on the West Coast.
After you know which satellite service provider you are going to choose, the next decision will be selecting an appropriate antenna. Two distinct styles are available: the type that has the antenna (reflector) exposed and the type that places a plastic dome over the antenna. Each has advantages. The exposed reflector is protected when stowed or collapsed in the travel position; the signal is not distorted by frost or dew; and it can accommodate multiple LNBs, thus receiving signal from all available satellites without repositioning. The dome has a modern, aesthetic appearance; provides total protection of the reflector and LNB; includes in-motion capabilities; and is always ready to travel.
The next decision is to either stay with standard-definition TV or go all the way with high-definition TV! With standard-definition, signal delivery will involve simple wiring, mostly with coaxial cable. High-definition wiring is complex, requiring either an HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) cable or a five-wire component video cable to connect each HDTV to each HD satellite receiver. Then the wiring necessary to interface various AV components (VCR, DVD, etc.) gets extremely complicated and professional help may be needed. It is reported that HDTV from DIRECTV will be available only from the Ka satellites (#99 and #103) sometime in 2009 and HDTV from the DISH geographical coverage area is fragmented for the Northeast, Florida, and South Texas. There seem to be plenty of obstacles in the HDTV roadway. Be well-informed before making the HDTV decision.
To give you at least a bare-bones background of information for the next decision, the following chart contains a synopsis of the equipment offered by five prominent satellite antenna suppliers for recreation vehicle application, with a brief listing of their features.
Digital video broadcasting, a technology that decodes the satellite signal for positive satellite identification.
DVB assisted by global positioning satellites for faster lock-on.
Low Noise Blocker, the component that gathers the signal from the reflector.
A different frequency used by DIRECTV on satellites #99 and #103.
The frequency used by other TV satellites (except the old C Band).
The number refers to the degrees of longitude above the equator where the satellite is parked in its geosynchronous orbit. Satellite #119 is directly south of Los Angeles, California, and #99 is directly south of San Antonio, Texas.
AUTOMATIC SATELLITE SWITCHING
If you have subscribed to a package that is receiving programming from different satellites, the software will automatically switch from one satellite to the other when you change channels.