Satellite TV

Taking your home system with you on the road

By Cliff Maurand

We've read a lot of input lately from people who had home Satellite systems, and desired to take it with them on the road. This is particularly interesting for those that full time, or travel a lot and want to keep in tune with what's going on in the world. Not everyone heads for the campground to become one with nature, but those are the purist who usually still camp in a tent. For the avid RV'er the playing field is a little more sophisticated, and bringing a wireless cable connection with you can be very desireable.

I write this with a slant toward Direct TV, but that is not to say that Dish Network is any less desireable. I am however, trained and experienced as a certified Direct TV installer, so I've got to stick with that area in which I'm most capable of providing good information. While both systems are very close in concept, and can share some components (such as the dish and LNB's) they do have some differences, and I really don't know about the Dish Network all that much. So the remainder of this article concerns Direct TV only. Also, please note that I do offer Direct TV and Sirius Satellite Radio, and if you're considering getting either of these two services, it would be of great benefit to me if you clicked on the links on my website for Rapid Satellite.

Getting started...
First of all, if you don't already have a satellite TV subsription, then you're going to need to get one. You can sign up almost everywhere, but like I stated above, just click on one of my banner ad's and that will take care of it. Having service is the key, as just aquirring the equippment will not get you anywhere. The receiver box (much like a cable box) is controlled via satellite signal input from source. The little chip card that comes with the receiver is sort of like a key, without it, the box won't work. So the two items are interconnected with each other. You can't take the card out of one receiver and place it another receiver, it just won't work.

After you have service, usually home Satellite TV service, fully wired up, and the system activated, you're probably 90% of the way to successfully using it in the RV. At this point, you'll need to aquire a secondary Dish antenna, and some RG6 coax cable. The reason for the extra dish is simple, you don't really want to climb up on your roof and borrow that dish, it's just not a very convenient way to go. So check the thrift stores, or look on ebay, or purchase a new unit from one of many different sources ( for instance). You'll also need some way to mount the dish, and for a portable application, the tripod system (also available at campingworld) will work well.

For those of you with a cash to spare, could always look into getting a roof top dish, that you wind up and aim from inside the coach or trailer. And those with a whole lotta money, can look into purchasing an automatic dish, some are even rated to work while the coach is in motion.

But for the remainder of this article, we'll focus on the traditional dish method, as it's in this area most people seem to need the help. This is of course more of a do it yourself type of application. And it's not nearly as difficult as a lot of people make it out to be.

The way the system works...
Now that you have the service, and the equipment, it's time to learn a little about the system. Direct TV (and I believe their Dish Network counterparts) require direct line feed between the dish and the receiver, with a few notable exceptions. This is because the receiver actually feeds power down the coax line to the dish, this power is used to make the LNB's function, sort of like an amplified antenna. The voltage is minimal, about 18-20 volts at most. In the field, tech's would often 'tongue test' the lines if they didn't have a meter handy, this would provide a small jolt about double what you'd get from tongue testing a 9 volt battery. This was used as a quick way to determine if the line from the receiver out to the dish was properly working. If the receiver was on, and you did a quick tongue test and didn't get anything, then you knew that the line was not right. If you did get that little jolt, then you knew the line was working all right.

OK, now you know that the line has voltage on it, then the next thing you need to understand is that this voltage will not mix well with the 12volts in your systems amplified antenna system. Needless to say, these two voltages are going to cause problems once they meet on the same wire. For that reason, it's usually recommended that you either disconnect the amplified signal for the batwing antenna, or run a seperate coax connection from the outside to the inside of the trailer. Also keep in mind, many of the units today are already aware of this need, and have the serperate lines built into their systems.

The next thing to consider, is how many units you're planning on using. If you are taking just one receiver and using it on just one TV, then this is a pretty simple operation. If you're planning on taking 2 or more TV's, then there are a few things to keep in mind. Don't even begin to consider the idea of using a standard cable splitter on a satellite system, they will not work. Additionally, if you've got one input on the outside of your coach or trailer, but have two or more outlets on the inside, then the likely hood is that a splitter is in the system somewhere, probably inside the wall. That too will have to be removed or bypassed.

Keep in mind that each receiver must have it's own signal coax coming in from the dish, so if you have 2 TV's, plan on running 2 seperate coax cables in from the dish. I've heard people argue the point about using one line and splitting it, but that simply won't work. There are such devices called a multi-switch, which will allow you to split 2 input cables from the dish to four output cables, but it won't split a single input into 2 outputs. So you'll still have to run 2 seperate lines in from the dish to the multi-switch. So if you've only got a 2 TV operation, the multi-switch is not necesary. However, if you've got 3 receivers, then the multi-switch could come in handy.

A good rule of thumb to keep everything working and problem free, is to simply remember that each receiver must have it's own input coax from the dish.

The difference between the dishs
And speaking of the dish, there are a few different types out there, and we'll discuss the two most poplular dish types. First is the 18" round dish, these typically have a single arm with what looks like a single LNB on the end of it. This LNG can actually be a dual LNB, the difference is how many coax output connectors there are on the back of the LNB. The singles are very rare, most of them will have dual coax outputs, which will indicate a dual LNB. If you have the single, and need a dual, they can be purchased seperately at many different places such as Lowes, RadioShack, even WalMart has them. The round dish is used to pick up a single satellite, usually for primary programing.

The 24" oval dish has a triple LNB on it, complete with 4 outputs. These are a little harder to find on their own right now, as it's the latest technology, but they are out there. The oval dish is designed so that if you mount it skewed on the proper angles, it'll pick up 3 different satellites at the same time. One is the regular satellite for regular programing, the second is for digital programing, and the third is for picking up local channels. It should also be pointed out that local channels are "spot beamed" to earth, so the signal is only available in very specific area's. In as much, if you travel outside this area (typically about 250 sq mile area) you will no longer be able to get your local channels. The rest of it will work, just not the local channels. However, most dishes used as a secondary for travel are of the round variety, and won't pick up the local channels anyway.

Signal finding....
Here is the part that most people seem to have the most trouble, finding the signal. This is not as daunting a task it may appear. And while there are a number of companies and internet site's ready to sell you a signal finder, they are not necesary, nor do they always provide the best resuts.

The best way to aim the dish after everything is basically set-up and connected, is to turn the system and the TV on, and go into the menu section. There you need to check to make sure you have the right equipment selected. If you're using an oval triple LNB dish at home, and a round dual LNB dish at the campsite, you must change the selected options to that dish. Next go to the aiming portion of the menu, and enter the zip code of the campground you're staying at. The receiver already has this information programed into it, and will provide on the scree the proper Azimuth and Elevation for aiming the dish.

At this point, you need to go to the signal strength portion of the signal menu, and turn up the TV so that you can hear it outside. Then head out to the dish, and bring a good compass with you. First of all, look at the Azimuth provided to you and use the compass to get your bearings. You'll need a clear path to the sky toward the southwest in the direction suggested on the TV screen, aim the dish accordingly. Next would be the Elevation, and this could get tricky too. But with an ear for the beeping coming from the TV, you can start to move the satellite up & down small amounts, you'll hear the signal beeps changing pitch as you do this. The higher the pitch gets, the closer you are to finding your mark. Be aware that you could get a strong signal and be on the wrong satellite when using a meter, but the receiver only picks up the proper satellite. You want the best signal you can possibly get, and a goal is for 95% or better. However, signals of 75% and up generally will provide with adequate signal for viewing. Sometimes a lone tree or branch will be in the way, and reduce the signal a little, but you might still get a decent picture anyway.

One thing I found when setting these up, was usually the elevation was the real problem, don't be affraid to tilt that think up a little further if you cant' find what you're looking for on the horizon. Also note that the further north you go, the closer to the horizon the dish must be aimed. If you're down in the southern parts of the country, the dish will be pointing further up. This is where turning on the menu's on the TV come in handy, they will provide a good set of numbers for you to use.

Gone Camping Network
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