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.
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 (campingworld.com 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.
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