Tips on How to Upgrade TV Service in Your RV
My damaged RV TV Antenna
Where we are now in the world of the motorhome and TV service
Obviously, the majority of the people in the world, who own an RV, Motorhome or Camper do not have a brand new Rig filled with the latest technology appliances.
And, considering the advances in Television and Satellite technology over the past several years, pretty much everyone can find an upgrade of one kind of other that they could consider installing in their RV.
As I travel to Campgrounds around the country, and take a good look around, the vast majority of the people camping there are in units that range from a couple of years old to some that are over ten to fifteen years old.
And, if you talk to them, they are generally quite happy with what they own as well as with the technology of their television service and equipment.
But, time is not on their side. As the technology of television entertainment evolves, they are going to find it more and more difficult to receive and watch television shows and news.
The biggest thing that shook up the world of RV television service in decades was the nationwide changeover to Digital television transmissions.
As everyone knows, in order to forestall a nationwide revolution, the Federal government did demand the development and sale of cheap Digital-to-Analog converter boxes.
This way, the American public could purchase one of these boxes and install it between their antenna and their old Analog television, and continue to receive their favorite TV shows.
Their Analog systems had limited access to a limited number of channels. As the Analog channels were shut down, they had to rely more and more on their Digital Converter boxes or eventually decide to dump their old Analog TVs and purchase a new Digital TV.
Which generation of TV technology do you have?
The problem for the people who own older RVs and Campers, is the fact that all of the equipment, as well as the power and signal cabling in these Rigs is built into the cabinetry and walls.
No space is wasted in an RV, and your TV was installed into the cabinetry that was customized for the older TV designs and dimensions. Also the old technology of wiring for the TV's power, received signals and that gonig to the Antenna was also all built into the walls.
This outdated customization usually turns into the biggest problem for the RV owner who wants to perform a TV upgrade, and it often requires some serious planning to get the right connections to the right places in the RV.
So, ...... If you are thinking of upgrading your RV or camper's television service, you need to consider the total costs and amount of work you may get into, before you start.
Know your RV before you start a project
To avoid unexpected problems, the first thing that you need to do is take the time to crawl around in your RV for a little while, checking out how it is wired.
You need to t take a serious inventory of what level of service, and especially cabling you already have installed in your RV before you decide on which upgrades make sense for you to install..
You need to check out such things as;
TV Antenna location and cabling
Check where, on the roof, is your TV antenna located, and where does the coaxial cable, connected to it go after it goes into the RV.
The cable and connection must be in good condition and , and where does the cable from the antenna go, once it is inside the RV?
Is you RV Antenna from the "pre-digital Era"? By that I mean, was it on your RV or Camper before they started talking about Digital TV? If so, then the antenna itself probably has a built-in amplifier/filter circuit.
This circuit was designed to enhance the old Analog signals and filter out all other interference signals.
Digital Channels utilize different signal frequencies, very close to the Analog frequencies, but still different. Your old analog Antenna has a built-in amplifier for the old channels and by replacing the antenna with a new one, you will get one whose amplifier will give you stronger Digital channel reception.
Depending on the manufacturers design you can usually get a replacement head for around $50 or so.
Build-in TV Amplifier
Does your RV have an Antenna Panel in your cabinetry with a connector labeled "from Antenna" that is the size and shape of a wall outlet cover in your home? And does it have a little red or green LED light on it?
Well, if you pull the screws and look at the back of the panel you might see that there is a small circuit board there. If there is, then you probably need to order a new one that, like the old antenna, was designed for Analog signals only, and you now need to replace it with one that amplifies Digital signals.
Video Selector Box
Most RV's have a video Selector box which allow the owner to direct their TV and other video equipment to multiple TV's in the RV.
If you have a Video Selector Box, does it have an LED light on it, and a power-on/off switch?
Again, if this box is an older one, the fact that it has DC power run to it, implies that it also has an amplifier circuit in it, and like the other older equipment, it probably needs to be replaced with a newer one, for better signal reception.
Older Video Selector Boxes use coaxial connections and have coaxial cables running to your different TVs. Check that the cable to your Bedroom TV is in good condition and if possible, trace the cable back to the bedroom and assure that it is not crimped at any point along the way. This can really reduce your signal quality and bandwidth to that TV.
NOTE: Having a weaker signal at your Main TV or your Bedroom TV is a common problem for RVers, just from the normal loss of using a longer length of coaxal cable. So, if you do any rewiring, make sure that all of your coaxial cables are as short as possible and in good condition.
Analog Snow vs. Digital "No Signal"
n the old days of Analog-only TV Signals, you just had a little more "snow" on your picture when the signal was weak.
But with Digital signals, either your Digital TV has enough signal to decode for a GOOD picture, or it goes totally black and some TVs give you a "low digital signal" error on your screen.
Or, if you are getting your signal through some tree limbs and leaves that are blowing back and forth, you might get those colored squares all over your picture or you might get a momentarily "frozen" picture.
After you have checked out these things you can move on to what you feel you want to add and upgrade.
Some Technical Terms and Tips for the average RV owner
OK, I am a Techno-Geek. I have been since I was eleven years old and rewired my Mom's Washing Machine to make it run faster.
It did run faster, for about a full minute. That's how long it took for my wiring to get hot enough to melt the insulation and cause a major electrical fire in the control panel of the Washer.
So, bear with me, as I list a few terms you may or may not be familiar with:
- Analog TV Signal- Analog TV signal is comprised of one base TV frequency that is Analog modulated with one set of Audio and Video signals. When your Analog TV demodulates these signals the user will receive the one set of Audio and Video signals. There can be only one set of Audio and Video received for each base frequency used.
- Coaxial Cable- A Coaxial cable is one that is designed to provide accurate signal (impedance) matching to the equipment at both ends of the cable. Typically, it is designed for higher frequencies which are more susceptible to distortions and noise in the equipment it is used with, if the proper matching is not performed.
- Coaxial Splitter- A Coaxial Splitter is used to allow the user to take a high frequency signal, like that from an Antenna, and split it in order to send it to two or more devices, like TVs. Although a Splitter actually splits the signal level in half, the lines are matched properly to reduce any addition signal loss or signal distortions to a minimum, because all connections are matched properly.
- Digital TV Signal- Digital TV Signal is comprised of one base TV frequency, just like with your old Analog Signal, that is digitally modulated with multiple groups of Video and Audio signals. When your Digital TV demodulates these signals in it's Receiver, they are separated into the Audio and matching Video for multiple digital channels. This allows the TV stations to provide more entertainment shows to the user without using any additional base TV frequencies.
- HDMI- High Definition Multimedia Interface. This is a connector that you will find on the back of your new High Definition Television. In order to provide all of the appropriate connections between an HD Receiver and an HD TV, this new cabling standard was devised and accepted by the TV industry. The typical cable is only six feet long in order to guarantee there is no degradation in the HD signals that are passed through this type cable. There are some cable extenders, but usually, only another six feet long.
- HD or High Definition TV- OK, here I can go through a lot of detail in explaining the differences in Digital television and the levels of picture definition. Simply put, you should put it into your mind that SD or Standard Definition TV is a digital picture with a definition of 480i. And you should consider HD or High Definition TV as a digital picture with a definition of 780i or higher. If you accept this you can go along happily looking at TV's and DVD Players and Satellites with an educated eye. Otherwise, you can go to some of the sites I list here, and drown yourself in techno-babble.
- Video-Analog Cable- The standard Video-Analog cable is more familiar to people. The standard is a combination of three cables with colored connectors at both ends. The standard is for the Yellow-tipped connectors to be the Video cable, while the Red and White tipped cables are for making Stereo Audio connections. In the more costly versions, the Video cable is larger and is actually a shielded coaxial cable.
- Video Switch Box- A Video Switch Box is pretty much a standard device on most RV's and Campers. This box is used to allow the proper distribution of Coaxial Signals from equipment such as Antennas, Cable Service, DVD Players, and Satellite Receivers, through the selector switches to multiple TV's. The standard is a 5-to-3 box. This means it allows the user to distribute the signals from five signal sources to three different devices.
- YPbPr Cables- This is a cabling standard for the distribution of three separate signals for Video, that when re-combined are capable of providing a certain level of HD signal for a TV. These cables are similar to the Audio-Video cable mentioned above except that they are coaxial and the connector standard colors are Red, Blue, and Green. One thing though, if you want to connect using YPbPr cables, remember that they are for Video signals only, and if you look around on the back of the signal source and the TV, there is another pair of Audio connections that you must also connect to the the associated device signal along with the video.
These are very simplified explanations for the Layman.
Some tips on Antennas for you to understand
OK, let's say you did your inventory, and are looking at performing some upgrades. And you are looking to do them yourself to save money.
I obviously cannot cover every possible combination of Receivers, Antennas, and TV for every RV ever manufactured in this discussion. But, I can give you some suggestions for what I consider the higher probability situations.
RV Roof TV Antenna- How old is the TV Antenna on your Roof. Almost all of them are the Winegard design that you can crank up and down, and turn in a circle until you find the best TV reception. All of this, from inside the RV. With Digital TV, you cannot afford to have bad cabling or connections from your Antenna to your TV.
Check the cable as best you can both on the roof and inside the RV. If the round Coaxial cable is mashed flat, or if the outer insulation is cut, or if the connections are corroded, loose, or frayed wires are showing, you have problems. The cable should be replaced!
And, I suggest that, if you are considering this, you should, seriously consider replacing the old Antenna itself with one of the newer Digital Signal Compatible Antennas at the same time.
You will find that the newer HD antennas for your RV will provide stronger signal strength in the UHF frequency spectrum, and this is where the new Digital channels are transmitted.
Even if your antena is only a couple of years old such as the popular Winegard model,you should consider getting the bolt-on UHF Booster antenna. It is relatively cheap, and provides stronger UHF signal.
Antenna Signal Amplifier/Booster/Filter- Yes. you most likely have one of these. Look into the cabinet where your electronic Receivers, DVD Players, Video Selection Box, etc. are mounted.
On one of the walls you will see a wall-plate with a Coaxial connector, a small Green LED Light, and a ON/OFF switch are mounted. If you remove the screws, and pull it away from the wall, you will notice on the back side that this is where your external Antenna cable is connected.
It has a cover that protects a Signal Amplifier. You should purchase a new one of these assemblies that is compatible with Digital TV signals. It will improve your TV reception, especially for Digital TVs.
Also, don't forget to turn this Amplifier on (the Green LED will be lit) when you are using your TV. The amplifier will allow signal through the circuitry even when turned off, but it is not amplified and filtered for strong signal, when turned off.
Replacing an old Tube TV with a LCD, LED, or Plasma Digital TV
At some point, you will consider replacing your old Tube type of Analog TV with a Digital Solid State High Definition TV.
I've done this with both a front TV and a Rear Bedroom TV in one of my RVs. IF done properly and with good pre-planning, it's actually not so hard to do.
As I mentioned earlier, your TV is in all probability built into the cabinetry of your RV. Some are already up front and above the Dash, while some are built into the Dash.
Your first decision that you need to make is: Do I remove the old one, and purchase one that fits into the same mounting area, with only a little bracing and trim work needed?
Or, do I turn the old TV site into a new storage area, and mount the new TV onto a Flip-down ceiling mount, for instance. Or, in some cases, install a Flip Up Dash Mount TV.
If you decide to use the same site as the old TV, Please follow these simplified steps:
- Take a day, and carefully remove the existing trim-work from the front of your old TV, and pull the old TV from the hole.
- Examine the hole's interior carefully and write down every thing you see in detail.
- Is there a Coaxial Cable attached to the back of the TV or a 3-cable connection?
- What are the exact dimensions of the hole; Width, Height and Depth.
- How is the hole ventilated. Remember many Solid State TV's generate a lot of heat and must be adequately vented.
- Is the bottom strong enough to hold a Solid State TV base firmly, even when traveling on a bumpy road.
- How do I brace the back of a Solid State TV so it will not flip forward or backward when driving down the road?
- Then, check over your notes and measurements carefully, and put the old TV back, leave the trim off, and sit down and start your mounting and trim re-design.
Keep up with the latest products on the market.
With all of this that I have written here, in mind, when you are ready to upgrade, you need to review the physical characteristics of the new Digital TVs that are on the market at that time.
The TVs out there are much thinner and amazingly lighter than what was on the market just a year or two today.
In fact the new LED TV designs can be less than an inch thick. When you consider the weight and thickness, you may end up with a whole new set of places in your RV that you can mount your TV. And, of course, your can have a whole new set of mounting options available to you.
What I did in my RV:
I tried to go at the problem logically and here was my plan:
- I shopped and found a TV that barely fit into the hole's Width and Height.
- I went to a Lowes store and had them cut a piece of 1/2-inch thick plywood for me, to mount my TV's plastic base to. This helped distribute the TV's weight over a larger area of the hole's bottom.
- I had another piece of 1/2-inch plywood cut, the appropriate size to mount behind the TV. I glued another 1/2-inch of a quality packing material onto the plywood, for use as a physical bumper for the back of the new TV.
- I attached this piece of plywood to the two side walls, at the point where the TV, when it was installed, it would push against this "bumper", thus eliminating the chance of the TV flipping backwards or vibrating.
- I mounted the plywood base to the TV base, and in turn slid it into the appropriate position on the bottom of the opening, before mounting it to my wooden base, with screws.
- I mounted the original Trim back into place, after I had glued pieces of the same quality packing material on the inside edges of the trim, so that it pressed on the front edges of the TV frame.
- This combination of front and rear "bumpers" eliminated any front or rear TV motion when traveling.
This changeover was still working well, without any problems, a year later when I traded the RV for a new one.
Flip Down TV
I have a fellow RVer, whose RV had a pull-up TV mounted in front of, and part of, the center of the dashboard.
After much study, he decided that if he just removed the old TV and mounted a Flip-Down Solid State TV to the front ceiling of his RV then he would have simplified his work mounting the new TV.
And, he was also able to install a much bigger, yet light-weight DIGITAL TV than what he would have been able to have, were he just replacing the old one in the same site.
What he did have to do though, to insure he had adequate weight handling strength in the area where he wanted the TV, was to install a long mounting plate across the ceiling.
This mounting plate was actually a pair of wooden planks that were mounted through the RV ceiling to support frame sections.
The TV Flip-down Mount hardware was then installed onto this pair of planks, which distributed the weight of the TV over a wider area of the ceiling.
Then, he was going to cut a few more pieces of wood and configured a Swing Latch for the end of the TV opposite to the area of the Flip Mount. This Swing Latch was to keep the TV from vibrating while he drove down the road. Luckily, he went onto the web and found a distributor who sold a manufactured metal unit that worked great for him.
Dash-Mount Flip-Up TV Mounting- Another guy I met, just turned the old TV space into storage, and purchased a Medium sized Solid State TV, which he mounted to the Dash with a Flip-Up Mount. It was simple, and works quite well, according to him.
As you can see, by these examples, creativity is the key to a safe and strong mounting solution.
Satellite Signals and how to improve them
Do you have one or more Satellite Receivers in your RV? Do you want to add one or more Satellite Receivers in your RV? What type of Satellite Antenna do you use?
First, let's address the Satellite Antenna options. Basically there are three types of Satellite antennas that cover what is used by the vast majority of RV and Camper owners.
External Satellite Antenna
The cheapest way to receive Satellite signals is to purchase an external Dish-type Antenna. You can sit it on the ground, near your RV, and with a little knowledge of where the actual Satellite is positioned in the sky, you can align your Antenna yourself.
The simplest alignment procedure, is to connect a cable to your receiver in your RV. Then, you move the Antenna around, until your Receiver starts to emit a certain tone. At that point, you can secure the antenna in that position, and go into your RV and enjoy your favorite movies and/or TV shows.
But, to be honest, it is the rare person, according to what I have seen, that executes this process accurately or quickly. Often, I have seen people take an hour or more to get this type of Antenna aligned properly.
Because of the information above, it is not long before an RVer that uses one of these external Antennas ends up purchasing several additional Accessories in the hope that they will help make the alignment process easier, such as;
- Satellite Signal Meter - These are popular with many people as they will indicate a properly aligned antenna by displaying the presence of a Satellite Signal Level.
- Tripod Base- It doesn't take long before realize that you need a firm, steady, and level, spot to mount your external antenna. These Tripods help in the alignment process, especially if you have one with Bubble levels. Your antenna will be level, and, it will have a steady mount in wind and other weather conditions.
- Flat Coax Cable - Often, if your Camper or RV is not pre-wired with a satellite connection in one of the external compartments, you will end up running your cable from the external antenna to the Receiver through a window. If you do this a few times, invariably, you will close the window and crush the cable. This will reduce your signal level significantly. If you use a piece of special Flat Coax, you can avoid this problem.
There are some very nice self-contained Satellite boxes that you can purchase, that include automatic satellite scanning and lock capability. You just set it on the ground, or roof of your camper when you get to your campsite. Then you connect the RV's antenna and power cables to the box and abra-cadabra you have satellite signal.
The thing is, these are a pretty expensive solution, and the price is close enough to a fixed roof dome antenna,that you should weigh each option carefully, before spending this kind of money.
Your older Roof Satellite Antenna
Roof Antenna, Fixed Reception- This is the most popular type of Satellite antenna, used on RV's and Campers. These have electro-mechanical drive systems, and are capable of finding and locking on to the appropriate Satellite signal utilizing a feedback signal generated by the Satellite receiver.
It can be a Fold-Down Antenna, or it can be a self-contained Satellite Dome. Either one uses essentially the same electronics.
These antenna systems have a LNB or Low Noise Buffer on the feed arm of the antenna, that amplifies and filters the received signal that bounces off of the Dish itself. The newer ones have two or even three of these LNB's, and each LNB has a separate cable that runs into the RV or Camper for signal distribution.
The thing you really need to do is, somehow, determine the age, the Model# and the serial number of your Dome antenna. Use this information and contact the manufacturer to determine if the antenna system (essentially the LNB's) is capable of being used for HD signals. Many are not capable, and you may end up replacing the whole antenna assembly.
Roof Antenna - Tracking- This type of antenna, is the same as the fixed antenna, but it's drive system is a faster reacting system, and is capable of tracking the Satellite while you are driving the RV down the road. Most of the time!
The Satellite Receiver itself- Whatever Satellite system you use, whether Dish or DirecTv, or whomever, you must be sure, if you decide to upgrade, that you get to inspect the new HD box and all of the available connections.
The reason I mention this is the fact that I had recently purchased a new HD DVR receiver from DirecTv. My intention was to upgrade to HD in my new RV, which was supposed to be totally HD.
The reason I didn't catch this problem when I purchased my RV, was that my old RV had an SD DirecTv receiver in it, and I let them just hook it up for me, until I got a chance to purchase a new HD box.
Well, one of the things that DirecTv did, recently was re-design their receivers. They added an HDMI connector on the rear of the receiver. I though this was OK, as I had already checked, and my New RV's front TV had an HDMI connector on it. No problem ..... right?
They also eliminated the Coaxial Signal output connector on the box. Well, I have two other TV's in my RV, one in the Bedroom, and one in one of my outside storage compartments, for watching TV when you are enjoying the evening outside your RV.
Both of these TV's are pre-wired, via Coaxial cables back to my Video Distribution Box in the front of the RV. The problem is I no longer have a Coaxial signal connection from my satellite receiver to connect to this distribution box.
I called DirecTv, and got a "Whoops" and a "Sorry about that", but no solution. They had no suggestions for me other than a major re-wiring of my RV.
I mention this problem so you will not get caught like myself, making an investment in equipment that, when you get it to your RV, has this kind of incompatibility problem.
And, if you found this article helpful, you can find it and dozens of other articles for RV owners and operators in my book DONS RV INFO. It has valuable reference data on RVs as well as numerous helpful tips and instructions on the operation and maintenance of your RV. Check it out.
Portable Satellite Dome Antennas that auto-scan
Probably the most popular Satellite antennas used by RV owners these days are the portable auto-scanning dome designs.
First of all, these antennas have been simplified to the point that often you can just place it outside your RV with a clear view of a section of open sky, and the receiver box will control it to find the strongest signal for the receiver, and lock down there.
Both DISH and DIRECTV have designs of auto-scanning domes available on the market, at relatively cheap prices and they do work very well.
So, I am seeing a lot more RV's with older technology roof domes and roof antennas on them not being used; while I can see them using one of these cheaper domes.
Upgrading a front CRT TV to a LCD TV
Quick external Satellite Setup procedure
Questions & Answers
© 2009 Don Bobbitt