If you already have a satellite television setup at your sticks and bricks house, it’s easy to take it with you when traveling. I have been fulltiming for three years now and have been able to set up my satellite television dish and watch TV wherever I go in about 15 minutes. Here’s how it’s done.
First, you have to get the equipment. You already have what’s called a receiver – a box the size of a DVD player your satellite provider gave you. You also have a permanently installed satellite dish at your house, probably up on the roof somewhere. The trick to making your system portable is to bring the box and a second dish on a tripod, and set it up wherever you travel to.
There are several companies who sell these tripods, from $30 cheapies like this one to fancy $125 ones like this one. Google around and you’ll find them. The important thing is that they have a 2 inch diameter pipe for the mast to fit a DirecTV dish.
You will also need a dish – mine is the Slimline 5 LNB model here. Check with SolidSignal, on Amazon, or any of the other dish sellers to see if they have what you have at home. It has to match the one on your roof EXACTLY as far as the number of LNBs (low noise blockers) and wires. SWM (single wire method) is common on recently installed units; others have two cables. You should be able to get a dish and tripod for under $300, and sometimes for as little as $150.
Some systems like DirecTV Basic only pick up one satellite- they have one LNB, and are usually smaller circular dishes than the multiple-LNB oval dishes. High definition packages require the larger oval Slimline dishes. Pick up some TV cable to connect the dish to the box – one or two strand, whichever your system requires. I have three lengths totaling 100 feet with barrel connecters to splice them together so that I can park under the trees or next to the hookups and have enough cable to put the dish out in the open where it can hit the satellites.
Since I have a SWM (one-wire) system, I just hook it up to the external connecter on my Roadtrek for cable hookups, and hook the inside end that used to go to the TV to the box instead, connecting the box to the TV with a HDMI cable. If you have a two-wire system, you’ll have to hardwire in a second connection, or run it through a window.
Aiming the dish is easier than you think, and most cable boxes now will tell you where to aim the dish and also have signal strength meters. First, however, you need to know where you are. Get your latitude and longitude to the nearest degree off your GPS or a map, or get the ZIP code of the nearest town, either one, and start looking in the menu of your cable box for the setup instructions.
Do this at your house before you try moving it. On mine it’s Menu-> Settings and Help-> Settings-> Satellite-> Repeat Satellite Setup-> *enter a dash (safety feature)*-> Dish Pointing and you’ll see a place to enter either the ZIP or latitude/longitude where you’re going to set up your dish. Once you do that, hit cancel and back out of that menu. (Don’t enter anything at home if you’re just experimenting.)
Now go to Menu-> Settings and Help-> Settings-> Satellite-> View Signal Strength-> Signal Meters and you’ll see something like the photo of the TV screen above. The numbers you need to aim this dish are in the text above the colored signal strength meter bars – azimuth, elevation, and tilt.
Azimuth is the point on the horizon you aim for in degrees clockwise from north. Mine where I am now is 169 degrees , so I know to aim south-southeast. Buy a compass with these degrees on it. Elevation is how far above the horizon you aim the dish, and tilt is the rotation of the dish around its directional axis to line the dish up with the satellites along the earth’s equatorial plane. First, set up your tripod so the mast is perpendicular – use a torpedo level for this, or a bubble level installed in the top of the pipe. Mount the dish bracket and dish on the mast, hook up your wire(s), and find the elevation and tilt adjustments on the bracket. Mine is a fancy $400 setup with thumbscrews, and yours may have nuts and bolts to adjust these settings.
From my display on the TV, I see that my local spot’s elevation is 36 and tilt is 98, so I loosen the thumbscrews and adjust the dish so that the indicators on the bracket point to these numbers, then tighten things back up. Now I pivot the dish back and forth in a 30-40 degree arc centered on my best guess for the azimuth and watch the signal strength indicator, or have someone watch it and yell at me if it’s out of my view from where the dish is. Satellite signals for TV are “fat” and if you’re within 2-3 degrees of where you’re supposed to be, you’ll get a blip. Fine tune the elevation and azimuth to peak the signal, and you’re done.
Back out of the signal strength menu after you find the satellites, and the receiver will be going through a 5 minute process of downloading stuff. When that’s done, your TV comes on, and you’re hooked up, wherever you are. You can’t get your local broadcast channels if you’re more than 200 miles from home – they’re spot beamed down onto your hometown. The other channels work fine, though. When you get home, take your box inside, hook up the wires, and go into the satellite setup menu to re-enter your local ZIP code. Your home dish is already aimed.
How “legal” is this? Very. DirecTV knows what’s going on – they advertise in the RV magazines every month. They have NEVER failed to cash my check each and every month, and I’m “home” in the original installation location mere weeks out of the year. The only possible problem is taking it across the border because of licensing agreements DirecTV has with the content providers, so keep a low profile in Canada.
Thinking about setting up DirectTV for your RV? If you’re on the road more than a few weekends a year, it’s definitely worth it. My system is standalone because I’m a fulltimer – there is no house. I didn’t have to buy a second dish – my road dish is my one and only one. When the installer showed up and asked where to install it, I pointed to my tripod and said, “there”. He was happy – no roof climbing involved. And I’m happy. And my wife Sharon is happy. And when she’s happy, we are all happy.