As I peruse several RV Facebook groups, questions about TV entertainment options seem to come up a lot. Satellite TV – which one? Streaming or over-the-air channels? I can share what we have and why.
Living in a stationary home is easier. You choose from among several options available in your area, set it up, and then essentially leave it alone (unless you switch things up to save money, which is a whole ‘nother topic). When you’re living in a moving home, the landscape is literally changing all of the time. What works in one location, may not in another. So, how to maintain access to those favorite TV series, news shows, and football games? We have instituted several viewing options, so that (hopefully) at least one will work at any given time.
Our primary TV access mechanism is by satellite dish. There are two provider options – DirectTV and Dish network. Our motorhome came with a Winegard Trav’ler automatic satellite dish that was designed for DirectTV, so that made our choice simple. As an added bonus, we were able to bundle it with the AT&T wireless unlimited data service that we already had. I ordered our satellite TV boxes before we even purchased our motorhome and had them sent directly to the RV dealer who installed them for us. We have a DVR and three “genie” units which allows us to watch any content on all 4 TVs. Activation of all the boxes took a rather lengthy phone call, but then we were all set.
One important, but little known, nuance is the available of home network channels while traveling. Due to FCC regulations, satellite providers “beam” local channels to receivers within a certain radius only. If you travel a hundred or so miles outside of your “home” location, you will still find a number of channels, but not your home area network channels – ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, etc. That’s a bummer if you want to record your favorite series or catch the game and all you can get are channels like the home shopping network. The way around that is to subscribe to Distant Network Service, which provides either New York or LA network channels wherever you are. You have to fill out a special application and pay an extra monthly fee ($15), but you can count on having those channels as you travel. We’ve set up all of our series’ recordings on these channels. Your home channels magically reappear when you return within range of your home area.
Our secondary TV source is good old-fashioned over-the-air TV channels. Our motorhome came equipped with a digital antenna, already wired in. I like to watch the local news in the morning, and this works great – if there is signal. When we are parked near a larger city, we will get many OTA channels, but we have also parked in areas where there is little to no TV reception. OTA TV channels are highly variable from place to place, but it is good to have the option. We have also been parked in shady RV sites where satellite signal is blocked and unavailable. In those cases, OTA TV may be all that we have.
Once in a while, we stay at a campground that provides free cable TV. This is awesome, when it works. Some campgrounds have a great cable TV signal with lots of channels. We’ve also had instances where the provided cable TV box produces nothing but snow – you just never know. Most of the time, when they SAY they have cable TV, it works fine. But most of the campgrounds we stay in don’t offer it. So, it’s a nice supplemental option, but we never count on it for our TV fix.
The last year or two we lived in our big house, we cut the cable cord and went to 100% streaming. Our super-fast cable internet connection made that a viable and cost-effective option to view our favorite shows. However, in the RV environment, we simply don’t have that kind of bandwidth. Our data access is through an AT&T hotspot and data speed just isn’t that robust. And in our year of traveling, we’ve stayed at exactly one campground that provided free wifi capable of streaming. (Some campgrounds offer paid wifi, but we’ve never tried that so I can’t comment). What we CAN do is take our Ipads someplace there is robust free wifi (like a local Starbucks) and download Amazon Prime videos to watch later. We also found that we can use DirectTV to download on-demand content (in the background) for later viewing. But we almost never have a data pipeline that is strong enough to directly stream video without constant sputtering and buffering.
Even with all of this, sometimes we won’t be able to get some specific big football game, so Jeff will seek out a local sports bar, which usually works. And if all else fails, there’s always Redbox.