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When it comes to the term RV, so much has changed over the past 20-30 or even 40 years. Some people still go RVing to get away from it all and don’t want any type of “connectivity” while others go out in rigs that have 5 televisions! I don’t watch a lot of television when I go RVing, however, I do like to be able to check the news and local weather.

Over The Air Antenna (OTA)

Even in today’s high-tech world of streaming, satellite signals, and other pay-per-view options, there is still the old-fashioned signal coming from a local TV station via towers. This is called Over The Air transmission which emits a digital signal from one of the stations’ towers. When the first TV signals hit the airwaves they were analog until 2009 when everything switched to digital. Most RVs up until that time had the old crank-up antenna that was on the top of the rig which we coined the “Batwing”. You had to crank it up and turn it in the direction of the strongest signal which you did not know until turning off the TV and trying to find a station, usually with several attempts.

This old antenna will be able to receive a digital signal however it has a very short reception distance and with digital, it has to be full strength or it will pixelate and drop off. To enhance the old Batwing, Winegard has introduced an add-on piece called the “Wingman” which will double the distance it can receive. You still have to turn the antenna to get the right direction and crank it down when you leave the campground or it will eventually come down on its own!

Other roof antennas are now available such as the Winegard Rayzar or the King Controls “King Jack” both of which are mounted on the roof and do not have to be cranked up or down but do require rotation for the best signal.

A new introduction by Winegard for OTA antenna is the Air 360 which is a dome unit permanently mounted to the roof and once it is turned on, the unit will automatically search and find all signals in the area and then a channel search on your TV screen logs them in automatically. It easily replaces all older model roof antennas. I have installed over 6 of these units and they are easy to install and pull in about twice as many stations as the other models.

Satellite Signal

Another option for television entertainment is getting satellite programming from a provider such as Dish Network, DirectTV, Hughes, and others. You will need either a roof-mounted antenna or a portable antenna that gets a line of sight to the satellite. My preference has been Dish as they have three satellites in the Eastern Sky, and two in the West so getting a line of sight has been superior in my opinion. Plus their “Pay As You Go” program allows you to only pay for the months you need.

The Traveler antenna by Winegard is mounted to the top of the rig and can be configured for either Dish or DirectTV and automatically cranks up and finds a High Definition (HD) signal. The only downside is it can not be used while actively traveling.

There are some options for satellite antennas that can be used while driving down the road such as the Winegard Roadtrip dome which handles Dish, DirectTV, and Bell Television and has an internal “Gyro” with refined algorithms that will track the signal as you go down the road.

I have found that many people prefer portable units even though they are a little more difficult to set up initially. The advantage is being able to get a camping spot in the shade to keep things cooler however that typically blocks the line of sight to the satellite. A portable unit lets you get the ideal spot and run the antenna out to the best location. Most RVs have an exterior coax connection in the service center or outside of the rig so you can set the portable unit out in the line of sight, connect the coax cable, and switch the feed inside to external.

What I also like about the Dish system is the Wally receiver as it is durable enough to handle the banging RVs get going down the road and temperature changes. It also has an OTA adapter that allows you to hook up your OTA antenna to it and all the local channels come up on the screen rather than needing to switch inputs of your TV. You can also do this for any “streaming” program you have!

Streaming TV

Now this is where it starts to get pretty foggy when I try to explain this to my folks who still have 12:00 blinking on their VCR! Streaming is a method of using an internet signal either hard wired or wireless (WiFi) and using a program such as Hulu, Paramount +, Prime, Apple TV, Netflix, and many others. You’ll need a good internet connection, pick the program you want, and pay a monthly fee for said streaming service.

You also need a Smart TV that can receive an internet signal either by hard wire or Wifi or purchase an adapter like a Roku. Essentially, you are getting television programs from the internet even though you can get local channels with your package.

Two years ago we decided to “Cut The Cable” at home and went with an internet-based streaming program and use Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video. The only issue I have encountered is when we travel, which is not much in RVs these days but motels for shows, our Hulu account requires us to change locations and states that we can only do this 3 times a year. This may or may not be ideal for you. However, when using a portable device like a phone or laptop, it doesn’t require the relocation so I developed a workaround using my laptop and connecting an HDMI cable to the TV, which works for now.

Ultimately, there are now several ways to enjoy TV while you’re RVing and everyone has their own preference as to what avenue fits them best. From OTA to streaming, to going completely without TV, what options do you subscribe to?

About the author: Dave Solberg: Managing Editor, RV Repair Club

For the last 25 years, Dave has conducted RV maintenance and safety seminars, developed dealer and owner training programs, written RV safety and handyman articles authored an RV handbook reference guide, and logged over 100,000 miles on the road in an RV.

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