There are two basic types of satellite TV antennas for RVs: satellite antennas (which are typically roof-mounted) and digital TV antennas (which are more portable and typically have more indoor use).
Portable antennas for RVs
If you opt for a portable satellite TV antenna, you’ll need to set your equipment up on a tripod each time you make camp. Portable antennas can take an hour or more to set up and get working, which can be frustrating depending on where you are. You’ll need to set up the tripod, level it, attach the antenna, and then manually adjust it to the right angle to get a signal (this part takes the most time).
Since the antenna will be left outside day and night, you’ll also need to secure the antenna to your RV with a long chain and a padlock to prevent theft. Portable antennas are great for people who want satellite TV in several different vehicles, such as a truck for tailgating parties and a fifth wheel when they’re going camping with the family.
A lot of portable antennas can be mounted to the roof with a roof mount kit. So, if you don’t want to mount it now but you might want to in the future, get an antenna that has the option of being mounted or portable.
Satellite antennas for RVs
A roof-mounted satellite TV antenna is a lot more convenient than a portable antenna since you don’t have to set it up each time you camp. A mounted antenna doesn’t require any storage space in the RV, and it’s much less likely to be stolen. However, you may experience signal loss with a roof-mounted antenna when you park under tall trees. That’s something to think about if you camp in heavily forested areas a lot (such as Redwood National Park or Great Smoky Mountain National Park). Also, having your satellite TV dish mounted adds another expense, which can be a hindrance to folks who are trying to keep costs low.
Roof-mounted RV antennas are a good pick for people who look at their RV as a long-term investment and plan to use the same RV for years. You obviously don’t want to pay to mount an antenna in your current RV if you’re thinking of upgrading in a year or two. A satellite dish antenna can be removed but it’ll leave a few holes that need to be carefully sealed up, so most people don’t remove the antenna when they sell.
It’s definitely easier to set up camp with a roof mounted antenna, since you don’t have to carry it outside the RV, find a perfect spot, point it in the right direction, and set it up. Getting a satellite antenna installed on the roof of your RV can cost $150 or more, but it’s usually worth it because it’s so much more convenient.
If you’re camping near enough to a city to get TV reception with a TV antenna, you can save yourself a bundle by getting a simple TV antenna for your RV for under $50. In many areas, you can get 15 or more local stations for free with this simple device.
The least expensive TV antennas are less than $25 and will pick up TV stations within 40-50 miles. The ANTAN Indoor Window HDTV Antenna is worth checking out at under $20.*
Luckily, TV antennas today have evolved from the clunky rabbit ears of decades past (remember all that tin foil we crumpled around it to help with reception?). Nowadays, TV antennas are low profile and can be installed in minutes. These antennas look like a laminated piece of paper that can stick to the inside of your window. A cord connects the antenna to your TV, giving you TV reception for all local channels in the area you’re staying in.
If you’re roaming further from the crowds in your RV and need a wider range, we recommend a more powerful TV antenna. The Amplified HD TV Digital Antenna* is priced under $30 and will pick up TV station signals that are up to 180 miles away. Remember that TV antennas do have their shortcomings—they won’t deliver a signal if you’re in a canyon. Also, keep in mind that outdoor antennas work better for some RVs than others, since some RV walls are constructed of metal and will block TV signals from your antenna.
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Cable TV hookups for TVs for RVs
Some RV parks offer cable service as part of the price of the nightly stay. You’ll need to have an RV that is wired for cable service and bring your own coaxial cables. For about $20, you can buy professional-grade, outdoor coaxial cables on Amazon or at a local hardware store like Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, Walmart, or Home Depot.* We recommend using a coaxial cable that’s 10–50 feet long.
Connecting to an RV park’s cable line is fairly simple. Here are the steps:
- Connect your TV to cable wiring (if not connected yet).
- Turn off the power booster inside your RV.
- Locate cable hookup (usually on the back of your RV).
- Attach your coaxial cable to the RV park hookup and to your cable hookup.
- Turn on the power booster inside your RV.
- Watch your shows!
Another common way to watch TV shows and movies in an RV is with streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO GO, and many others.
If you have internet access on your cell phone and enough data, you can hotspot off your phone to a laptop and watch a few shows a week. Mobile boosters and extenders can be helpful in getting a decent signal if you’re off in the woods.
Keep an eye on your data usage while hotspotting, though, because all cell phone plans have a limit on how much data you can use while hotspotting without getting a hefty charge.
So, if your preferences run to more than one or two shows a week, we recommend getting a mobile hotspot device or seeking out free Wi-Fi hotspots in town to avoid pricey data overage charges. To learn more about getting internet access in your RV, check out our guide on how to get internet in your RV.
Some satellite TV equipment companies can also install cell phone boosters and extenders to your RV, which strengthen a cell phone signal when you are located far away from a tower. Having a decent cell phone signal can be just as important—if not more so—than getting TV service. While you’re getting satellite TV set up for your RV, you might also want to look at a mobile phone signal booster, which can also be mounted to your roof. SignalConnect sells quality mobile phone signal boosters for RVs.