Once you have selected which satellite provider you want to use (DISH or DIRECTV) for your RV, the next step is choosing your satellite equipment. If you’re lucky enough to have a newer RV that came prepped for satellite service, you can skip this step.
To get a signal, you’ll need to have an outdoor satellite TV antenna and an indoor router and modem. Satellite TV antennas are small satellite dishes that give you access to your favorite satellite TV programming—and they’re designed to go with you on your RV adventures. Satellite TV antennas should not be confused with portable TV antennas (which we’ll discuss later on as an alternative to satellite TV).
If you’re getting DISH, you’ll need to purchase the equipment up front. The advantage to this is that DISH offers a pay-as-you-go plan instead of requiring you to sign a 2-year contract. DIRECTV offers you the option of renting or buying your satellite TV equipment, but you’ll have a 2-year service contract either way. If you want to have your satellite dish permanently installed on the roof of your RV, you’ll need to pay for your equipment up front.
There are a few satellite dishes that work with both providers—such as the KING One Pro Premium Satellite Antenna or the Winegard RoadTrip T4. But most satellite antennas work with just one satellite provider, so that’s why it’s important to pick your provider first and then get your equipment.
There are two basic types of satellite TV antennas for RVs: roof-mounted antennas and portable TV antennas.
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 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. But, it’s not the right choice for everybody.
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.
DISH caters to tailgaters, outdoor enthusiasts, and RV owners, and it shows when you start looking at equipment. All DISH satellite antennas are fully automatic, so you won’t need to worry about manually pointing them in the right direction to pick up satellite signals.
Some satellite TV antennas support only one TV, while others work with two or more TVs. If you have an antenna that supports multiple TVs, remember that you’ll need to get a Wally (or other DISH satellite TV receiver) to connect each TV you have in your RV.
Most satellite antennas work only while the RV is parked (stationary use). If you want in-motion TV for your passengers, you’ll have to spring for a top-of-the-line model like the Winegard RoadTrip T4, which costs five times as much as the standard DISH Playmaker.