There was a time when having a television in your RV was a unique luxury. But the days of fiddling with rabbit ears trying to improve TV reception in your RV are mostly behind us. Technological advancements have progressed to the point that having an over-the-air digital antenna and an RV satellite dish is normal.
Television in the RV market has changed dramatically over the years. Many modern RVs are now equipped with multiple TVs with access to hundreds of channels, including high-definition programming.
Searching for a new dish can be overwhelming if you’re frustrated with your RV’s TV reception. Fortunately, you’re in the best place to learn how to choose the right satellite dish for your RV.
Satellite Dishes versus Over-the-Air Antennas
No matter your budget, needs, or RV type, there is a satellite dish for you. There are many RV satellite dish options, but you should understand how an RV satellite dish differs from over-the-air antennas.
Over-the-air digital TV antennas can receive local broadcast channels over the air, for free and without a subscription service. What you’ll receive (standard or high-definition programming) is largely up to the broadcast output for channels within range.
Over-the-air antennas are great if you like to tune into local news broadcasts every time you reach a new destination. But they provide poor reception in remote areas if there isn’t a relay tower close enough for your antenna to acquire a signal.
Satellite TV dishes can get reception almost anywhere, allowing you to tune into nationally broadcast channels. Because they require a subscription service from a TV provider like DISH® or DIRECTV®, you won’t always get local channels whenever you relocate.
But the major benefit of satellite TV is reliable reception in more remote areas. This is because dishes receive signals from satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the earth instead of from signals relayed between earthbound broadcast towers subject to more interference.
As you can imagine, the pros and cons of satellite and over-the-air antennas lead many RVers to use both to enjoy the widest selection of entertainment options possible (not to mention streaming services over a mobile hotspot or campground Wi-Fi).
Benefits of RV Satellite Dishes
If your recreational vehicle only has an over-the-air antenna or your satellite is outdated, here are the benefits of upgrading to a satellite TV dish:
- Reception almost anywhere. They’re great for boondocking or remote camping where over-the-air reception is poor.
- Optimized reception. Satellite dishes select the strongest signals from satellites overhead.
- Less variability. Subscription services provide channel selections based on your home address, eliminating worries over whether local channels will be broadcasting your favorite shows or sports.
RV Satellite Dish Types
RV satellite dishes can be categorized into two main groups: portable and mounted dishes. But within those groups, there are dome and open styles that offer their own pros and cons.
Understanding the differences allows you to identify the important features when selecting a satellite dish to meet your needs. Let’s take a closer look.
Portable Satellite Dishes for your RV
Portable satellite dishes are popular for outdoor activities like tailgating, camping, picnicking, attending races, backyard BBQs, and more. Flexibility is the greatest advantage of a portable RV satellite dish.
You can move them to minimize issues with line of sight obstacles, and you aren’t limited to using them just for RVing. Take your portable dish with you anytime to make any outdoor event more enjoyable.
Portable dishes are also popular because of their lower price and are often the first pick for that very reason. There are portable dome satellites and portable open satellites (we’ll discuss the differences next).
The downside of portable dishes is that you must set them up and take them down each time you move camp. Plus, setting up a portable TV dish on the ground will usually get diminished reception compared to roof-mounted options.
Portable Dome Satellite Dishes
Dome satellite dishes are popular because they are automatic, and most give you the option for stationary and in-motion viewing. One drawback of the dome style is that you’re usually limited to signals supported by your TV provider.
For example, satellite dishes made by DISH® won’t be able to acquire DIRECTV® HD signals. No matter where you go, you’ll be limited to the channels offered by your home TV provider.
Portable Open Satellite Dishes
Open satellite dishes look like the traditional saucers you’ve probably seen on many residential homes. Because they offer no protection from the elements, you’ll only find this style as a portable option that must be stored safely when not used.
Depending on the dish manufacturer (DISH® or DIRECTV®), your dish will utilize a different number of low-noise block (LNB) downconverters because they operate a different number of satellites based on their subscription options.
This is why these dishes and their receivers are provider-specific and aren’t interchangeable. No satellite dishes can acquire terrestrial broadcast signals that require a separate antenna. However, some satellite receivers feature an antenna input jack that allows you to toggle between satellite and antenna signals easily.
Mounted Dome RV Satellite Dishes
Mounting a dome satellite dish permanently on your RV’s roof eliminates the need for storage space when you’re traveling, unlike portable antennas. Dome covers provide extra protection for the satellite dish underneath without disturbing their ability to acquire a strong signal.
It also prevents interference caused by high winds, which is why they’re essential if in-motion viewing is a priority. With domed antennas, you’ll usually only need to run a channel scan each time you park to start watching TV.
How to Choose the Right Satellite Dish for your RV
The good news is if you are in the market to buy a new satellite TV dish for your RV, you have options. The bad news is that so many options can make the decision overwhelming.
Here are the questions you need to ask:
Do you want an automatic or manual dish?
Manual dishes frustrate many RVers because aligning them to maximize your signal strength takes time. You’ll have to do it every time you relocate; unless you’re intrigued by this process, it can be a nuisance.
While they cost more, automatic satellite antennas are the easiest option. They track orbiting satellites and automatically reposition themselves to acquire the strongest signal possible each time you change locations.
Do you want a permanent or a portable dish?
If you’re a full-time RVer or you frequently travel, installing a permanent dish is your best bet. You’ll only have to go through the installation process once, and you’ll be able to take advantage of it every time you set up camp.
That said, weekend RVers who only head out a few times each year can save a little money by opting for a portable satellite dish. You also won’t have to worry about mounting it on your RV’s roof, but you will need to set it up and store it away as you move around.
Is high definition important?
Certain dishes will only be compatible with HD signals from a specific provider. For example, many dome satellite dishes won’t work with HD signals from DIRECTV®, even if it supports other signals from that provider.
Dishes require a special receiver to receive DIRECTV® HD programming, which is why those that claim they universally support programming from both providers only receive standard signals from DIRECTV®. If HD is important, you’ll either need a DISH® network product or one that specifically supports DIRECTV® HD programming
Which provider fits best?
DISH® and DIRECTV® are the two main providers for getting satellite TV in your RV. If you already have one of these providers for your home TV, stick to that provider when selecting a satellite TV antenna for your RV.
Each of these main providers has a specific advantage over the other. DIRECTV® offers a better sports package, and DISH® TV offers a better digital video recorder (DVR). DIRECTV® offers NFL Sunday Ticket, which is a feature that DISH® can’t compete with.
But the DISH® Hopper DVR is widely considered one of the best DVRs on the market, which is great if you like to record multiple shows or games and then watch them at your leisure. While DIRECTV® does offer a functional Genie DVR, it doesn’t quite measure up to the Hopper’s capabilities.
If you’re already a DISH® customer, you can add an RV package to your plan or sign up for Pay-As-You-Go monthly service. For DIRECTV® customers, an RV package is also available.
Do you plan on using multiple TVs at the same time?
This is simply a matter of your RVs floorplan and how many passengers you typically travel with. If you only have a single TV in your RV, then there’s no concern over finding a dish that can support multiple TVs.
But if you imagine a scenario where you’ll want the game on your indoor and outdoor TVs so you don’t miss a second of the action, you’ll need an RV satellite antenna that can split the signal to multiple entertainment centers.
Is in-motion viewing important?
RV parents must get creative to keep the kids entertained on long road trips. Growing up, watching movies in the back of the RV was one of our favorite ways to pass the time as Mom and Dad navigated to our next fun destination.
While it can be handy for RV families, in-motion viewing isn’t necessary for couples or solo RVers. In these cases, you may opt for a slightly more affordable antenna because you won’t need the interference protection required for in-motion viewing.
How much is a satellite dish for an RV?
Finally, there’s the question of what you’re willing to spend. On average, quality satellite TV dishes typically run between $300 and $600. You’ll find models outside this range, but your best bet is to focus on finding several compatible models that offer the features you need before comparing prices and shopping for RV satellite dishes online.
Four RV Satellite Dishes from Camping World
Now that you have an idea of how to choose the right satellite dish for your RV, here are a few of our best-selling models:
Winegard DISHⓇ Playmaker Portable Satellite Dish
The single-receiver Playmaker offers nationwide coverage and is powered by the receiver, eliminating the need for a separate power cable. It’s made for stationary use only and is built with a Solo HD receiver.
The 16” by 13” dish makes it compact enough to store easily underneath your RV. But it’s also easy to set up on a portable stand and allows you to mount it on your RV’s roof permanently.
Winegard DISHⓇ Playmaker Dual Portable Satellite Dish
The dual-receiver Playmaker is a slight upgrade from the single-receiver model. It’s designed for stationary use with one or two HD receivers and can split signals to one or two televisions in your RV.
It’s the same size as the single-receiver model and can also be mounted permanently on your RV’s roof or set up each time you make camp. This dish also runs with a customized interface, providing faster signal acquisition times than others.
KING DISHⓇ TailgaterⓇ Satellite Dish
This fully-automatic portable dish can stand on the ground or be mounted to your RV’s roof. It’s designed for RVs with a single TV, allowing you to acquire satellite signals anytime and anywhere when used with a DISH® mobile receiver.
If you decide to mount it permanently, take advantage of its built-in security bracket. Plus, this dish is built with a weather-resistant cover and comes with a two-year manufacturer warranty from the date of purchase.
KING DISHⓇ TailgaterⓇ Pro 2 Satellite Dish
The upgraded version of this satellite dish features a clear, weather-resistant cover that allows you to see which direction the dish is pointing, which is a first in the industry.
Designed for permanent mounting, the Pro 2 provides reliable nationwide coverage and automatically scans for HD signals when you get to camp. It’s also compatible with several DISH® HD solo receivers, with the Wally® HD receiver being the best option for RVers in the Upper Northeast.
Now you can go out and enjoy your favorite TV shows and sports programming on the road. In addition to updating your dish, you might also be interested in the 25 best RV upgrades sorted by price and value.
Which satellite TV dish do you have on your RV camper, or are you interested in adding? Let us know in the comments below!