While you might like to unplug in states with the best boondocking spots, it pays to stay connected on the road and at your camping destinations. To do so effectively, you need to know how to get better TV reception in your new or used motorhome.
Choosing the right satellite TV antenna plays a big role in getting better TV reception, but there are a number of choices you can make to improve reception with the equipment you have. In this guide, you’ll learn the various ways to watch TV in your RV and some basic tips to improve reception when you’re tuning into over-the-air TV channels.
How to Watch TV in your RV
There are four basic options for tuning into digital entertainment in your RV: satellite antennas, over-the-air digital television antennas, cable hookups, and streaming services. Depending on where you travel and how much you’re willing to pay for various services, you can use a combination of these options to expand your entertainment choices.
Streaming Services for RVers
With streaming services like Netflix, Sling, and Hulu, reception quality largely depends on the strength of your internet connection. Weaker connections will prompt more buffering, for example. The trouble is that you’ll have minimal control over Wi-Fi signal strengths provided at luxury RV resorts and other campgrounds.
But if you rely on a mobile hotspot, you can employ a signal booster to improve the strength of your connection. When you arrive at a new destination, you can always perform an internet speed test to examine signal strength.
Pro Tip: When booking your campsite, ask the campground host how far from the Wi-Fi router your site is. Sites closer to the lobby or office will likely have the best signal.
The reception quality of cable television is out of your hands as well. Whether the park offers standard definition or high definition distribution is completely up to them. Normally, cable TV offers fewer channels. That said, cable hookups are the best option if you frequent RV parks instead of remote locations. Just know that some RV parks and campgrounds charge customers to use cable.
Satellite versus Over-the-Air Antennas
If you’re getting TV from a satellite or over-the-air antenna, there are several ways to improve your TV reception. But before we go into detail on that front, you should understand the differences between these two types of antennas.
There are two types of satellite antennas: portable and roof-mounted units. Whichever you choose, satellites require receivers that are set up inside your RV. Satellite antennas allow you to get reception anywhere because they receive broadcast frequencies from satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth, which makes them a great choice for remote camping.
Similar to GPS devices, the technology inside satellite antennas optimizes reception based on the signals received from satellites overhead. Any noise that could interfere with signal strength is minimized because satellite antennas only pick up the strongest signals broadcasted from the optimal satellites.
All types of satellite antennas usually require some sort of subscription service, such as those offered by DirecTV or Dish Network. One downside of these antennas is the inability to tune into local channels when traveling because subscription packages are based on your home address.
While you can contact your service provider and change your “home base” if you’re RVing full-time, it requires calling and working with a customer service representative, which often comes with long wait times that can make it a hassle.
Unlike satellite antennas, over-the-air antennas allow you to receive local broadcast channels over the air for free and without a subscription service. Whether these channels offer high-definition or standard-definition video is mostly up to the broadcast output. For RV use, you’ll find directional and omnidirectional (also known as multidirectional) models.
Omnidirectional antennas automatically adjust to give you the best reception when you perform the ‘Channel Scan’ function on your TV. Just keep in mind you will need to scan for new channels every time you park your RV in a new location.
Directional antennas require manual adjustment to get the best TV reception possible. These antennas are raised using a crank handle and adjusted using a circular plate mounted to the roof inside your new or used travel trailer or RV. Some antennas must be raised before being adjusted, but many newer models have no height variability.
Generally speaking, omnidirectional antennas are less sensitive than directional antennas. This means they have a shorter range and can be more susceptible to noise that reduces reception quality.
Directional antennas are more sensitive and able to pick up broadcast signals from further away. This also means they are less susceptible to noise because they are pointed to acquire signals from a single direction instead of in a 360° radius.
The downside of over-the-air antennas is that they don’t work as well in remote settings. If there’s not a broadcasting tower close enough for your antenna to pick up a signal, you likely aren’t going to get good TV reception.
How To Get Better TV Reception in your RV
These tips will help you get better TV reception via your satellite or over-the-air antenna:
Choose Campgrounds Wisely
Trees, mountains, and even tall buildings can interfere with your antenna’s ability to acquire broadcast signals. To put it very generally, campgrounds with a more open sky above them will provide better opportunities for your antenna to acquire strong signals.
This is especially true for satellite antennas, but campground choice is important for over-the-air antennas as well. As we mentioned, getting good TV reception will prove difficult with this kind of antenna if you’re intent on exploring how to boondock in an RV. With over-the-air antennas, choosing campgrounds closer to populated areas will make it easier to get better TV reception.
Even within a campground, you may find that certain sites offer better positioning than others. Sites tucked right up against a ridge, for instance, may create a significant obstacle for signals to reach your antenna. So don’t hesitate to explore and ask the camp host if it’s possible to relocate to a site where you can get better reception.
Orient Your Antenna
This step isn’t required for satellite antennas and it’s nearly automatic for omnidirectional over-the-air antennas. For the latter, just turn on your TV and run the ‘Channel Scan’ function to orient your antenna.
Directional over-the-air antennas, however, require manual adjustment. Here are some simple steps to do to this:
- Raise your antenna and turn on your TV
- Run a channel scan and note the position of the antenna base plate
- Once the scan is complete, tune to the channel you want to watch
- Note the reception quality and then turn the plate 90 degrees
- See if the reception improves or worsens
- Turn the plate another 90 degrees and assess reception quality
- Repeat twice more to scan a full 360 degrees
- Reposition your antenna in the direction that gives you the best reception
To make this process a little easier, you can use a tool like Channel Master’s Antenna Selection Guide to find the nearest broadcast towers to your location. Knowing whether that tower lies to the north, south, east, or west will help you orient your antenna for the best reception.
Here are a couple of other tower finders that might be useful as well:
- Winegard HDTV Tower Finder
- TV Fool TV Signal Locator
Keep in mind that broadcast signals for different channels can come from different nearby towers. So you may need to reposition a directional antenna every time you change channels in order to optimize reception.
Use a Digital Signal Finder
There are also digital tools you can use to evaluate TV signal strength. You plug the cable coming from your antenna into one inlet and the cable running to your TV into the other. Then you can reposition your antenna until you find the strongest signal possible.
The problem with this solution is accessibility. It’s not always easy to get to these cables to unplug them and having to do it every time you set up your RV in a new campsite can quickly become a hassle if you move your RV, like a Happier Camper, frequently.
Make Sure Your Amplifier Is On
If you have an omnidirectional over-the-air antenna, most of the newer designs include an amplifier. If your amplifier somehow gets turned off, your antenna will pick up far fewer channels than it would if it were on.
If you’re camping in an urban area and your TV doesn’t find any channels when it scans, check to make sure your amplifier is turned on. If it’s not, turn it on and re-run the scan. If you’re camping in a remote area, you may still get a limited channel selection even with your amplifier on.
Turn Off Appliances and Unplug Wall Accessories
All of your RV appliances emit some level of radiation (electric and magnetic fields) when turned on. This radiation creates “noise” that can decrease the strength of the TV signal your antenna receives. Operating appliances while you’re trying to get better TV reception increases what is known as the signal-to-noise ratio (i.e. more noise to weaken broadcast signals).
While a higher signal-to-noise ratio is only likely to impact channels that are broadcast at lower frequencies, turning off things like your air conditioner and unplugging small electronics can improve your TV reception in some cases.
For the latest and greatest in TV reception technology for your home on the go, check out Camping World’s collection of RV antennas, including satellite and local broadcast options. If you’re looking to upgrade your RV, your local Camping World can walk you through the selling and trade-in process.
What other tips do you have for getting TV reception in your RV? Leave a comment below!