We done got’s us one ‘o them thar Sat’lites!

IMG_6984The Journey:

We’ve had all of the TV services out there and as you know it is a love/hate kind of thang! Dish, DirecTV, TWC, etc. they are all a bunch of crooks if you ask me. My biggest bitch is they save all the best deals for their least loyal customers! If you’ve been a loyal customer, paying your bill on time they ‘thank’ you by racheting up the cost year after year. They extend the best deals to new customers. The only way to beat the system is dump your current provider every 12 – 24 months. On top of that, there are really only a dozen or less channels with anything worth watching, but you have to pay for all 250 most of which is pure #^$%. But Hey folks, that’s what competition does for you, the consumer, it provides choice and selection! It puts you in the driver seat.  So glad… Ok, rant done… well almost… actually not…

Obviously, we are really not big fans of TV, but Wendy loves her sports. In the fall its football, come winter there’s basketball, then March Madness in the spring and baseball all summer. OK, yes I like to watch too. We were missing most of it because all we could pull was the local channels depending on where we were parked. Usually that meant nothing! Sooner or later I knew this ‘over-the-air’ (OTA) thing would lose its charm. Digital broadcasting sure beats the old analog stuff, and it was the right price, but that was just about its only advantage. Nothing is still nothing.

So, I started looking into our options for TV programming that would get us that sports coverage we were missing. In the good ol’ US of A, for full time RVers there are only 2 choices: a satellite service or OTA and you already know the OTA was not working out. Of the satellite services there is Dish Network or DirecTV. There’s that vaunted market-based economy workin’ for ya, how’s that going? Both are despicable, but a man must do what a man must do for love…:)

Dish is actually just a little cheaper than DirecTV and has a slightly better customer service reputation. Surprisingly, the hardware an RV’er needs to pull in Dish Network is more readily available and a little cheaper also. There’s a gotcha, though ain’t there always – a little known FCC regulation that limits satellite services from broadcasting local channels outside a 100 mile radius! Now for those of you living in a standard brick and mortar that’s no hardship as your home doesn’t move (hopefully). For RVers that’s a problem if you want to watch network programming on ABC, FOX, NBC, CBS, etc. The FCC forces the satellite services to ‘spot-beam’ for local channels Move too far out of your local broadcast area and you pass beyond the spot-beam and suddenly you can only get network affiliates via OTA. See above for the problems that incurs.

There is a ‘work-around’ for this problem: Distant Network Services (DNS). In its infinite wisdom, the FCC allows exceptions to the rule if you can prove you live in an area that is not served by local channels or you live in a recreational vehicle! Problem solved? – NOT! Dish Network ended their contract in 2014 with the company that provided DNS to its customers. So Dish customers cannot receive the DNS service anymore! So, no network coverage when you are outside your local broadcast area (based on your billing address) except – you guessed it! OTA

Nice little pickle the FCC set up for us full-time RVers, huh?

If I have to pay one of these outfits for TV coverage every month then I’m not going to settle for OTA for the network channels. Most of the time that would mean no coverage! Besides, I’m paying for 200 channels of worthless $%^& and I can’t get ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX? Ok, I know that’s mostly %@&^ too, but it’s familiar $%^$. So, for us DirecTV is the only option. However, above, I mentioned that the hardware for an RVer to pull satellite services is less expensive if you go with Dish? Well, as it turns out it is a whole HELL of a lot cheaper! Why? Because if you want to pull DirecTV in HD in your motorhome there’s only one choice of satellite dish! That’s right! Only one and it retails for $2000 MSRP! Don’t be fooled by misleading advertising. Nobody, even at DirecTV itself, will tell you this! You have to read the fine print and figure it out for yourself. Do your research carefully. None of the multitude of satellite recievers out there (not the carry-outs, nor the domes, nor any other product) on the market for RV’ers will receive DirecTV in HD, except one – Winegard Slimline SWM-3. That’s right, only one! DirecTV will actually try to sell you another dish setup, but it will NOT bring in the HD signal. Don’t believe them! And, if you want DirecTV in HD ‘in-motion’ – it’s not gonna happen at all. Also, if you want DNS (see above) don’t bother calling DirecTV because the rep. you talk to will be absolutely clueless about that. Trust me, I tried. In fact, let me save you a WOS – Do Not call DirecTV to buy or activate your service! They absolutely do not comprehend the special needs of an RVer! I was finally told by a DirecTV rep just before they hung up on me, “Don’t call us back!” Believe it…

So in spite of the vaunted marketplace competition that we enjoy, HDTV in an RV that includes the network channels boils down to one service and one receiver in static mode only. If you are considering undertaking this journey, find an online vendor that can sell you all of the equipment (including the DTV receiver) and activate your account. If you try to do this via DirecTV, you will fail.

I found such a vendor at SolidSignal.com. A good price, free shipping and a rep that understands the needs of an RVer. So I did what I knew I was going to do all along and ordered the stuff. At least I did my research and had a reasonable chance of success. If I had relied on the ‘experts’ it would have turned very, very ugly…

Once I made the decision, ordered the stuff and the money was gone… I forgot all about the trials of the journey. Don’t look back!

This receiver is COOL! It mounts to the roof of the bus. It will stow/deploy itself automatically. Upon deployment, it unfolds, scans across the southern sky and locks in three different satellites! That’s what allows it to pull in DirecTV in HD – you’ve got to be able to lock in to all 3 of the satellites at the same time. When it is time to hit the road, it stows itself nearly flat on the roof. AutoMagic!

The Installation:

The installation instructions are decent and available online and they ship with the antenna. I also ordered a thin sheet metal mounting plate. I don’t really know if it was necessary, but I think it simplified the installation and added another layer of strength to the rooftop mounting. If you think you might do this on your RV, download the installation instructions to see if this is something you want to do yourself. Its not difficult, but does involve making holes in your roof – and sealing things up so it doesn’t leak.

Step one is to find a good location on the roof that is free of obstructions. This thing is bigger than it looks from the ground! I’d hoped to install it in front of the fore A/C unit, but that was not possible. So I put it down the centerline behind that front A/C unit. I still have room for solar panels, so this position will work well. That big plastic carbuncle will also protect my dish from low-hanging branches. Proper mounting requires a free and clear 34″ radius from the center of the mounting plate and nothing higher than 10 inches.

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Sheet metal mounting plate in position.

The pre-drilled plate needs to be anchored to the roof and screws are provided. The roof of the bus is slightly rounded, so there were small gaps between the edges of the mounting plate and the roof. Generous quantities of a good quality roof caulk ensured a good seal.

Mounting plate secured and sealed

Mounting plate secured and sealed

FedEx delivered to our door, but Wendy and I had to figure out how to get it up on the roof! It weighs about 50 lbs, so we needed a good plan… At first, I thought I’d just heave it up into my arms and carry it up the ladder – NOT! Wendy had a better idea wherein we used our heads vs. my old back and brawn. So we wrapped the unit in blankets and towels and looped a rope around the base. With me on the ladder and Wendy below, using a piece of cardboard as a slide we hoisted it up the ladder onto the roof. Nothing and no one broken.

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Wrapped and ready to slide up the ladder.

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Up on the roof…

The mounting plate is also pre-drilled for the satellite dish! So using it just simplifies the installation. The instructions caution you to be sure to seal the bottom of the dish where it contacts the roof/mounting plate so no moisture can seep under the dish and eventually corrode the internals. Here again, a generous application of caulk should do the job.

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Mounted and sealed, ready for cabling.

Cabling was next and I decided to use an existing hole in the roof that I used to install an external antenna for our mobile hotspot. You can see it in the upper right corner of that last picture. The hole wasn’t big enough to accommodate the satellite dish cables, so I had to pull the external antenna wire and enlarge the hole with a drill and a grinding stone. The roof is aluminum, so that job only took a couple of minutes. Besides the big control cable a 30′ coax cable is provided with the dish and must also be run to the roof, but they only crimped a coax connector on one end of the cable!? Presumably so that the installer could cut the coax to length. I didn’t have a way to crimp a coax connector so I just used a shorter coax cable I’d purchased for another little project. That meant some coax cable will be forever coiled up inside the cabinet, but I just didn’t feel like pedaling 30 miles round trip on my bicycle for a shorter length. The dish also comes with a nice plastic cap (screws included) to cover and seal the hole in the roof. Again, generous application of caulk will ensure a long-lasting seal.

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Cables installed, routed and sealed.

Now it was time to see if all the equipment would fit into the cabinet down below. Besides the NAS that was already in the cabinet, I now have to fit the following components and all cables and power supplies: Satellite control box, satellite power inserter, control cable, coax cable and AC power supply, satellite coax splitter; DirecTV receiver and power supply, DirecTV CKK (for LAN connection) and AC power supply, Blu-Ray DVD (w/ LAN connection) and AC power supply. Here’s a picture of the results. I hope it works the first time! I don’t want to pull all of that stuff out.

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Amazing! It all fits.

Even more amazing – It worked! I plugged the power strip in and powered it all up and voila that thar sat ‘lite just set right up pretty as ya please! Once it locked on to the 3 satellites, a quick call to SolidSignal and the dish was activated on the DirecTV network and we were in business. IMG_6990 IMG_6989IMG_6988IMG_6986

All in all, the install was fairly simple. Now we have TNF, SNF, MNF and all the playoffs plus more talking heads than anyone could possibly need. How is it possible to have SO MUCH TO SAY about football? I like HBO too.  March Madness in the spring, and so much more. Oh how did we live without this??

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4 comments on “We done got’s us one ‘o them thar Sat’lites!

  1. Ya’ll, I really appreciate all the research you did. Although we do not yet have an RV, we do plan to have something, someday. We will refer to your research and thank you for it all. A very good dissertation of the problems at hand. My only other comment: One should not become too complacent with the quality of ones own installation. The sealing caulk seems perfect, but deteriorates readily depending on ambient conditions. On my previous RV’s, we had to monitor window and other seals constantly. Keep a few tubes of it at hand.
    Thanks for putting and keeping Grand Junction on your radar. We will always welcome you here. Besides, I feel like the father of “Mighty Bus.” I love visiting with my kids once in a while.
    Captain Ted

  2. I love reading your posts! I bookmarked you, and will follow! We are about to embark on our full-time journey, and have many decisions yet to make…I think you will be helpful!

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