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A VIEW FOR THE ROAD

 

A PRIMER FOR RV’ing WITH MINI-DISH TV SYSTEMS

By 

 

John Rupprecht  

 

This article is written with the novice or potential mini-dish RV TV Viewer in mind. There are many different types of rigs on the road today, some of which have been modified by previous owners. The newer rigs have ever-evolving equipment; thus it is impossible to address all the various installation possibilities. Please take your time in reading the information in the next 6 pages. I have tried to proceed logically by first describing some of the evolution of mini-dishes, the providers themselves and equipment consideration, installation considerations, and finally operational tips. Key words, phrases and concepts have been highlighted as this article was composed, Let us proceed................

One of the more confusing aspects of RV’ing for many people is the subject of viewing their favorite TV programs while on the road. While this subject would not even be relevant a few years ago, it is perhaps one of the hottest topics discussed today. With the advent of Satellite viewing at reasonable cost during the middle 1990’s, it was inevitable that viewing would make the transition from the home to the RV. With the transition to RV usage came new technology as well as the need for new government regulations controlling the viewing.

Consumers were confused by the fact that there have been as many as three competing systems at one time, none of which were compatible with the other. Brand loyalty was further compromised by the fact that the same system was once known as RCA, DirecTV, DSS and USSB depending on whom you got information from.

Two competing systems, Echostar's Dish Network and the cable-TV industry’s Primestar, launched later and remained overshadowed by the original DSS system during their infancy. DirecTV has since purchased Primestar. Primestar customers have been actively recruited by both remaining competitors. Dish Network has prospered and become a strong number two contender.

Here is a brief comparison of the two remaining competitors.......

<1> The original mini-dish system for home viewing was the Hughes DSS system which originally used RCA brand equipment. DirecTV was a programming provider for many of the channels on the original DSS system. The other programming provider for the DSS system was USSB, which offered the Premium Channels (HBO, ShowTime, etc.). . Eventually Hughes branded this system as the "DirecTV" system once DirecTV purchased the USSB programming service and became the sole programming content provider for DSS systems. The original RCA branding of receiving equipment was later expanded with equipment available from Thomson (RCA and GE brands), Sony, Magnavox, and Memorex. There may be other brands in your area of the country. If you want this system, look for the DirecTV or DSS trademarks.

Content wise, DirecTV offers a slightly wider variety of channels, more Sports Programming, and Pay-Per-View (PPV) events than the competition at this time. New channels are added periodically as satellite capacity is increased. The additional channels do require additional equipment in some cases including modified dishes. DirecTV has a cumbersome and expensive system for RV’ers to access PPV movies and events and their Customer Service Rep’s have seemed poorly trained when dealing with RV’er customers. DirecTV has a somewhat better coverage footprint (especially into the northern latitudes) over the US from a location south of Denver.

<2> The second competing system is Echostar’s Dish Network. This offering has been around since the spring of 96. It had been a distant second, however it is gaining speed with the addition of new Satellite’s and aggressive marketing. Programming for this system is available only from Dish Network and is possibly more economical than the DSS plans. Dish Network may offer all the channels you are interested in although it seems to lack some of the sports and pay-per-view offerings that DirecTV DSS carries. Dish Network does offer some unique programming including some European networks. Additional channels are added periodically as satellite capacity is increased. This may require additional equipment or modified dishes. Dish Network seems more "RV’er friendly" in their providing for very easy PPV movies and event access, customer service, as well as various billing procedures. Dish Network has a somewhat poorer coverage footprint over northern latitudes as its satellite is further west (well south of Reno, Nevada) and thus appears lower on the horizon. This could also be a problem in mountainous areas and wooded areas throughout the northern US.

It should be noted that both systems have added additional satellite positions for new channels which will favor coverage for those regional delivered channels (city broadcast affiliates, regional sports, etc.) These regional offerings do require different dishes and receiving equipment.

Both providers do carry the majority of their programming on their primary satellite locations for the widest coverage possible of the most popular channels.

Although both systems are designed and sold to U.S. customers only, Their footprint (coverage area) does extend beyond the US Borders into neighboring Canada and even further into Mexico. Once out of the U.S., Coverage can become spotty especially into Canada. Use the Longitude – Latitude procedure’s on your set up screen to obtain elevation and azimuth bearings. A good map with longitude – latitude grids should be sufficient for this purpose. Of course if you have a GPS system for your computer or one of the hand held units, this will be most helpful.

Both systems can bill to your credit card for the monthly service charge, a very handy means of payment for RV’ers on the road. It may also be possible to get the receiving equipment free (after rebates, etc.) or in the case of RV’ers, after the purchase of a rig mounted dish.

STANDARD BROADCAST NETWORK AVAILABILITY (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS)

This subject is perhaps one of the more confusing and tangled webs of confusion present today when discussing mini-dishes. It has probably consumed more legislative time and money than the actual legislative birth of the Satellite industry itself. As a result of legislation on November of 1999, RV’ers now have a legal right to receive the major broadcast network’s regardless of their mailing address or zip-code. Mini-dish service providers were previously prohibited from providing major network service to anyone served by a local network TV station at their address of record. Many RV’ers, myself included were prevented from receiving network programming via our dish as we traveled around the country if a broadcast station in our mailing address’s zip code area objected. In my case, the CBS WBOC-TV and ABC WMDT-TV affiliates prevented my receiving CBS and ABC network programming in my RV. They refused to grant me a waiver and ignored my correspondence. The stations are located in Salisbury, Maryland and at the time of my request, I was located in the deserts of New Mexico and later in the mountains of Colorado!

With the new legislation, RV’ers are now considered "unserved households" and are eligible for waivers to receive network broadcast via the mini-dish systems. You must contact your satellite provider and request the waiver affidavit and provide proof of ownership of your RV to qualify. It may take several attempts to get the paperwork if you encounter a poor customer service operation at your provider. The forms from Dish Network can be downloaded from their web site at http://www.dishnetwork.com. DirecTV will provide network affiliates from New York City and Los Angeles to RV’ers. Dish Network customers may request a particular city network affiliate package from the Eastern and Pacific time zones, based on availability.

The same legislation that granted RV’ers the right to network broadcast also has provided another benefit. It granted the satellite industry the right to provide home based customers local broadcast stations network affiliates. Many of the major market areas of the US have been able to gain local network stations on the mini-dish. More areas are being served as Satellite capacity improves. Some RV’ers may opt to receive their home town affiliates when on the road in lieu of the RV waiver package that is available.

Which system is best for you, DirecTV or DISH Network? That is a decision you must make! I have tried to give you the information necessary to help you make this decision! I have owned one system for 6 years, however I would purchase the other system now. Remember that the two systems are incompatible in operation! The only component that is interchangeable is the dish itself and that could change!

RV DISH SYSTEM INSTALLATION TIPS

(Take your time reading this section several times!)

Purchase your dish at any source you desire. Get the best deal possible. You don’t have to buy the system from a RV supplier. I have yet to see a receiver system designed especially for a RV. Home units will work in your RV when you set up. You can bring your existing home unit with you on the road. You do not have to have a phone line hooked to your unit. If you use your home unit in your RV, the lack of the phone line will only impact your ability to receive Pay Per Views and certain sports oriented packages. The phone line is used to periodically send information to your provider on extra cost programs you have viewed. Dish Network has a much easier system that allows you to pre-order PPV "Credits" to view any unspecified future PPV’s up to the credit limit (a great feature!)

If you purchase the Dish Network, try to get them to set your memory smart card up with the ability to download an initial 9 pay-per-view movies if you don’t have a phone. Do this before you sign on the dotted line. Thereafter you need a friendly RV’er with a phone line to plug into your receiver over night to clear the memory card for 9 more PPV credits. If you are unable to do this you will have to call their 800 number to make a purchase the same as DirecTV.

 

With DirecTV your receiver is smart enough to know that it has no phone line present and it will stop your automatic (via your remote) PPV viewing until it recognizes a phone line again. You can still view PPV’s, but you will have to call your providers 800 number customer service line to access them. Note that DirecTV has a cumbersome procedure and charges an extra $5.00 per call to view PPV’s)

If you buy a new unit for the RV, and you call to arrange programming, tell the provider that you will be using the System in your RV and that there will be NO phone line hooked to the equipment. If the rep tries to tell you that you have to have a phone line for service, demand to speak to a Supervisor who (hopefully) will be properly trained and thus understand your situation in the RV.

If you only have one travel dish, I personally don’t recommend mounting of the mini-dish on the RV, The dish has to see a Satellite (bird) located off the coast of Texas. If your rig is parked under a tree you may not be able to use your system! If you want the dish installed on the RV, buy the Dish itself from a RV dealer that has installation experience. Check for references before trusting your expensive RV to just anyone! Your dish will be mounted on the roof and that’s where the water leaks happen! Many newer RV’s have a decal or other indicator placed on the roof marking the recommended mounting location. I have seen some AWFUL installations done on RV’s, even by the big guys in the aftermarket repair/service industry.

I have a portable mount for my unit; I am thus able to aim through openings in trees without having to move the RV. . If money is not a question, you can both install a dish on the rig’s roof, and carry a portable unit for problem areas. If you fabricate a mounting fixture for your dish, be aware that the dish requires a 1 ¾" round mounting pipe (post). The most critical part of dish setup is to make sure the dish mounting (vertical) post is plumb! You should use a bubble level and check two sides to insure the post is perfectly vertical! Ignore this step and you will learn what frustration really is! There are numerous types of dish mounting systems available today. I have used several types and have settled on the "Bullseye" portable mount marketed by LW Blenis and find it to be wonderful method of installing my portable dish. It is adaptable to several different mounting methods (Ground, Picnic table, Bumper etc.) and has the handiest plumb indicator ever. The "bullseye" is built like a tank and is a real bargain! I believe this wonderful product is only available via the Internet at www.rvdishmount.com.

Invest in a GOOD compass, Kmart and Wal-Mart sell hiking style compasses with a sighting device for under $10. Get your heading from your on-screen set up menu and sight at a distant object for the best accuracy. Remember that the compass can be affected by nearby metallic surfaces including the dish itself. Pick a spot to mount the dish, Stand there without the dish present and sight in your reference point, THEN put the dish in that spot and proceed. If you routinely have to set up around trees, invest in good carpenters roofing inclinometer ($10) at a local ACE hardware, HomeDepot, Lowes, etc. It will allow you to sight upward through trees and other obstructions to pick a good ground mounting spot for your dish. Practice with the compass, inclinometer and your dish the next time the spouse goes to line dancing class. Experiment with different locations around the campsite. With practice, you should be able to get your dish setup time down to less than 5 minutes under most circumstances!

Use good quality RG-6 cable whenever possible and feasible. . Twenty-five feet of cable is usually enough to get to the RV’s CATV jack to get inside. I carry an extra 125 feet of cable with double female "F-81" connectors (Radio Shack #278-213) as an extension cord although I seldom need it. Note: The CATV input in your rig may not be RG-6 cable, it will probably be the normally used RG-59 type. I have successfully used the RG59 in this configuration, as it is usually a short length with little additional loss over RG-6 (under this circumstance). The alternative is to figure a way to run a new piece of RG-6 through the rig, often easier said than done, and in reality, little improvement in signal strength is gained (assuming the original RG-59 cable was properly installed).

Some CATV (Cable TV) input cable harnesses route the CATV input cable via the rig's TV Antenna preamplifier. This can cause a problem with use of the original CATV input for Satellite cable routing. Satellite receivers send 15 volt DC power to the dish for the LNB (The preamp interrupts this power). If you have just one cable jack at the primary TV position, you probably have this type installation (your preamp power switch selects cable TV, switch OFF, or Antenna operation, switch ON). If your rig is wired this way, you have two options:

Option (1) Install a new (second) input cable through your rig for the dish input to the receiver.

Option (2) Remove the preamp from the typical wall mounting, and identify the CATV input from the outside jack. Once identified, unscrew this cable from the pre-amp unit and connect a jumper cable to it using a double female "F-81" connector (#278-213) available at Radio Shack. Route the other end of the jumper cable to your Satellite receiver’s Satellite dish input. You can either route a second jumper cable back to the original point in the preamp, or (probably easier) directly to your TV or (preferred) TV system switching box. Rigs with a TV system switch box are easier to work with as the CATV input goes directly to the switch and you can feed more than one TV at that point.

If you wish to use an outside tuning meter to aim your portable dish, do so very cautiously! The various Satellites are parked in orbit very close to each other. It is very easy to tune to the wrong bird using one of the after-market meters. Use your dish systems internal tuning to get initial "system lock-on". This insures that your dish is aimed at the proper Satellite, then use the outside meter to tweak your system for maximum indication at the meters lowest sensitivity setting. There is usually a second adjustment on the rear of most tuning meters for unit sensitivity. Keep this setting as low as possible to prevent overloading.

If your dish is mounted on your rigs roof, then the outside aftermarket meter is not necessary. Make sure your rig is level before attempting any set up of the dish. If you use the Winegard roof mounted manual system, purchase the new digital elevation readout device if your system doesn’t already have one. Older Winegard 4600 series systems set the elevation by counting rotations when you raised the dish. The new digital readout is a dream to use when elevating and should reduce your setup time to well under a minute once you get the azimuth/elevation settings from the receiver! I just set the elevation to the setting given, then rotate the dish slowly towards the SW sky and Viola! System Lock! Then I just peak the signal meter on the TV screen and I’m done!

If you use push-on antenna adapter connectors anywhere in your system, be aware that these adapters can add considerable losses and affect system operation. (I use the push-on adapters (Radio Shack #278-218) only on the receiver connectors to allow easier transfer from home to rig.) Put a very slight bend in the center conductor of the male pin. The diameter of RG6 cable is larger than the center pin in many of these plugs. The plugs center pin may not properly engage the female receptacle wall unless you bend it slightly.

ALWAYS USE A GOOD QUALITY AC POWER LINE SURGE SUPPRESSOR ON YOUR SATELLITE RECEIVER!

If you dry camp (no AC Electric Hookup), you can use a power inverter to run the satellite system off your batteries. Use a good quality inverter in the 40-50 watt range to power your Sat. system. Twelve-volt DC televisions are readily available now in either Black & white or Color models. If you have an existing AC powered TV in your rig, buy an inverter with enough power capacity (watts) to power your TV plus the nominal 40 watts for the Satellite Receiver. Choose a unit designed to power a laptop, as it will have a good simulated AC waveform, which is vital to good operation. Turn your inverter on and off with the dish receiver unit unplugged (or use a surge protector with a switch) to prevent glitches getting into your system when you dry camp. Turn off (or unplug) the inverter when not in use to conserve your batteries, even if the receiver is turned off! Both will draw current from your battery, even if you think they are off. This also applies to your TV set if it has a remote control or "instant on" circuitry.

The installation of a mini-dish TV system in your RV can be a challenge. It can also be very successful and provide great reception in area’s isolated from the rest of the World.

Viewer Bulletin - why the programming changes?

2002 - Latest Information from John:

DirecTV has a new Satellite in orbit and have added additional local city channels and in doing so, realigned channels in the 800-900's for different stations. Some of their local broadcast network city packages are using spot beam satellite transponders.  The spot beam allows the Satellite to use the same channel for more than one city's broadcast.  (i.e..  lets say they used channel 925 for a particular city in the past with nationwide coverage,  now they can reuse the same channel 925 for several different cities stations in different parts of the country).  The Satellite is able to now send different stations to different parts of the country using the same channel.  Go to the program guide and look up channels in the 800 & 900's.  You will see a particular channel number NOW has several city abbreviations listed. All of those cities are now using the same channel number in their area for their cities station.  
 
Thus, what has probably happened is this...   A RVer who is eligible to receive an local City channel package in their hometown, and has not obtained the RV waiver,  takes their home dish receiver on the road.  The RVer drives into another part of the country and now picks up a signal on that same channel.  His receiver is not authorized to receive this new signal (because its a different  cities station) and the receiver blocks the viewing.  Consider that the same thing  happens on normal over the air signals, in Maryland, you watched ch. 11 WBAL  from Baltimore,  When you drove to NYC, you watched WPIX on channel 11. However, in this example,  you can watch either station as you travel because there is no encoding/decoding of authorization information on regular TV.
 
RVers can use the waiver request form to receive a Distant Network Service package ( NYC  & LA stations) which are broadcast nationwide and allows them to get their Networks uninterrupted anywhere.

Helpful websites:

www.directv.com - www.dishnetwork.com - www.rvdishmount.com - www.winegard.com

Remember that this report is provided as a free public service of this web-site. The author is not an employee of either provider and has no association with either. Information is considered to be accurate to the best of our knowledge. As of the above date the information is Copyrighted, the sole property of the author, and unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

You can contact John for additional information!

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This page was last updated on January 14, 2002