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Free TV while Camping

October 15, 2015

I find in this day and age, satellite and cable TV costs have become so expensive so I actually stopped my satellite TV service and used the savings to pay the loan on my Camping Trailer.  There are so many channels out there with so little good TV on them, I found that I was always channel surfing trying to find something worth watching, and when I cannot find something worth watching when I have hundreds of channels, that is downright frustrating.  Also even if you have an HD receiver, the signal that you are getting is 720p and highly compressed to boot.  So you are paying a hundred dollars or more a month for nothing good to watch and when you do watch, you are getting picture quality so low you can barely call it HD.

So you bought a flat screen TV in the last 10 years that is 1080p or may be looking at getting a 4K TV soon.  But many people know that over the air TV free, but many don’t realize it is also completely uncompressed 1080p.  In the age of 4K TV’s this is the best picture quality you can get other than by watching a Blueray.  So what is the point in watching $100 a month high compression 720p on a 1080p or better TV?

Upgrading Batwing Antenna

The first part of this puzzle is to upgrade the basic antenna that came with your RV.  Chances you have one of the old Batwing antennas with the 2 arms that are about 3 feet long.  These antennas were designed in the day of old fashioned analog TV when UHF and VHF were all the rage.  In North America all channels have been moved to Digital.  This means that likely your antenna needs have changed.  Yes people market some TV antennas as “Digital”.  Really there is no difference in digital vs analog antennas, this is just marketing voo doo.  What has changed is that as most channels switched over to digital, they moved up into the UHF frequencies, vacating all the low VHF and many of the high VHF channels.  Back in the day you had a TV antenna on the roof of your house with all the long arms on it, some as long as 3-4 feet long.  Each one of the long arms was tuned to one particular channel, the longest for channel 2, than the next biggest was channel 3 etc.  Once you got to the UHF frequencies, you used the little tiny arms hanging off the back that were only about 4 inches long.  Because of the change to digital and the move to the UHF frequencies, you do not need the big long arms any longer, you only need the tiny ones.  Take a look at that Batwing again… big long arms.  The old fashioned Batwing is not optimally tuned to pickup the new digital (AKA UHF) channels.

There are a few options for fixing this.  One is to buy a new antenna head.  While this option will likely get you the best overall results, it will also cost the most.  There is also a low cost option called a Wingman.  It is a cheap (about $30) and easy to install option that does make a noticeable improvement on digital channel reception.  The install is really quite simple.  You just need to go on the roof, raise the antenna, remove the rubber feet on the current Batwing and snap it in to the rubber feet holes.

Aiming with TVfool website

With an over the air TV solution, you need to know where to point your TV antenna to maximize your signal.  Sometimes you will need to point it more than one direction.  Generally you would want to point the antenna to the direction that is likely to have the most channels like the closest city.  However if you are in an area that had sources from multiple directions (if you are inside a city) or between several. cities you may need to take a different approach to maximize the number of channels you pickup.  If the signal coming from one direction is quite strong, you really do not need to point the antenna in that direction, as the signal is so strong there is a good chance you will pickup the signal regardless of direction.  So the better option would be to point to the next strongest signal direction.  This way you will maximize the coverage from another city or tower that is close enough to pickup but not close enough to get a strong signal.

One tool that I really like to find out where to aim is

This site will allow you to plug in a specific address, city, zip/postal code or coordinates to find out what channels are near by.  It will factor in terrain (mountains and hills that may block a signal).  They will also give a lot of details on how likely it is to be able to pickup various channels.

Recording TV with Over the Air DVR

So the next piece is what if you want to record and watch later?  There are a number of low cost Over the Air DVR’s that you can purchase.  Search Amazon for OTA DVR and you will get a number of hits in the $40-$100 range.  Even the cheapest Mediasonic DVR off Amazon will do the trick.  This will allow you to record TV from off the antenna to watch later.

So for under $100 you can setup an over the air solution that has no recurring costs, just the initial $100 hardware that will give you all the features of Satellite with significantly better picture quality.  The real question is do you need the zillion duplicate channels with nothing on, that your satellite service gives you for $100 a month?

From → RV Tech

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