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Choosing a Satellite System

If you like to watch TV - or maybe you are a real couch potato - adding a satellite system to your RV is one of the best accessories you can add to your RV. But, what should I consider before I pluck down my money?

My discussion will be limited to the two 18" systems that are presently on the market....DISH and DIRECTv, and what equipment you will need.

The first thing you need to do is to determine which of the two systems to buy. Here are some things to consider:
Programming. There are several web sites where you can compare the programming services and prices, for each of these systems. This may be the deciding factor for making your choice. Be aware that DISH also has the DISH 500 system, and this requires a special dual-horn antenna to allow the satellite receiver to simultaneously access two satellites. This is likely not compatible with your existing factory roof-mounted satellite dish and will require that the dish be changed and an additional coax be run to the satellite receiver.

Satellite Receiver and antenna. When you buy a satellite receiver, it almost always includes a dish. If you already have a roof-mounted satellite antenna on your D, you can use this extra dish for those times when your roof antenna is blocked by trees. Note that DISH usually gives you the satellite receiver and dish free, while DIRECTv requires costs a little money.

Typically, the satellite receiver is placed in the overhead compartment on the passenger side of the coach. You will need to make sure that the satellite receiver you select will fit in this compartment. There are several manufacturers for the satellite receivers, especially for the DIRECTv system. Some are smaller than others.

Make sure that the receiver has the features that you need. If you will be viewing on the bedroom TV, a receiver with an RF remote is much handier than the typical infrared remote, as you will be able to change channels on your satellite easily. Some receivers allow you to set up viewing schedules, and even control the vcr for the taping of programs.

If you will be adding a roof-mounted antenna, you have several choices. You can select from a manually-operated antenna, an automatic antenna that will find the satellite when you are parked, or even one that will automatically track the satellite, even as you drive! Manual antennas for the roof-top of the D are typically around $200. Automatic antennas are around $800 for the "traditional" style to around $1500 for the dome style. These antenna will work only if you are stationary. At least some of the automatic non-dome antennas suffer some problems when it gets windy, so I would recommend spending a few extra bucks and getting a dome version. Antennas that will track the satellite and allow you to watch TV as you drive range in price from $2600 to over $4000. IMPORTANT NOTE! If you are considering one of the dome antennas (especially the type that will allow you watch the satellite while you drive), be advised that most models only work with DirecTV. Some manufacturers have a model that will work with DISH, but it costs more money. ALSO, as DISH and DirecTV have gone to providing programming on two different satellites, make sure that your automatic dish will work "find" both satellites (some models take manual intervention to change satellites and some do it automatically, so be aware of the differences when you make your choice. For my money, the manual antenna works just fine, and I can usually find the satellite quicker than the $800 automatic model.

A roof-mounted satellite antenna is very handy and highly recommended. However, you will also need a seperate antenna and tripod for those times when your roof-mounted antenna is obstructed by trees. NOTE: Most people will tell you that RG-6U coax is needed to connect the dish to the receiver. I use RG-59U, which is much thinner and cheaper, with excellent results.

The last thing that you will need is something to help you "find" the satellite if you have a manual antenna. Most receivers have a built-in program that will tell you the correct azimuth and elevation for the antenna based on your current zip code, along with an on-screen utility to help you find the satellite. The problem with relying on this on-screen utility is that the satellite receiver is very slow to process the signal information. You have to adjust the satellite antenna VERY slowly, or you will pan right past it and never see it on your TV screen. There are two products to make finding really quick and easy. (Note that you will also need a good compass). First, get the Winegard Digital Magic, if you are using a manual roof-mounted antenna. This will tell you the exact elevation of your satellite dish. Cost is about $135 installed at Camping World, and worth every cent! I consider this an absolute must if you will be using a manual roof-mounted antenna. Second, get a "Satellite Finder" that will allow you to visually and audible instantly monitor the satellite signal strength. Winegard makes one for about $35.

Submitted by Bob Cook


The DISCOVERY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC, was formed to promote the sharing of information and the camaraderie of fellow Discovery motorhome owners. Membership in the club is limited to owners of Fleetwood Discovery motorhomes.


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