Caravan satellites are one way to ensure you can pick up a signal – and get a wider range of channels – in most locations. As beautiful as many caravan sites may be, they aren’t always in the best place for picking up TV signal.
There are a number of options for satellites in your caravan, some slightly more complicated than others, which is why we have put together an article to compare caravan satellites and make sure you choose something suitable for you.
Here is a very personal view comparing the various TV services available whilst away in a caravan. I have all three available to me using a fairly small 12v TV which has Freeview built into it, combined with a 12v FreeSat receiver (otherwise known as the Suitcase system)
Freeview (or digital terrestrial)
This is the system which will soon take over completely from the above analogue TV. Offers around 24 channels of TV plus several radio channels and some subscription-only channels. Digital reception either works, or it doesn’t work – there is no middle ground like an analogue of a gradually deteriorating picture. Once analogue is gone digital signal strength is due to increase and more channels to appear in the spare bandwidth.
Aerials (or antennas)
There is no such thing as a ‘Digital Antenna’. Any antenna designed for the band upon which the digital signal is transmitted will work if the signal is strong enough. All antennas designed for caravan use are wideband. The directional ones will produce better results than the Omni (all directions) of the Status ‘flying saucer. The later has the advantage that it needs no setting up, or pointing in the right direction, but will get a less strong signal. My own flying saucer works reasonably well.
A problem with the directional one is which way should you point it, when your TV may need to scan to find the channels in the first place. Whilst there is analogue available it can be easiest to first set it up tuned to the analogue channel then tweak the direction for a good signal, before finally switching over to digital and letting that scan for channels. Many of the wilder parts of the UK, or mountainous areas will not provide any reception at all – these are the types of area I like to holiday, which might explain some of my bias towards satellite.
Satellite – Free to Air
This is the system able to receive the channels which are transmitted from Astra 28 E (though there are several other satellites to choose from), which also carries the Sky encrypted channels. It carries the basic five channels, lots of rubbish, lots of film channels and very many others along with foreign language ones. Basically – many more watchable channels than Freeview. All that is needed is a SCART socket on your TV and one of the satellite Suitcase type kits and it works on 12v. So far as reception goes, you can get a signal absolutely anywhere in the UK where you can see a clear view of the sky, looking south-east and up at an angle of 45 degrees to horizontal, which includes mountainous areas.
It also has the advantage of offering all of the local ITV/BBC regional transmissions, so no matter where you are you can still watch the TV from your home region of the UK. I live in Yorkshire and can watch YTV in Cornwall if I wish.
Unlike analogue and Freeview, the channels stay put, so no need to retune the receiver as you change to a different part of the country or a different transmitter.
Satellite – Sky
For this, you need a Sky receiver, a viewing card and 240v. So far as I am aware the channels are quite limited, though I have never tried it away from home and no longer even subscribe to Sky at home.
I have my own (suitcase) dish mounted on a short section of awning pole flattened at the end, which I simply hammer into the ground. It provides a good solid mount and needs no other fixing even in the strongest winds. Unlike a terrestrial antenna, there is no advantage to be gained by mounting a dish high. Aligning it to Astra 28 is the work of just a few minutes with the ‘sat finder’ supplied with this type of suitcase system – a combined inclination meter and compass which snaps onto the rear of the dish. You just dial in the satellite you want to receive and turn the dish to align it.
When compared to trying to both point an antenna and scan for channels of the terrestrial alternative it is a doddle and you are almost guaranteed good reception of all channels. My own system has the small receiver ready set up under the TV and the dish, mounting pole, cable and LNB in an ordinary carrier bag as supplied by supermarkets. It is also much smaller and lighter than carrying a pole-mounted directional antenna.
Coverage of the UK is pretty good, but as you move north the signal does become weaker. Some report that the suitcase basic dish becomes unusable in the north of Scotland, but for us it worked well enough. The solution is simply to obtain a larger dish to increase the signal.
How to set up caravan satellite television
One type of caravan satellite set up worth considering is an EasyFind satellite. These take some of the hassle out of aligning your satellite by guiding you to the correct position.
With a couple of clicks, and choosing which channel you want to watch, it uses a “traffic light” system to help guide you in the right direction. You then rotate the satellite slowly until the light glows a steady green and you’re ready to tighten up the dish in position and get watching.
Our members have posted mixed reviews for these systems, with some saying they’ve had it up and running perfectly in no more than a couple of minutes while others have complained about unreliability and difficulty using it.
Other types of caravan satellite
It is important to research the type of caravan satellite suitable for you before investing. There are a number of different dishes including; Zone 1 dishes suitable for use in England and Wales and the larger Zone 2 dish for Scotland and Ireland. These are both very affordable, standard satellite options.
As well as the EasyFind satellite there are also dishes designed specifically for touring which are more compact and can even fold for storage. However, these can be more expensive than other options.
If you’re able to really splash out you may be interested in a semi or fully automatic dish. These can take a sizeable chunk out of your wallet but adjust themselves to the correct position, leaving minimal effort for you. As with all investments, it’s well worth shopping around and reading reviews.
Orientation and elevation
It is important to remember when positioning your caravan satellite that they don’t like trees or other obstructions as they block the signal. You should research the appropriate position of your satellite for your geographical location. This is easy to find online; www.dishpointer.com has very detailed list of satellites and relates them to your address.
Firstly, pivot your dish to the appropriate LNB skew setting and lock it to the correct degree of elevation. If you have an offset dish you will probably need to aim below the satellite to obtain the best focal point. Next, use a compass (or the sun if you’re feeling adventurous) to approximate the dish alignment, or start from scratch facing dead South.
Signal metres are very helpful at this stage and will greatly reduce the time it takes to find the satellite. These can be bought quite cheaply and should be connected at the LNB end. These will often give out a squealing sound when it receives a signal. It’s often a good idea to turn the volume down as it will squeal loudly as it finds a satellite.
Then slowly move the dish towards the satellite until you receive the strongest signal and you can lock in the lateral (Azimuth) setting. Moving the dish a little at a time and then leaving it to rest for a few seconds is a very effective method, if you swing the dish from side to side you won’t find anything very easily. With larger dishes, you need to be more precise.
Here it may be an idea to fine tune the elevation setting for optimum reception. Many dishes will have degree markings on the side, though these are only accurate if your dish is mounted perfectly vertically. If you find that you’re struggling with the fine tuning, you could attach a turnbuckle to your dish, which will allow you to smoothly alter the elevation or rotation in minute quantities. Now’s the time to check if it’s worked. If not, be patient. It can take some practice and in no time at all you’ll have it down to an art.
Obviously it’s easier to get it right if you can see the TV in front of you but this is often not possible. It may be an idea to have someone shout out how it’s going (though please be conscious of other holidaymakers). It may not be for everyone, but caravan TV can be fairly straightforward to set up and very rewarding if you have the right equipment and the patience to perfect the art.