Watching TV on the Road: Entertainment Options for RVers

What’s more homey than gathering around the TV at the end of a long day of exploration? Luckily, with a bit of planning, you can easily watch your favorite shows while traveling in your RV.

Picking Up Free TV Signals with an Antenna

For many RVers, an antenna is all they need to watch local broadcast TV while traveling. The major benefit is that it’s completely free after the initial purchase. If you mainly watch news, sports, or major network shows, an antenna could be the perfect fit.

Most new RVs come equipped with an antenna already installed on the roof. It looks like a small satellite dish and is designed to rotate 360 degrees to pick up VHF and UHF TV signals as you move from place to place.

Older used RVs may need an antenna upgrade if they don’t have the modern digital OTA (over-the-air) type. But installing a new omni-directional antenna is a pretty straightforward project that you can likely DIY.

You’ll just need to purchase the antenna, coaxial cable, and any necessary mounting hardware. Expect to spend $50-150 for a quality RV antenna setup. Then it’s just a matter of running the cable to your TV and scanning for channels on move-in day at your campsite.

The range you’ll get with an antenna varies based on terrain. But typically you can pick up stations within about 30-50 miles. Go much beyond that and you risk static or losing signals completely.

While limiting, for some RVing enthusiasts, the free aspect of antenna TV outweighs the lack of channel options. As full-timer Hank says, “I grew up watching shows with rabbit ears so I don’t need anything fancy. As long as I get the local news and can watch football on Sundays, I’m happy.”

If you think an antenna alone would meet your TV needs, here are a few tips:

  • Choose an omni-directional antenna so you don’t have to constantly adjust it. Winegard and King Jack models are popular choices.
  • Mount it as high on your RV roof as possible for best reception.
  • Use a signal strength meter to see how far you are from broadcast towers and what channels are available.
  • Try a signal booster if needed for extra range. The Winegard Sensar is a good quality amp.
  • Keep coaxial cables short and use RG6 low-loss cable if possible.

Now you can enjoy free network TV from the comfort of your home on wheels! But if you want more options, like cable channels and streaming, read on for more entertainment setups.

The Flexibility of Streaming TV

For many people today, streaming TV through services like Netflix, Hulu, YouTubeTV, and more is the primary way they watch shows and movies. Luckily, streaming on the road is totally doable with a mobile internet setup.

The two keys for streaming in an RV are having unlimited data and enough bandwidth for high quality video. Many campgrounds offer cable hookups, but we don’t recommend relying on campground WiFi. The speeds are often too slow for streaming without constant buffering.

Instead, use mobile internet options like a WiFi hotspot connected to a cellular data plan, an on-board cellular modem/router, or satellite internet like Starlink. Of course, unlimited data on cellular plans doesn’t come cheap. Expect to spend $50-150+ per month.

But for avid streamers, the additional cost is worth it for the flexibility. You can binge shows late into the night, choose from tons of on-demand content, and use services like YouTubeTV to access live sports and events.

Kyle and Jenny stream all their TV and say the unlimited data is a must: “We ditched cable years ago and stream everything through our Nvidia Shield. The initial device was expensive but we save money monthly. We use a Verizon hotspot with unlimited data to connect.”

Another perk of streaming is it works anywhere you can get internet access. So you can even enjoy TV outside under an awning, at a picnic table, or around the campfire with a portable screen and portable power.

Overall, streaming gives you access to way more entertainment options than antenna TV. But it does require an initial gear investment and paying for robust mobile internet each month.

If streaming sounds like the way to go, here are some tips:

  • Get a device like a Roku stick, Fire stick, Apple TV, or Nvidia Shield for easy streaming anywhere.
  • Connect your device to the RV TV or use a portable monitor for outside viewing.
  • Sign up for services like Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney+, YouTubeTV, etc. Download shows offline when possible.
  • Get a mobile router and unlimited data plan from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, or local providers like MobilSat.
  • Consider satellite options like Starlink for more reliable bandwidth in remote areas.
  • Use a cell signal booster if needed for weak service areas. WeBoost makes good RV kits.

With the right gear, you can stream TV from just about anywhere your adventures take you!

Gaining Access to More Channels with Satellite TV

Die-hard TV fans wanting the most options on the road often go with satellite TV from DISH or DIRECTV. This gives you access to hundreds of channels, a more cable-like experience, premium networks, and extra features like a DVR.

The biggest drawback compared to streaming or antenna is the equipment cost. You’ll need to purchase a satellite dish system, have it professionally installed on the roof, and pay for the TV package each month. Expect to spend $2000-5000+ for everything.

Monthly fees vary based on your package but expect to pay around $100-150. The benefit is you can access channels and shows not available through other methods. Sports nuts like Eddie especially benefit: “I didn’t want to miss any SEC or NFL games so I splurged on the DISH Tailgater automatic satellite system. I get tons of sports channels and can record games.”

For satellite service, you’ll need to choose between DISH Network and DIRECTV. DISH is known for the best variety and lowest cost packages. But you’ll need their special Tailgater portable dish. DIRECTV works with standard dome dishes from Winegard and King but has fewer channels available on lower tier plans.

Either service requires a clear view of the southern sky for the dish to connect. Trees and mountains can block signal. When parked, you’ll need to level and aim the dish, which takes some setup. That’s the main hassle compared to other options.

If you want cable-like TV while traveling, are willing to pay more, and don’t mind dish setup, then satellite is the way to go. Here are some tips:

  • Choose automatic DISH Tailgater or in-motion DIRECTV dish for automatic skew and tracking.
  • Have a professional install the dish and wiring for best performance.
  • Consider adding a second stationary dish if parking for long periods.
  • Use a tripod mount to position dish outside for best signal if blocked by trees.
  • Download apps like DISH Anywhere and DIRECTV to watch on mobile devices.

While pricier, satellite dishes deliver the most channel options for RVers wanting unlimited access to sports, movies, and shows on the road.

Upgrading to a Smart TV

Many RVs now come equipped with smart TVs, which offer a whole suite of streaming and connectivity options. Even if you have an older model, upgrading to a smart TV is one of the easiest ways to modernize your RV’s entertainment.

A smart TV includes built-in WiFi and apps for popular streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Youtube, etc. Many also have casting abilities so you can mirror your phone screen or stream from other devices. No extra boxes or sticks needed!

Prices vary widely based on size and features. But expect to spend $300-1000+ for a nice RV-ready smart TV. Go for an external streaming device if you don’t want to purchase a whole new TV.

The convenience factor of smart TVs appeals to many RVers: “We upgraded to a Samsung smart TV which we mounted on a swivel bracket so we can access ports. I love browsing apps and channels all on one remote now,” gushes Amanda.

One limitation is that many factory installed RV TVs are 24” or smaller. You’ll likely want a larger screen. Carefully measure the space in your existing entertainment center cabinet to find a TV that will fit.

Also consider ports that are easily accessible on the back for plugging in devices like a Blu-ray player or game console. Some RVers mount the TV on an extending arm to make plugging/unplugging simpler.

When shopping for a smart RV TV, look for:

  • Built-in WiFi – no dongle required
  • Apps for major streaming services – Netflix, Youtube, etc.
  • At least 3 HDMI ports for devices
  • 12V DC (cigarette lighter) charging capability
  • LED for brightness & energy efficiency
  • Mobile apps to control the TV remotely
  • Ability to connect Bluetooth headphones for private listening

While it takes some effort to install, upgrading to a smart TV gives you an all-in-one entertainment hub. No more juggling remotes for TV, streaming box, DVD player, etc!

Which Option is Right for You?

When it comes to watching TV on the road, RVers have several good options depending on their needs and budget. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

An antenna offers free network TV but limited channels. Streaming gives you the most flexibility but requires robust mobile internet. Satellite dishes provide high channel counts if you want premium networks. And smart TVs simplify streaming and access.

Take some time to think about your RV lifestyle, viewing habits, tech comfort, and budget. Chances are there’s a TV setup that will make your travels feel more like home so you can unwind with entertainment at the end of an adventure-filled day!

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