Many caravans now have a TV antenna installed as standard and for those that don't, adding one is a great DIY project.
Many antennas pre-date the analogue/digital switch-over back in 2012 and are still going strong, which prompts the questions, "Are TV antennas worth upgrading?' and "What should I look for when buying a new TV aerial?"
Like so many technical elements these days, antennas come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In this article, I will outline some TV aerial basics, point out the differences between common TV aerials, and offer some tips for maintaining perfect TV reception when you are staying in your caravan.
The whole package
The antenna system is made up of three main components and is not just the bit that you can see sticking out on the roof. Each part can cause problems, but can be repaired or upgraded by the DIY enthusiast. The three parts of the system are:
- The aerial
- Coax cable and connections
- The amplifier (note that not all caravans have these)
TV aerial types
TV aerials of different shapes and layouts operate in different ways. Each design has benefits and limitations, but without going into too much technical detail here, I will focus on the two most common styles of antenna and how they work.
The omnidirectional antenna looks like a plastic disc - this design has been widely used for many years. It receives signals from all directions at the same time. Variations on this include a nest-style arrangement and a metal ring.
This antenna does not point in a specific direction, so can be installed and set up quickly and easily. Usually, once installed, it can be left in place to do its job.
The antenna is not directional, so it cannot focus its reception in one direction. So in a weak TV reception area, it could be a struggle to get a solid signal. In these cases, an amplifier is required to make this antenna work well.
This type of antenna works in the same way as the TV aerials you see on the roofs of houses. Shaped rather like a pizza slice, the antenna is at the sharp end and can receive signals within the 'view' of the antenna.
The antenna can focus reception on one direction - pulling in a weak signal is what it is designed to do. Targeting in one direction makes reception stronger and more reliable, perfect for digital.
You need to know roughly the direction of the TV mast and the orientation (we'll cover this later). Setting up on each trip will take a few minutes. Looking at other units might not help, but there are devices and apps on the market that can be of use.
Find the perfect signal
With any directional antenna, you will need to have a fair idea of where to point it and whether it needs to be horizontally or vertically orientated.
The orientation can make a huge difference when receiving TV channels. It might mean that some channels are not found and some only work intermittently.
There are many devices that can assist in finding a signal. First, a TV strength meter can help show the general direction of the incoming signal. Simply plug in the meter where the TV is plugged into the caravan, switch on, rotate the antenna until you see the signal levels increase or decrease.
This gives the direction of the TV mast. Once found, lock the antenna in that position and adjust the orientation for better reception. Remove the meter, then connect and tune the TV.
Other equipment also includes amplifiers that have a built-in signal meter. The process is the same - rotating the antenna until the indicator changes colour to show an increase in signal.
There are, of course, lots of handy apps available to help you. My favourite is Antenna Align, which is available for iOS devices and Android. This indicates the direction, distance and expected signal quality based on your current position. It uses the phone as a compass, to allow correct alignment of the antenna.
We mentioned amplifiers earlier, although depending on its age and set-up, your caravan may or may not have one.
If fitted, the amplifier boosts the incoming signal to give any signal sufficient strength for the TV to use. But unfortunately, there is a flaw here.
If you have an omnidirectional antenna, the amplifier can boost unwanted signals, too. This can be a problem for those who are camping in places that are more built-up, urban or enclosed.
The coax cable
The cable that feeds the signal from the antenna to the TV can easily be damaged and might also be overlooked when any problems occur.
If you are experiencing regular TV signal difficulties, regardless of location or antenna style, have a close look at the coax that goes from the antenna to the TV socket. If it is damaged, it will need replacing, with either a new section or a complete new run.
TV coax connections are a very common area where problems arise. The standard TV coax connector can warp, become loose and even snap the cable inside. Again, check these connectors if you are having difficulties - they can be replaced and refitted very easily.
There are two types of these connectors: the standard TV coax plug and the F type.
The F type can usually be found around satellite decoders, but they are also being used to provide secure coax connections around caravans.
Watching satellite TV in the caravan is a completely separate subject. You need to know about how to find the satellites, their use abroad and being able to tune the TV. We will be covering this topic in the future, showing you how to find satellite signal and use a satellite decoder in your caravan.
TV on demand
Watching TV-on-demand services eliminates the need to have a TV antenna altogether.
These TV signals are sent via an internet connection and are streamed to a smart TV or device that can show the content.
There are huge benefits from this, including choice and variety of TV programming.
Sadly, at present, many on-site WiFi signals just do not have enough bandwidth to support streaming devices. If you have a good 4G phone signal, you can use portable Mi-Fi connections to get online, but be warned, this can use up a lot of data.
In addition, if the campsite is in a rural location, it might not always be possible to do this.