TV has been a bit of a saviour for many of us in the lockdowns, especially with streaming services delivering so much new content. Although there are plenty of caravanners who believe touring is a time to escape the TV, an equal number just love television on tour and evenings in their comfortable caravan with their favourite shows.

I have a foot in both camps. We take a TV on tour about half the time, usually to watch a DVD – perfect after a day outdoors.

These days, there are lots of ways to watch TV in your tourer. Here’s what you need to know.

TVs AND KIT

Choosing your TV

Caravanners who always head to sites with hook-up don’t need to purchase a specialist 12V touring telly, because a standard 240V domestic model will do the job – and probably be cheaper.

If this is you and you want a TV for touring, you could try Richer Sounds; John Lewis also offers free extended warranties.

If you head off-grid, or can’t always rely on having hook-up, a specialist 12V TV is the way to go. These used to be pretty basic affairs, but in the era of the flat screen, you can buy a stylish, feature-packed set, measuring 16in to 32in, from Avtex or Cello, among others.

One of the key features in modern caravan TVs is a digital processor that decodes satellite signals, like the better domestic sets. One example is the Avtex 9 Series Pro, which has powerful multi tuner technology built in.

If you usually use hook-up, a standard domestic TV set will do the job perfectly well
If you usually use hook-up, a standard domestic TV set will do the job perfectly well

This means you can watch, for example, one freeview channel while you record another, or watch Sky or a DVD and record Freeview. Astonishing tech for a caravan. Such TVs can also stream internet signals, or acquire TV signals through a traditional TV aerial.

A 12V TV is designed to run on a voltage at, or very close to, 12V DC. In a van using battery power, the voltage can fluctuate (as widely as 10-15V), which if not regulated could damage your TV. The more expensive 12V TVs are designed to cope with these fluctuations, although some owners of cheaper TVs report their flat-screens working perfectly for years in their van.

TV storage and transportation

Leaving a TV in a van that’s in long-term storage is a bad idea from a security and a lifespan point of view – prolonged damp could damage the electronics. We would always recommend removing the TV from any van that’s not used for long periods.

In addition, because a caravan in transit is a pretty ‘bouncy’ place to be, and continuous jolting can cause damage, we transport our TV laid flat in the middle of the fixed bed, surrounded by cushions. We check on it at each stop, but it never moves around.

Most 'vans are fitted with a TV mounting by the power point and aerial socket
Most ‘vans are fitted with a TV mounting by the power point and aerial socket

Padded carrying bags are available for flat-screen caravan TVs, and offer extra protection if you move your TV in and out of the van regularly.

Bags2Cover sells a range of slip-over TV screen covers and carry-bags, starting from around £18 and £33 respectively.

Sound bars

A sound bar can replace the TV's tinny sound with more rounded acoustics
A sound bar can replace the TV’s tinny sound with more rounded acoustics

Modern flat-screen televisions feature slimline designs that have too little internal space to create bass sounds.

However, adding a sound bar can replace the ‘tinny’ sound produced by the TV with much more ’rounded’ acoustics.

For example, Avtex makes the SB195BT Bluetooth sound bar (from £139), while among other options is one from Sony, the HT-SD35 (from £179).

Both deliver excellent sound in your van, connecting instantly to your TV, with or without a cable. Remember, the sound bar requires a power point.

TV aerials

Dish focuses radio waves from satellite on to LNB downconverter, which converts them into TV signal
Dish focuses radio waves from satellite on to LNB downconverter, which converts them into TV signal

Many caravans come with a directional TV aerial built in. These are typically on the roof, with a handle on the inside of one of the internal overhead lockers, which allows you to wind the aerial into position and/or turn it to find the correct angle for the best picture.

You will need a signal-finder device to locate the strongest signal with a manual aerial, although higher-spec systems might have one built in. The correct vertical and horizontal alignment has to be achieved, but this is made much easier using a finder device.

As the quality and strength of the signal are all-important in achieving a good picture and clear sound, many people use a booster/digital amplifier (costing from around £20) to enhance the signal being sent to the television.

The aerial cable is usually connected to a coaxial socket close to a predetermined TV point with power and often, a TV mounting. Good-quality aerial brands include Vision Plus, Maxview, Status, Ma-Ve, Milenco and Labgear.

ACCESSING CONTENT

DVD/Blu-ray

The easiest way to watch movies while you’re on tour is probably to buy a 12V TV with a built-in DVD player, or have a standard 12V TV connected to a separate DVD player (the latter costing from around £20). This is a simple plug-and-play option, with picture quality guaranteed. These days, new and used DVDs can be bought very cheaply.

Streaming

To stream content to your TV, you’ll need a good-quality internet feed. This can come from the campsite Wi-Fi, via a dongle or through a phone.

The cost of doing this could be prohibitive, but if you have an unlimited 3/4/5G data deal with your phone or dongle, it might well be viable.

Using campsite Wi-Fi as a source can be expensive. Back in 2012, touring in France, we wanted to watch the Murray vs Federer Wimbledon final.

Luckily, the Wi-Fi transmitter post was right on our pitch, so the signal was good. I opted for the ‘three hours for €12’ package, rather than all day for €20. Of course, the match went to five sets, and lasted three hours and 24 minutes, so we had to spend another €12 to see the finale… and watch Murray lose!

Things have got better, and cheaper, since then, although campsite Wi-Fi can still be a bit of a lottery.

Smart TVs can be linked to your internet/Wi-Fi source, then assuming the broadband is good enough, you’ll be able to access all the channels that you can at home, or use your Sky Go or Virgin TV Go services.

Alternatively, you could watch on a laptop or tablet computer.

SATELLITE DISHES

How satellite works

Thousands of satellites orbit our planet, and some transmit TV channels back down to Earth.

In the UK, we tend to use the Astra 2 series of satellites, which are in geostationary orbit (they move with the Earth’s rotation) in the southern sky.

MXL028 Connect decoder
MXL028 Connect decoder

Your dish focuses radio waves from a satellite on its low-noise block (LNB) downconverter, on the end of the arm mechanism. This converts the waves into a signal, sending it down a coaxial cable to a receiver unit.

The receiver unit – which can be either a separate device, or built into your TV – decodes the signal for the television.

Major UK channels, including BBC, ITV, Freesat and Sky TV, broadcast from satellites located at 28.2° to 28.5° E. These are known as Astra 2E, Astra 2F and Astra 2G.

Size matters

Satellite dishes are all about size, and if you tour in Europe, bigger is definitely better.

In the UK, a 35-65cm dish will do, but the further you are from the UK, the bigger the dish you’ll need: 65-75cm in France, and up to about 85cm if you’re after UK channels in Spain or Portugal.

What you’ll need

  • A satellite system (the size depends on where you’ll tour)
  • A satellite decoder (many new TVs have these built in)
  • A compatible TV
  • The relevant cables
  • An elevation guide that details the precise angle that is required for your satellite dish.

Suction-cup manual dish

Maxview Remora Pro suction-cup satellite dish
Maxview Remora Pro suction-cup satellite dish

As an example, the Maxview Remora Pro dish features two suction cups and is perfect for attaching to the flat (smooth) sides of a caravan. Bubble-effect panels, popular in Europe, might be a problem. Assembling the dish is simple and logical, and only takes a couple of minutes:

  • Attach the dish securely to the caravan, ensuring that it is level and there’s a clear line of sight to the southern sky.
  • Connect the coaxial cable to the LNB.
  • Connect the other end of the cable to the TV (with built-in decoder) or to the receiver box. Some vans have a cable entry point. If needed, connect the decoder box to the TV.
  • Turn on your TV.
  • Set the elevation angle to suit your location, using the map that comes with your dish.
  • Rotate the dish slowly on its horizontal axis (the azimuth) from left to right. Stop when you see/hear the TV find a channel.
  • Alternatively, you can use a sat-finder device, or your dish’s integrated sat-finder (if it has one), to locate the satellite. Turn it on, then slowly rotate the dish from left to right. The LEDs will light up or the needle will move; you might hear a beep or change of tone when the satellite has been located. A clear picture should appear on your TV.
  • Lock the dish at that angle.

Tripod-mounted manual dish

Maxview Precision tripod-mounted dish
Maxview Precision tripod-mounted dish
  • Assemble the dish and tripod. Position it on firm, flat ground, pointing roughly towards the southern sky. Ensure it is level, using the integral spirit level.
  • Use the compass to make sure the ‘south leg’ of the tripod is actually pointing south.
  • Pull the LNB arm down into the correct position.
  • Connect the flexible cable.
  • Connect the other end of the cable to the TV (if it has a built-in decoder), or the satellite box (which is connected to the TV).
  • Turn on the TV.
  • Set the elevation angle to suit your current location, using the elevation map, which you’ll find on the back of the dish.
  • Rotate the dish slowly on its horizontal axis from left to right (the azimuth). Stop when you see/hear the TV find a channel.
  • Alternatively, you can use a separate sat-finder device, or your dish’s integrated sat-finder (if it has one), to locate the satellite. Turn it on, then slowly rotate the dish from left to right.
  • The LEDs will light up or the needle will move; you might also hear a beep or change of tone when the satellite has been located. A clear picture should appear on your TV.
  • Lock the dish at that angle.

Automated roof-mounted dish

Maxview automated roof-mounted dish
Maxview automated roof-mounted dish

If you have a fully automated roof-mounted dish, finding a perfect channel signal is as easy as pie (easier, in fact!):

  • Turn on the unit and your TV.
  • Activate the dish by pressing the button on the control box. That’s all you need to do!
  • If getting up from the sofa to do this makes things too complicated, you could consider downloading the system’s app to your smartphone.
  • However it is activated, the dish will rise to the correct angle and automatically swivel until it finds the ideal angle for perfect channel reception.

TV and satellite Q&A

Where can I find information about satellite dish angles?

There are many sources, but I use DishPointer. If you’re ‘going rural’, check your destination before you leave; if you can access Wi-Fi, you can do this at the campsite.

  • Go to dishpointer.com, then select your satellite (the Astra series at 28.2° E) from the list.
  • Click on your camping location on the map. Your current position will be highlighted; add your location if you’re not already there.
  • Clock on the pointer and a panel appears, which provides all of the relevant details.

How do I set up my system for first use, before the TV has memorised the stations?

Many new TVs, including Avtex models, have pre-loaded channels. Once you find the signal, the TV places the signals with the correct channels. For TVs and receivers with no-pre-loaded channels, you just find the satellite (using a satellite finder) and then go through the usual ‘scan’ process to locate each channel. For manual systems, a satellite-finder device will help to locate the satellite.

Can I use a Sky box in my caravan?

Early Sky boxes (before Sky Q) could be used in a ‘van. Sky Q boxes are configured differently. As a consequence, Maxview launched Sky Q-compatible Precision (tripod-mounted, manual) and Target (roof-mounted, auto) systems. So they now have a Sky Q offering for all price brackets.

Can I record TV shows on my Virgin Media 500Gb TiVo, take it touring and use it as a personal video recorder?

Sounds like a cunning plan, but your TiVo has to be connected to the Virgin cable to work.

Does my current TV licence cover me for my van?

Yes.

Contacts and information

Manufacturers, retailers

Service providers

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Future Publishing Limited, the publisher of practicalcaravan.com, provides the information in this article in good faith and makes no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Individuals carrying out the instructions do so at their own risk and must exercise their independent judgement in determining the appropriateness of the advice to their circumstances. Individuals should take appropriate safety precautions and be aware of the risk of electrocution when dealing with electrical products. To the fullest extent permitted by law, neither Future nor its employees or agents shall have any liability in connection with the use of this information. You should check that any van warranty will not be affected before proceeding with DIY projects.