Satellite Systems

by David Burley

Motorhome & Caravan Satellite Information

The first thing to note in this article is that satellite technology and satellite channels all change at a fast pace and some of the information within this article will most likely become redundant over time, for up to date information when choosing a motorhome or caravan satellite system you should give us a call on 0845 8698940

Satellite Information Quick Links:

Satellite Footprints :: Fringe Reception :: Automatic Systems :: Satellite Dome Systems :: FreeView :: Free Sat From Sky :: Twin LNB :: Auto Skew :: Semi Automatic :: Automatic Vs Manual :: Satellite Internet

The first misconception we can clear up is that Motorhome Satellite Systems are the same as used in Caravans. Some customers think there are different caravan satellite systems to motorhome satellite systems.

The first questions we ask customers when they phone enquiring about motorhome satellite systems are as follows:-

1. What is your budget ?

2. Where do you intend to use the system i.e. UK Only / Europe wide, Northern Europe etc ? This governs the size / type of system we would recommend.

3. Do you require an Automatic system i.e. the Horizontal and Vertical alignment is performed for you Vs a Manual system (You align yourself using satellite meter)

4. Do you need a Twin LNB System ? If for instance you want a system to allow you to watch one channel on a TV in the lounge area of your van whilst your spouse / children could watch another channel in the bedroom.

5. Do you require an "In Motion" or "Static" Dome if a dome system is on your shortlist ? In Motion refers to the ability of a satellite dome system to be able to track satellite signals as you drive along (Line of sight to satellite notwithstanding) this allows you on nice clear roads A la Motorways / Autoroutes to be able to watch TV on the move Vs Static systems which are only able to receive TV When the vehicle is stopped.

6. Are there any height considerations ? Do you have a carport or garage that the motorhome is stored in ? Does your ferry company have a maximum height that fitting a non low profile satellite system would prevent you travelling with them ? All of these questions may have a huge bearing on which satellite system you could buy for your motorhome / caravan.

Satellite Footprints

One of the more important aspects of satellite reception is the footprint of the satellite broadcasts you wish to receive. The footprint is the theoretical area covered by each satellite broadcast on the earth. Reception within this footprint will depend on dish size / LNB specs / receiver used also.

Below are some footprint diagrams taken from the Broadcasters themselves:-

 Astra 2 North Beam footprint
Astra 2A North Beam

Astra 2A South Beam footprint

Astra 2A South Beam

Astra 2D North footprint

Astra 2D North Footprint 

"Fringe" Reception

Fringe reception is the term used to describe the edge of a satellites reception footprint. For example Astra 2D satellite seems to have fringe reception heading South from around Barcelona. Some factors that govern how deep into a fringe area you can penetrate and still receive the channels you want are most importantly Dish size followed by LNB Specifications (higher gain and lower noise figures), skew angle correctly configured and the receiver performance. The now discontinued Pace Javelin Digibox is considered by many to be ideally suited for motorhome and caravan satellite reception due to its small form factor, 12v / mains inputs and excellent fringe reception qualities. As these are no longer made they can be hard to get hold of, but there are usually a quantity of these floating around as refurbished units on Ebay and similar sites.

Pace Javelin Digibox

Automatic systems

Automatic satellite systems have circuitry and motors to automatically raise the dish to the correct elevation and then turn the dish around to point to the satellite automatically. Most automatic systems have an ignition feed so that if you forget your satellite system is in the raised position and start the engine to drive away then the dish will automatically fold down to prevent any damage being incurred.

Satellite Dome Systems

Satellite Domes

Satellite Dome systems have a few advantages over their dish relatives. They do not suffer from issues caused by wind as they are protected from the elements by their dome covers. This allows dome systems users to be able to continue watching satelite television in situations where dish based users have to give in and put their dishes down.

Satellite domes are however by their very nature smaller dish sizes and so are not ideally suited for use in the far South of Spain / Portugal for instance if you wish to be able to watch UK channels such as BBC1 / ITV etc which are broadcast on Astra 2 Satellite feeds.

Satellite Domes seem to be the fastest growing arena of Motorhome and Caravan Satellite systems, below are hot links to different manufacturers of satellite domes

Camos Satellite Domes

KVH Satellite Domes

VDO Satellite Domes

Glomex Satellite Domes

Neta Satellite Domes



satellite freeview

Freeview is the easiest and as the name implies the cheapest way to enjoy digital TV. There are up to 50 digital TV channels, no subscription and no contract and no fee.

There are up to 50 digital TV channels and 24 digital radio stations available on Freeview.

Freeview is received via a tv aerial and does not require a satellite dish although you will need to check if you have good reception coverage in your area, the Freeview site has a coverage checker available where you simply enter in postcode and house number.

The only special equipment required is a Freeview receiver which can be obtained for as little as £20 nowadays.

More programmes plus Sky Sports 1 & 2 or ESPN are available in addition to the Freeview channels from BT Vision and Top Up TV.

Free Sat From Sky

Freesat from Sky is a non subscription offering giving you access to over 240 digital TV channels, including terrestrial channels like BBC1, ITV and More4 and Sky3 (4 X more channels than available on Freeview) for a simple one-off payment of £175 (Price included Mini Dish, Receiver, Viewing Card and Installation).
If you already have Sky Satellite equipment then this price drops to just £25.

You'll get all the equipment you need to watch Freesat from Sky - all of which will be professionally installed - and it's yours to keep.

Full List of channels available on Skys Website

There's no annual contract and it's easy to ugrade to any Sky digital package once you have Freesat from Sky

More information on Skys dedicated page for Free sat from Sky HERE

Twin LNB Systems

A Twin LNB Satellite system has as the name suggests two LNBs for satellite reception, each LNB is aligned the same and point to the same signal but allow you to utilise each for a different purpose, whether this be to watch different channels on different TVs or to record one channel whilst watching another to a PVR Such as a SKY+ receiver.

Satellite Twin LNB

Auto Skew Systems

Auto Skew satellite systems have circuitry and motors to ascertain the correct skew angle to use and align it automatically for you.

Semi Automatic systems

 A niche market exists for Semi Automatic systems, these usually have one aspect performed for you such as the raising of the dish or the azimuth alignment. Examples of Semi automatic systems include the Maxview Semitronic and the Mapa Sat N Go.

Why automatic satellite system Vs Manual

The main difference between manual and automatic satellite systems is ease of use.

A manual satellite system may be as cumbersome as a tripod, coax, receiver and a sat finding meter. All of these need to be unpacked, assembled and then someone needs to step outside and stand fiddling around with a meter and manually moving the dish around whilst checking signal strength and looking at tv screen to see if a signal can be obtained, initially this can be very frustrating as satellite beams are very narrow and so a few degrees can be the difference between no picture and crystal clear (unlike old fashioned analogue tv aerials), but after a few attempts and a practiced eye you will soon be up and running within 5-10 mins, this may be 5-10 mins stood outside in inclement weather conditions though !.

There are however some advantages with manual systems,firstly price is paramount, manual systems are a fraction of the cost of an automatic systems so if budget is a major consideration then manual is the way to go. Manual satellite systems also allow flexibility with location in that you can (coax length permitting) move the dish around to prevent line of sight to the satellite being obscured by trees etc whereas this may not be possible with a roof mounted automatic (or manual roof mounted system) on a campsite due to pitch size constraints.

Satellite Internet Systems

With internet technology being commonplace nowadays it is very useful to have internet connectivity whilst away from home in your motorhome / caravan. Solutions have been developed to give you the means to do so. These satellite internet systems such as the Alden Sat Net  allow you to use the same dish to watch television as you would to connect to the internet. They do have associated ongoing costs for the internet access. 

Check out our Satellite Terminology Glossary


This article was published on Tuesday 14 September, 2010.
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