We gave a lot of thought before hitting the road to how we would keep ourselves entertained while traveling all over the place. We like to watch a few hours of TV most nights. Neither of us can read after dinner without falling asleep.
We had Dish for more than 15 years but we wanted to try going without it to avoid the expense and the hassle. We hoped to be able to get the networks digitally over the free airwaves most of the time. The networks are where our favorite shows are anyway.
We are spoiled by living with a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) all those years so we wanted a way to record TV shows when we could get them. We refuse to be a slave to the TV’s schedule. We wanted the shows recorded so we could watch them when we felt like it and fast forward through the commercials.
We finally found a digital recorder that would record over the air TV. We couldn’t find it in any retail store. But we were able to order it from Best Buy. It is now available at Walmart.com.
It works much as the old VCRs did. You have to tell it exactly when to start and stop recording. It is a little more complicated than the satellite companies’ DVRs where you can just say record all of a certain show.
So every time we moved Jim would determine if we did indeed have any TV reception and, if so, if any shows were going to come on that we would want recorded. He found the TV Guide app very helpful to find local programming and an app called OTA (over the air) Map to know which direction to point our digital antennae. Then he would set up the recorder to record them. This process was rather time consuming but time is something we have plenty of so no problemo.
After 18 months on the road I can tell you we had some TV reception about half the time. When we were near big towns we could get all the networks and even some great free movie channels. But in some of the more remote areas we didn’t have any signal. Many of the places that didn’t have a TV signal were also too remote to be near a Redbox where we could rent movies.
We anticipated this though and that is why we had been hoarding DVD movies for a couple years. Whenever we found a movie at a garage sale, flea market, or a store’s bargain bin that we thought we’d enjoy we snapped it up.
We also used the TV DVR to record a ton of movies from Dish before we left and copy them to DVD. We took advantage of the free weekends Dish often offers for their premium movie channels like HBO and Starz. But we found many great movies on the regular channels in our basic Dish package like Spike and TBS.
We have well over 200 DVD movies and a couple of our favorite TV series stored without their cases in two DVD storage cases. Many of these are our favorite blockbusters or classics that we could happily see every couple of years.
We had pretty much gone through all of them about the time we hit Quartzite and the digital airwaves didn’t have a lot to offer for a while after that. If one of our friends hadn’t loaned us a rather lengthy TV series we might have gone a bit mad out in the dessert. But thankfully it kept us entertained until we made our way east and started getting reception again.
We each have one favorite show that we missed and we discovered we could catch up on them online at CBS.com. We would do this on the rare occasion we were in a campground with good enough Wifi to stream video or if we got to the end of our cell phone cycle and had enough data left. We also missed out on a lot of news. Jim missed his morning news, me not so much.
We got to South Carolina and realized that the signal available on the property we intended to spend the next 10 weeks on was nil. Jim started campaigning for a satellite receiver and I agreed. The initial equipment cost, around $700, was the biggest obstacle.
However, the $50 monthly package is very doable. My favorite feature of the RV plan is that we can suspend service any time we want and reinstate it when we choose. So if we end up in an RV park with free cable for a time or in a place can’t get any signal for a while we don’t have to pay for programming we aren’t using.
We talked to a Dish authorized dealer in SC and got all kinds of incorrect info, like that it was impossible to have a DVR in a camper. I called Dish and they were pretty useless as well. I finally asked “don’t you have people who specialize in RV satellite?” Only then did they tell me to call another number and I reached the helpful people at Dish For My RV. They had all the right answers, got the equipment shipped to us, and helped us get it set up.
Jim had researched all the options and knew he wanted the Wineguard Pathway X2 satellite. All you do is place it where it has a clear view of the southern sky and it does the rest. It spins around and locates the satellites.
When all goes well it only takes about 10 minutes to get it set up and our shows are programmed to start recording automatically. Of course, many campsites have too many obstacles to get a clear view. We occasionally have to resort to hauling the dish onto the roof for better reception. And we’ve been a couple places where the trees were just too thick or there was a big hill in the way and we had to go without satellite for a couple days. But we can still watch all the things we previously recorded on the Dish DVR.
We were worried such an expensive piece of equipment just sitting outside our trailer might grow legs. So we added a little security. Jim uses a 30 foot cable and a padlock to attach it to some part of the trailer or a tree. It makes it a little more difficult for it to disappear. I actually don’t mind when we haul it up to the roof because I feel like it is really unlikely to be stolen from there.
Jim made one other major upgrade to our TV watching experience. He bought a small projector. The Vivitek Qumi Q5 projector with 500 lumen. He considered buying it at Best Buy for $500 but found a refurbished one on Amazon for $250.
He got a 35 x 62 inch piece of screen material from Amazon for $25. We attached it with Velcro to a piece of 1″ PVC and hung it over the window directly across from our reclining loveseat. When the TV is off it blends in nicely. No one has noticed the projector hanging from the ceiling or the screen covering the window unless we pointed it out to them.
An unexpected bonus of this setup is that it makes using the Xbox more enjoyable and we have started using it again mostly for my workouts. We have had the new equipment for 3 months now and are extremely satisfied with both the projector and the satellite service. I don’t think we will run out of entertainment no matter how remote we get.