Can you use a portable dish like a PlayMaker with a long cable run?

This question came in from one of our customers. He uses DISH’s Playmaker to get TV when he’s parked for the night.  It’s the easiest way to get satellite TV nearly anywhere you are. Set it down, connect the receiver, and you’re pretty much done. Who wouldn’t want that?

It turns out that this customer was finding more and more often that his RV parks had a limited line of sight where he was parking. It was getting harder and harder to find a clear patch of sky for the Playmaker to use, and that’s pretty much the only requirement for the Playmaker to work.

So of course, he wanted to know how far away the Playmaker can be from the receiver.

The answer is not so easy.

The Playmaker and most portable dishes are powered by the receiver itself. There is no separate power connector. As you get more and more distance between the two, the voltage at the dish drops. Eventually it gets to the point where the dish doesn’t work right.

Many different variables determine how much voltage is lost over distance. Most calculators and most techs agree that staying under 100 feet is safe. Staying under 50 feet is safer. Remember that portable dishes use more power than stationary dishes and at the same time they are able to pull in less signal because they are smaller.

Personally I recommend no more than 50 feet as a rule. You might get a longer run. You also might not. Hopefully, 50 feet is enough so that you can find yourself a nice patch of sky to work with.

Amplifiers will not save you

Yes, an amplifier gives you more signal on the line. In most cases this means a longer cable run.  However, it’s not going to help with the question of power. In fact some satellite amplifiers even block power going to the dish so they would actually make the whole system stop working.

And before you ask, it might be technically possible to wire up a power injector and amplifier in series to try to get the best possible use out of a portable dish. However, at this point this will cost a lot more money. Not only that, the entire setup will be completely unsupported. It could work, and there’s every possibility that it will. However, if it doesn’t or if it stops working unexpectedly, there really isn’t a whole lot that can be done by way of support.

Are there better options?

As great as those small portable dishes are, there is a limit to what they are capable of. If you’re not getting everything you need from your portable dish setup, give the experts at Solid Signal a call. We can help you decide on the best solution for you and your RV. We have technicians on site who have a decade or more of experience with RV dishes and no one does more satellite activations than Solid Signal. Give us a call at 888-233-7563 during East Coast business hours or fill out the handy form below and our technicians will give you a call back!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.