How can you upgrade an old portable dish to do HD?

Summer is coming, and with it comes tailgate season. We’re seeing more and more people getting out of the house and going back to something “normal.” We’re told (as I write this) that tailgating is a pretty safe activity. It’s outdoors. It’s something you can do with members of your own family. And, given the size of trucks and RVs it’s going to create natural distance between you and others.

As you get your tailgate setup together, you might notice some things have changed. Perhaps the channels you want aren’t available with that mobile satellite anymore. This is especially true if you’re a DIRECTV satellite customer. More and more programming has shifted off DIRECTV’s satellite at the 101 location. Some standard definition programming is not coming back. Other programs, like international channels, have moved to other satellites.

Even in the world of DISH, there have been changes. You wouldn’t notice them from home but if you’re using something like a Carryout or Playmaker, they become obvious.

So what can you do?

First let’s talk about why this happens

Well over 97% of DIRECTV and DISH’s customers are in plain old buildings. You know, in homes, in restaurants, in bars, in commercial buildings.  These buildings have multi-satellite dishes that can see the entire satellite fleet at once. In the case of DIRECTV, a dish can see both the original Ku-band satellites as well as the Ka-band and Ka-reverse-band satellites. In the case of DISH, a dish can see all the satellites in either the Western Arc or the Eastern Arc.

Because practically every customer can see all the satellites they need, the satellite companies have no problem moving channels from one to another. It happens all the time. Several times a week, channels move from one satellite to another. This is done to optimize what’s on every satellite, and to make room for special events and sports packages.

The problem comes when you use something like a Playmaker or Carryout. These devices can only see one satellite at a time. You have the same problem with some of the early multi-satellite systems for RVs and boats. Those older systems can see multiple satellites, but they can’t use the newer technologies that are so common today.

Could you retrofit a device to see the newer satellites?

Technically, it’s possible. But, there are limitations. First of all you would need to make parts to do it. The demand for something like this is fairly low. It would cost a lot to make it. Then there’s the matter of installation, which would need to be done precisely.

Another issue is that DIRECTV’s newer satellites use Ka-band frequencies which are more susceptible to rain fade than the older Ku-band technology. This isn’t really a problem on buildings because you can have a nice large dish. But, with the smaller dishes used in portable satellite systems, you risk having low signal levels and that’s a problem.

What options are there?

The best option is to find a way to upgrade your system that makes sense. If you’re looking at a good tailgating solution for an RV, choose a Winegard multi-satellite system for DISH or DIRECTV that does everything you need. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but it’s reliable and will last for years. There are other less expensive options as well, but they involve a certain amount of compromise.

Call your friends at Solid Signal at 888-233-7563 and they’ll show you the right option for tailgating to make sure you get all the channels you want!

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.