THE STRAIGHT DOPE: Which satellite service is better for RVs?

OK, let’s get it out in the open: Solid Signal, the folks who keep the lights on at this blog, are both DIRECTV and DISH dealers. So we’re not going to tell you that either provider is awful. That doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of corporate shills over here either, and so what follows is an honest discussion of the benefits of both services for your RV.

DIRECTV
DIRECTV does allow you to add an RV to your existing home setup in many cases, and they also allow you to bring a receiver from home if you want to. That’s about all you’ll get from DIRECTV if you call them, which is why calling Solid Signal at 866.726.4182 is a much better bet when thinking about DIRECTV.

DIRECTV’s strength is, of course, its programming. The company has an exclusive on NFL football and overall has the best selection of HD programming from any pay-TV provider. They also have more modern technology than DISH does with their HR44 Genie. If you have DIRECTV service at home because you enjoy what it brings to the table, you’ll want it in your RV as well.

The big limitation to DIRECTV service in an RV is that it’s very expensive to get HD service in the RV while it’s moving (SD service works fine.) The best solution is one that’s designed for boats; it’s big and not very well suited to RV use. If you only plan on using DIRECTV while the vehicle’s parked, though, that issue goes away. DIRECTV’s HD dish mounts easily on a roof, or for those folks on a budget, it can also be mounted on a tripod and manually aimed.

DISH
DISH prides itself on being more friendly to RV’ers. They do have month-to-month plans that are designed for RVs so that even if you don’t have DISH at home you can have it on the road. Your Solid Signal rep can also explain the benefits of DISH when you call us at 866.726.4182 and of course, help you get all set up including installation.

DISH’s RV hardware does give you more access to HD programming while on the road, and there are also several solutions for self-aiming dishes where you more or less put the dish on level ground and walk away while it does its magic. These are a good in-between step between a tripod-based solution and a more expensive permanent installation.

The downside to DISH equipment is that its 722 DVR is older than DIRECTV’s 2-tuner DVR, and its Hopper, while still plenty useful in an RV, does its best work when connected to the internet. If you don’t need DVR service, its HD receiver is very well suited to RV use.

There’s another downside if you do travel a lot; DISH has two fleets of satellites and as you get toward the edge of the country you might not get a clear signal to both fleets. That means changing out hardware, and if your equipment isn’t self-aiming, you’ll need a more expensive meter to get the “Eastern Arc” satellites.

Which to pick
Look, as I said before I’m not going to tell you either solution is bad. It really depends on you. I know a veteran RVer who swears by DISH and a tailgater who loves DIRECTV. If it’s super important for the folks in the back to watch HD while the RV is moving, then DISH is the better bet. If football is your thing, DIRECTV’s the answer. Everything else… is customer preference.