An RV would not be complete without an entertainment system. Not every RV has enough room for it, but if you are going to get a bigger RV, it is likely that it will have an entertainment area.
Now, some things may be already set up in the RV, while other things may need to be done for you. And if you happen to have been dealing with some issues with your RV’s entertainment area, our guide to RV entertainment systems may be able to help you.
Components of RV entertainment systems to know about
A TV is, needless to say, the heart of any RV entertainment system. Nowadays, RVs come equipped with quite good high-definition flat-screen TVs, though no one prevents you from setting up your own TV in the RV.
Today, LED TVs dominate the RV market, and there is no reason for you to go for any other kind of TV. LEDs have solved many of the shortcomings of older TV technologies and don’t cost that much. OLED screens pushed the picture quality achievements of LEDs even further.
Before LED TVs, there were LCD TVs that used the liquid crystal display technology (LCD) with fluorescent lamps as backlight. While LCD TVs were a big leap forward relative to plasma TVs, they had downsides like inconsistent image quality, especially when viewing the TV at an angle.
And since the theater sofas in RVs are often positioned to the side of the TV rather than in the front, the viewing angle problem is actually a big drawback.
Aside from that, LCD TVs tended to deliver not as good image via analog interfaces. And since digital TV signal is a rarity when RVing, this is also a big downside for RV traveling.
Before LCD TVs, there were plasma TVs which truly were a breakthrough for the TV market. They offered great image quality, as well as were pretty much the first to have a light and compact flat-screen design.
On the other hand, plasma TVs were susceptible to issues like burn-in, heat generation, as well as had quite steep price tags.
Lastly, before plasma TVs, RVers used to have the old CRT screen systems. These heavy and deep TV systems wouldn’t be particularly suitable for RVs today due to their large footprint and weight, but there were no alternatives back then. And they have been perfectly fine back in the days when flat-screen TVs with HD resolution and wider 16:9 formats weren’t a thing.
So nowadays, you should definitely go for either a LED or an OLED panel. You probably won’t find too many LCD TVs, but even if you do, we’d advise you not to go for one no matter how tight you are on your budget. LEDs and OLEDs do cost more, but they have benefits that make them worth the price.
RVs are often sold with preinstalled LED TVs though, so you may not even need to worry about it.
You may have a TV, but it will be doing nothing without TV reception.
Nowadays, RVers watch broadcast TV, cable TV, or satellite TV. A few have also switched to online streaming, which has been gaining popularity over the last years. For each reception, there are some considerations to keep in mind, which we are going to talk about below.
In spite of the popularity of satellite TV and streaming nowadays, over-the-air broadcast TV remains a relevant way of watching TV when RVing.
One of the reasons for this is that there is no need to buy complex equipment to make broadcast TV work. The only thing that you need is a directional TV antenna that is powerful enough to catch a TV station broadcasting within its range. Plus, there are no monthly fees or other costs associated with the use of broadcast TV.
While broadcast TV is free to watch, the quality you are receiving is often no worse than in other types of TV coverage. Most TV stations broadcast in HD these days, and a few have even switched to 4K broadcasting.
It may seem that there is nothing too difficult about RV antennas, but there are a couple of things that you do need to keep in mind. Nowadays, we aren’t dealing with directional antennas too frequently, and some people may be unaware of how to use them.
When the RV is in its driving position, the antenna is stowed on the roof in order to decrease the height clearance of the RV. In this stowed position, the antenna won’t be able to catch any TV signals, so you first have to raise it to its operating position. Usually, RV antennas need to be hand-cranked into their upper position.
Another thing to keep in mind with directional TV antennas is that they must be pointed towards the television station that you want to watch. In fact, you need to make sure that the path of the signal isn’t obstructed by anything. Due to this, you need to carefully choose a parking spot for your RV.
A crucial thing to do once you are ready to drive off the campground is to lower the antenna. RV antennas, being built from plastic pieces and lightweight aluminum, are rather delicate. Needless to say, a mere bump into a tree branch is probably going to snap it off.
To lower the antenna properly, you need to point it in the direction which is usually indicated near the hand crank. Otherwise, the antenna won’t go down all the way, and you may even damage it when retracting.
Satellite TV is very popular among RV owners. Many people have satellite systems at home and just move them to their RVs when the journey time comes.
Satellite TV reception requires a satellite dish, as well as a receiver provided by a satellite TV provider. The receiver may be a simple device that converts the radio signal to view it on TV, or it can be a DVR (digital video recorder) capable of recording TV channels.
A single receiver or DVR can output its signal to a surround sound system to be viewed anywhere in the coach. However, watching two different channels via two TVs (for example, in the living room and the bedroom) will require additional receivers.
RV satellite receivers perform the same function as RV antennas – they are used to receive and send information via radio waves. However, satellite receivers receive signal from satellites orbiting the planet, while RV antennas rely on broadcast towers somewhere high in the mountains.
The differences between satellite receivers and TV antennas go beyond technicalities. For example, if you use satellite service, you will have to pay a monthly local service fee in order to watch local channels. In contrast, broadcast stations received by a TV antenna are free, albeit they often offer less stuff to watch.
Satellite receivers also suffer less from the unevenness of terrain since they receive a signal from space. However, weather conditions have a major effect on their performance.
Some satellite receivers can also auto-track satellites with minimal user input, but auto-tracking units are pricier than non-tracking ones.
Some RVs may come with both a TV antenna and a satellite dish, but most of the time, they have only one or the other, or even none. When choosing between a satellite receiver and a TV antenna, the main thing to keep in mind is what you want to watch since channel coverage differs between the two receiver types.
But generally, it is a good idea to have both to ensure coverage in any weather and terrain condition.
Cable TV was very popular among RVers back in the days, but today, it is often a headache to maintain. Cable providers have been recently switching to digital transmission in order to maximize their bandwidth and in order to control the content and introduce paid subscription plans.
The introduction of digital transmission has put forth a new requirement before RVers – digital transmission requires a digital converter. This is a rather big issue for RVs since they often move from location to location, switching cable providers.
Some campgrounds provide digital converter boxes to RVers, while others employ converters to turn digital signal to analog so that everyone can view them. Others give up on cable TV entirely and instead invest in better Wi-Fi networks to allow RVers to seamlessly stream video.
With cable TV being quite a mess at campgrounds these days, it is better for you not to rely on it too much. Having your own means of grabbing TV channels like an antenna or satellite is going to be much, much better. But if you happen to have a digital converter box, you should be able to make use of the campground’s TV coverage.
Online streaming has been quickly gaining popularity among RVers in recent years, but it still is a very expensive way of watching TV or listening to music.
This kind of TV watching sure does have a plentitude of advantages over the more old-fashioned satellite, cable, or antenna TV coverages. First of all, there is much more stuff to watch and listen to on the internet. Plus, if you are subscribed to Netflix or any other online streaming service, there will be plenty of films and shows to keep you entertained throughout the journey.
The setup of an online streaming system is also arguably easier. With just a router or a Wi-Fi hot spot, you can grab the incoming internet signal and send it to your smart TV via an Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi.
In addition, the use of the internet isn’t limited to just streaming music or movies: you can connect your tablet or PC to the network and enjoy the benefits of internet access while on the road.
On the other hand, the crucial downsides of online streaming are the steep price of data plans and limits in bandwidth.
Many RV parks have public & free Wi-Fi hot spots for RVers, but they are severely limited by speed, as well as often lack security. Some people try to use public Wi-Fi hot spots when everyone’s out doing something, but trying to catch a good signal can become very frustrating.
Cellular data networks – especially those operating on 4G LTE – are quite fast, but their data can be very expensive. Unless you can get big data plans with tens of monthly gigabytes, online streaming will probably be unfeasible for you.
Many cellular network users go for cheap data plans that offer 500MB to 1GB of monthly data, and some can even live with it. However, such little amounts of data can be blown literally in a few hours if you tend to frequently stream video or music during the day.
Even with a lower bandwidth rate of 64 kbps – which is quite low-quality, if you didn’t know – 1GB of data will be enough for only 36 hours of listening to music. Music with 128 kbps bitrate would eat through 1GB in 18 hours.
If you aren’t a frequent music listener, you may be able to stretch such a data plan for a month. However, if you do like to listen to music often and at high quality, you would need a much beefier data plan.
Video streaming will burn through a 1GB data plan much quicker. With video bitrates reaching 6.5 Mbps with 720p video and 10 Mbps with 1080p video, 1GB of data can be spent in a matter of several hours.
Speed is another issue with online streaming. To comfortably stream HD video, you need a speed of about 1.5 Mbps. Public Wi-Fi hot spots usually deliver speeds around 300-700 kbps, which is enough for some general online surfing and maybe music, but definitely not enough for video.
So all in all, even though online streaming is an excellent way of watching movies or listening to music while on the road, there are very high costs associated with it. Bandwidths do increase and become cheaper as time goes on, but at the moment, they aren’t cheap enough to allow you to stream a lot and frequently.
With online streaming so popular these days, you don’t see DVD or Blu-ray players at people’s homes that often. Disc boxes occupy a lot of space, and online streaming simply is a more convenient way of watching video or listening to music.
However, for an RV, a DVD or Blu-ray player may be a very good option for watching movies or listening to music. They require no signal reception – the only things that you need are discs with the desired content and free space for their storage.
On the other hand, the bad thing about disc players is that you have only so much content with them. If you have TV reception, you can just look for something new once you get bored. But if you only have discs, you are stuck with whatever is on them until the end of the journey.
One solution is to carry dozens of discs, but this arguably isn’t the best option since there is only so much free room in your RV.
A better option would be to balance out watching films from discs with watching them via TV broadcast or online streaming. On one hand, you won’t be going through your discs super-fast, and on the other, you won’t be troubling yourself with looking for TV signal or trying to save on your data plan.
RV signal booster
RV’s are also usually equipped with a single booster, a device that greatly improves the TV signal received by the RV antenna. The signal caught by the antenna goes to the signal booster, gets amplified, and then is sent to the TV via a coaxial cable. Without a signal booster, you in most cases won’t have usable reception in remote areas.
An important thing to remember with signal boosters is that they operate on 12V direct current. Usually, RVers power their signal boosters from their RV batteries. Thus, it is important that you turn the signal booster off when it is not in use since it can easily drain your RV battery.
At a campground with cable TV, you won’t have to use a signal booster to watch TV. You’ll just need to run a coaxial cable from the campground connector to your RV’s outside cable hookup. Signal boosters are instead useful when you are in a remote area, relying on your antenna’s signal.
No matter how little space there is in your RV, you probably want to have good sound quality. The stereo TV speakers perhaps don’t do a good enough job for you. An obvious choice would be to go for surround sound systems, but it isn’t too simple to do in RVs.
Surround sound systems do wonders in large rooms, but in long, narrow RVs, implementing them may be tricky. Plus, the limited space of RVs becomes another factor to consider.
A soundbar system is a great option for an RV. Consisting of several speakers, a wide sound bar doesn’t occupy as much space as a surround system does. In addition, it is easier to set up a sound bar since there are no placement headaches associated with multiple speakers.
While sound bars don’t deliver as good surround sound as dedicated surround sound systems, they do a very good job of replicating their 3D feel. And for a little bit of bass and a fuller sound profile, you can complement your soundbar system with a subwoofer.
If you do in the end decide to go for a full surround sound system, make sure to pick one whose speakers can be wall mounted. There probably isn’t much floor room in your RV to begin with, so you should do everything in order to save it as much as possible.
Cabling is also a thing that is important in RVs. If not with cables, how are you going to connect all the entertainment stuff together?
With that being said, there are several types of RV cabling that you should know about.
The first cable type is the coaxial cable. Cable or broadcast TV typically comes through a coaxial cable. As we’ve mentioned above, coaxial cables usually connect the RV antenna or satellite dish to a signal booster. Coaxial cables may also be run from the booster to the TV itself.
Coaxial cables have some limitations, so other cables are commonly used to connect various components to the TV or the system. One of them is the RCA phono plug cable which can pass audio and video.
However, three-wire RCA cables can pass only SD programming. Five-fire cables can pass HD programming, but they are bulky, and manufacturers have been discontinuing them in recent years.
Modern TVs do sometimes have inputs for composite audio and video, but mostly, they only have HDMI inputs. HDMI is capable of not only passing HD but also 4K. In addition, HDMI ports supporting ARC (Audio Return Channel) allow for bi-directional passing of audio and video signals.
An HDMI ARC port allows you to connect all your devices like DVD players or gaming consoles to, for example, a surround sound system. As a result, there is less cabling mess in the RV, which is definitely a big plus.
Obviously, you will be able to enjoy HD or 4K picture only if the signal has proper quality, no matter what kind of devices you have set up in the RV. In addition, if you receive analog signal, you will need to use a digital converter box in order to convert it to a digital form which can then be passed through an HDMI cable.
Infrared repeater systems
Sometimes, the signal source components like DVRs or tuners may be installed in one part of the RV, while the viewing area is somewhere else. This creates problems for changing channels via a remote since their range is limited, and you have to leave the entertainment area and come close to the receiver to change a channel.
This problem can be resolved via a device called an infrared repeater (IRR). Serving as a link, it passes the infrared signal from the remote to the receiver. If you have a setup where the receiver and TV are in different parts of the RV, you may want to get yourself an IRR.
These have been the key components that can and should be present in RV entertainment systems. Hopefully, we’ve provided you with enough information so that you can reasonably and efficiently approach the setup of your RV entertainment system.
Stay safe and entertained during your RV journey!