The Basics of Onboard Satellite TV
By Tom Burden
Choosing the right antenna
In recent years marine satellite TV companies like Intellian, KVH and Raymarine have taken marine satellite TV, once featuring large domes with expensive systems and found only on superyachts, and brought it to the small boat owner. Satellite TV has become a lot more compact and affordable, with a range of antennas from about 12 1/2" to 33 1/2" in size. To choose a system, you need to consider a couple of questions, where you will be boating and which size of antenna is right for your boat.
Where are you headed?
Where you’re going has a lot to do with which antenna you need. Satellite TV broadcast spot beams are aimed at landmasses where the bulk of subscribers can be found, so the strength of their signals decreases as you travel away from land, and the further offshore you go, the larger the antenna you need. For example, Intellian’s i2 or the KVH TracVision M1 is a good choice if you’re just doing some inshore cruising. If you’re going further afield, consider the i3, i4 or M3ST antennas. But if you’re planning on doing some serious bluewater cruising or cruising northern latitudes then you may need to step up to the i4, i6 or M5. Use the colored lines on the footprint map (referencing Intellian’s antennas) as a general guide to determine the antenna size that best meets your needs, then visit the service provider’s web site to determine what programming is available.
Traveling to other continents
What if you’re sailing to Europe? Can the satellite TV antenna be used in different regions? The satellite TV models for the US and Europe may appear to be identical physically but there are distinct differences in hardware inside the antenna. The Low Noise Block (LNB) used to convert the satellite signal into an IF signal is specific to the geographical location—this applies to any brand of Sat TV antenna. It is impossible to receive European satellite signals using the USA version and vice versa. If you’ve installed a US system and your vessel is cruising into the European coverage, the system will become inoperative and you will need to have the LNB replaced by an authorized service dealer. If you are going to travel to different geographical regions (North America, South America, Africa etc), then choose a sat TV antenna with an All-Americas™ LNB, or a Worldview antenna that has a global LNB installed.
How do you receive HDTV?
First, you must have a high-definition television set, along with an activated HD receiver. Domes fitted with an HD Antenna Control Unit (ACU) enable you to enjoy the full range of HD broadcasting. In the US, HD programming is available through the Dish network or DirecTV service providers. In the US, HD channels available from Dish Network and Bell TV require the addition of a multi-satellite interface module (MIM). This electronic switch provides automatic switching between satellites. For DirecTV HD experience, Intellian’s s6HD antenna will provide uninterrupted HD viewing.
Can you have more than one TV on your boat?
One satellite antenna can be connected to multiple TVs. If each screen has its own satellite “set-top” box (Dish Network or DirecTV) you can watch different channels on each TV. However, if you only have one satellite set-top box, all of the TVs will show the same channel.