RV TV Antennas: The Outdoor TV Antenna.
This guide is part of a series of articles; see Selecting the Best TV Antenna for an RV for other types of TV antennas for RV use.
The ultimate RV TV antenna – for long-range reception and signal quality – is an array outdoor antenna, especially if it’s a directional array. Back in the day, there was an outdoor antenna on almost every roof. If you don’t mind setting up an antenna when you arrive and breaking it down when you depart, and you’re OK with using a little onboard (or otherwise) storage while you’re under way: go array!
Is an array outdoor antenna best for you?
- Signal gain is realized with a directional antenna
- Size of the antenna isn’t limited by the RV
- Antenna height isn’t limited by the RV
- Reception distance is the greatest of all the types (with additional height)
- Best type when very far from stations
- Directional antennas must be rotated for optimum signal
- Uses onboard (or otherwise) storage while underway
- Setup and breaking down required
- Some RV parks might restrict use
A quick comparison of TV antenna types:
- Compared to a batwing, the array has more elements for greater signal gain. A batwing’s height is limited to the rig’s roof, while an array can be erected higher for greater line-of-sight distance to stations. (A batwing can be mast-mounted – but why do that – get an array!) A batwing’s signal amplifier is built in. A batwing TV antenna is always ready to go – just crank it up.
- Compared to an RV disk antenna (or other types of fixed-in-place antennas), an array is directional and provides signal gain.
There aren’t any RV-specific outdoor TV antennas on the market, so you have a wide-open field to choose from. Make your choice by gain first, then by mounting style.
Which design of array antenna?
There are many designs of outdoor antennas. These are the basic designs that are suitable for RV television antennas:
- Yagi – This should be your first consideration because this design offers the greatest gain because of greatest directionality. A yagi antenna (or Yagi-Uda antenna) consists of horizontal elements with a single active element. The simplest design has 3 elements, and there can be many more. Typically there is a UHF array coupled onto the antenna for reception of UHF stations. This design can be collapsed easily when breaking camp. (See image at top.)
- Bowtie – Looks like a bow tie – the classic RV batwing antenna is a type of bowtie antenna. Larger, more complex versions offer directionality in a small package, although some are multidirectional. They’re easy to make – without the reflector (DIY)! Most of the time, stacked bowties are used for UHF because of size. This design should be your second choice: it’s not easy to collapse one for travel.
- Reflective – some might have a dish reflector. Almost all reflective TV antennas are for UHF only; broadcast channels 2 – 13 will receive poorly with one of these. Gain on UHF signals can be very high with this design. For the enthusiast: this design can be coupled with a VHF Yagi antenna on the same mast.
Omnidirectional and multi-directional:
Folded dipole – has some signal gain capability. This version is actually two folded dipoles at right angles. If you were to look inside of an RV disk TV antenna this is what you’d see. If you chose this route (instead of a disk), you could stack more than one of these on a mast. (DIY project!)
- Vertical –a single vertical receiving element – most have horizontal ground plane elements. This type of antenna has virtually no signal gain and no directional capability.
Selecting the best outdoor TV antenna:
Select a directional outdoor antenna on its gain and front-to-back ratio. Do NOT choose one TV antenna over another because it is labeled High Definition Antenna or Digital Antenna! There is no such thing as an HDTV antenna or a digital TV antenna! Don’t pay attention to a high-tech look or claims of high technology. Look at gain and front-to-back ratio; these two ratings tell the story.
gain is measured in decibels (dB) and is a measure of an antenna’s capability. The farther from a TV station, the more antenna gain you’ll need. Greater gain is achieved with more elements (not just additional length of the boom): the more elements, the higher the gain.
A highly directional antenna has a narrow receiving angle and concentrates its effort where it is pointed. Where nearby objects reflect signals and cause “ghosts,” a highly directive antenna is recommended. front-to-back ratio is the measure of an antenna’s ability to receive signals from the front and reject signals from the rear, and is usually greater with higher gain antennas. In a fringe area (far from stations), a high front-to-back ratio is recommended because it becomes more likely to encounter two stations on the same channel.
Throw as much antenna as you can at getting the best reception, and don’t rely on a signal amplifier for perfect reception. No amplifier is a substitute for a good antenna. Compare antenna specifications. Make sure that the antenna will perform for both VHF (channels 2 – 13) and UHF (channels 14 – 83).
TV Signal Amplifier:
- Use a TV antenna amplifier! See the related post on TV booster amplifiers.
TV Antenna Rotators:
A TV antenna rotator is a must for a directional outdoor antenna. You can go outside and rotate the mast by hand, but that will get old if you’re a channel surfer. An electric rotator mounts on the mast, and the antenna mounts onto the rotator. The controller is connected to the rotator, usually via the signal cable, and enables you to point the antenna in a specific compass direction.
Most rotators require 120vac to operate, so if you’re dry camping you’ll need an inverter. Some can be used with 12vdc and can be powered from the same source as the signal amplifier. At least one package has an amplifier and signal strength meter built into the rotator controller.
Installing the rotator on the mast is only a matter of tightening a couple of nuts on U-bolts. Choose a rotator that gets its power and control via the antenna cable, so special cables aren’t necessary. (However, a special antenna connector plate could be needed inside, or a small modification on the existing plate.)
- Eagle Aspen ROTR100 Antenna Rotator $69.99 (needs 120vac inside; 17vdc through line to rotator) Highly recommended – needs no separate cable
- Antennacraft TDP-2 Heavy Duty Rotator $56.99 (uses separate control cable)
- Channel Master 9521A Complete Antenna Rotator System with IR Remote Control $109.00 (no separate cable)
- RCA VH126N Antenna Rotator with IR Remote Control $80.99 (no separate cable)
Outdoor TV Antenna model comparisons:
Here are representative models for various ranges (these are selected by performance against others in the same performance range by user reviews and demonstrable performance):
Remember, select an antenna by its gain!
Close-by reception, typically urban area with many nearby stations
(range 40 VHF, 50 UHF) (For this range, a batwing could be sufficient):
- Antennacraft model HBU22 (yagi), (VHF/UHF channels 7-69; range 50 VHF, 55 UHF) This is a surprising little antenna – don’t let the small price tag fool you!
- Antennas Direct (bowtie) Outdoor Multidirectional HDTV Outdoor Antenna, (range 70)
- RCA Suburban Mini Yagi Outdoor TV Antenna with mast (range 35 VHF, 45 UHF) This is a very workable little antenna, but needs manual rotating if using the supplied mast.
Medium-range reception, extended suburban area or between urban areas, with many stations, but just a little farther between stations
(range 60-80 VHF, 35-55 UHF) (Directional antenna recommended):
- Antennacraft model HBU33 (VHF/UHF channels 7-69; range 70 VHF, 60 UHF)
- Antennas Direct – ClearStream 4 Long-Range HDTV Outdoor Antenna (range 65)
- RCA outdoor 60-mile TV antenna with mast (60 VHF 35 UHF)
Long-range reception, rural area or a remote coastline, few nearby stations
(range 100+ VHF, 60+ UHF) (sufficient height is a must for this antenna):
- Antennacraft Colorstar model C490 (range 100 VHF, 60 UHF)
- Antenna Deals (antennadeals.com) LAVA HD2805 Ultra G3 Motorized Outdoor Antenna (150 miles) This antenna comes with a rotator and mast! http://www.antennadeals.com/HD2805.html
Even more information can be found via the link below, which not only can assist you in selecting an antenna, but also has a useful tool for finding stations with a directional antenna. Enter your location, and the tool tells which stations are available in the area and their compass directions.
- See Antennaweb.org for more information; this site offers a station finder – useful for pointing your outdoor antenna.
There is a handy and highly rated Android app for your smartphone or tablet, which lists local broadcast stations and their direction from you (based on your GPS-determined position):
- Android app: “TV Antenna Helper FREE”