RV TV Antennas:
This guide is part of a series of articles; see Selecting the Best TV Antenna for an RV for information about other types of TV antennas for RV use.
Rooftop Batwing Antennas
The rooftop batwing RV TV antenna is ubiquitous. Because almost every RV comes with one doesn’t mean that the batwing is the cheap way out! On the contrary, the batwing is directional and all have an integrated signal booster. Their performance should be sufficient for all but the most demanding viewer. In fact, the next step up from a rooftop batwing is an array antenna; see Array Antennas.
Why Choose a Batwing?
The batwing RV TV antenna is directional and can be rotated for the best reception – from inside the rig. Unlike an omnidirectional TV antenna that receives equally well in all directions (a disk antenna, for example), the batwing can “focus” its effort. This directional capability provides “gain” on the TV signal that increases reception range.
From inside of the RV, the batwing can be raised when needed, and lowered before getting underway. At least one model of batwing antenna can be raised, lowered, and rotated, automatically (by electric motors).
The batwing – a quick comparison to other types of TV antennas:
- Compared to the disk antenna, the batwing can be raised for additional height, and has directional capability. Other types of stationary antennas exist, but might be directional – without rotation capability.
- An array has additional antenna elements that make it so effective. Most are highly directional – an electric rotator is handy. An array antenna must be erected every time you park, and mounted away from the RV, unless a lot of effort is invested into building it onto the rig. Typically, an array doesn’t have an integrated antenna amplifier, but that’s easily added.
One of the following cases should apply:
- Upgrading (or downgrading) to a batwing antenna from something else, or there is no antenna at all
- Replacing an existing batwing
- Improving an existing batwing
- Install a better batwing antenna
Upgrading, downgrading, or no antenna:
A batwing requires a hole through the roof and cabling within the roof and walls. A wall plate (consisting of a switch, a splitter, and connector) will have to be installed. Not only do you need to decide on your next antenna on the basis of reception, but also on how much effort you’re willing to put into installation. Winegard has detailed instructions for a new batwing installation. See Winegard Sensar Antenna Installation/Operation Manual (pdf).
It is not known at the time of this writing if there is a version of the batwing antenna that doesn’t require a through-the-roof mount. Such an antenna system would require a remotely controlled rotator and raise/lower mechanism.
Replacing an existing batwing:
The amplifier in a batwing (or any antenna) is critical. Older batwings were supplied with analog amplifiers, which were fine before digital and Hidef (“HD”). Those amplifiers were designed for analog signals and worked well for that. Their transistors and circuits did not anticipate the high data rates inherent in digital signals. They can actually cost you a lot of your digital signal! If you aren’t getting what you expect from your batwing antenna, try to determine its age. If it is older than 2010, it’s very likely to have an analog amplifier. Replacing that batwing with one containing an amplifier suitable for digital will make a huge difference! (Only the head needs to be replaced, not the entire arm and rooftop mount.) Be sure to get a batwing with a UHF array – the Winegard Wingman, for example. (See the next topic.)
Don’t rely solely on the antenna’s amplifier to achieve perfect reception! No HD antenna amplifier is a substitute for an adequate antenna. Remember, several things affect reception, including terrain, buildings, trees, distance to station and power of the station.
Improving an existing batwing:
If the batwing does not have a UHF array – the Winegard Wingman – add one! Over 80% of digital and HD stations are UHF. These little add-ons pack a punch and add a lot of directional gain. Enough said about that!
A Better Batwing?
How much is too much? The more antenna, the more stations you can expect to receive! Go for it! A solid replacement is a Winegard Sensar IV, which comes with the Wingman and a proper signal amplifier. There is a motorized version. It gives you fully automatic control from within your rig, if you’re willing to pay the rather steep price tag. (An updated version of this antenna might be available soon.)
An excellent choice over the traditional batwing is the JACK Digital HDTV Antenna System. This HD antenna system replaces the batwing and requires some modification on the rig’s roof (follow the installation guide carefully!), but it’s well worth the trouble. This choice features an integrated signal meter for aiming it perfectly at the station.
(Available in black and white versions.)
Whatever your choice in a directional (you rotate it) type RV TV antenna, a TV signal meter is indispensable.
- The Winegard SensarPro Signal Meter replaces the original wall plate with its TV connector and 12v outlet, so you’ll have to install a new TV outlet next to the old wall recess.
- The Sensar Pro is a version of this meter with its own amplifier (in addition to the amp in the antenna), and has adjustable gain.
- An in-the-cable meter can be used, and can be obtained from various sources.
These antennas and components are available from a wide variety of sources. Just to mention a few: