Guide to the Best TV Setups for your Caravan or Motorhome

Hi, I’m Chris, I run Horton Common along with my father Robert.

Often when I go and meet our guests they’re either setting up their caravan or levelling their motorhome. They are also often directing their caravan aerials or satellite dishes to get the best TV reception. Therefore, I get to see various caravan and motorhome TV setups. I get to hear feedback from my guests on the products they like best and which they don’t.

Caravan TV
There are many different brands of portable 12V TVs for your caravan or motorhome, Avtex being just one example – Image: caravanchronicles.com

With this post, I thought I would write about the various things you need to consider when choosing a new TV for your caravan or motorhome. However, I’ll also talk about how you can make the most of your existing portable TV to get the best experience.

Obviously, TV viewing habits have changed considerably over the last decade and many people ‘steam’ apposed to watching live TV. So ill discuss how to go about watching streaming services. This includes Netflix, Amazon Prime and the iPlayer on caravan sites with and without WiFi. Below I’ve provided quick links to the three main topics covered in this post, enjoy!

Freeview or Freesat?

Freeview or Freesat?
You can choose between a Freeview (ariel) or Freesat (satellite) portable TVs for your caravan or motorhome.

So as I’m sure your aware the analogue TV signal in the UK was turned off many years ago. To receive a free-to-airTV in your caravan or motorhome you will be choosing between Freeview or Freesat. Put simply, Freeview is the digital service received through an aerial where Freesat is received by a satellite dish. However, with Freeview, there are areas of the UK that struggle to get a good quality signal.

Freeview is the Most Common Choice

Every new model of portable TV’s for caravans and motorhomes features a digital received, most of them being Freeview. If you have an old analogue TV you can still get small separate Freeview boxes. However, it appears that getting a 12V Freeview receiver is going to be a challenge. All the 12V Freeview receives I can find on Amazon state ‘Currently Unavailable’.

12V Freeview Box
It’s now very hard to find 12V Freeview boxes for old analogue TV’s for caravans and motorhomes

Now, on 240V serviced pitches you could use a standard Freeview box with a three-pin plug. However, if you like to go wild camping to watch Freeview you will need to buy 12V portable camping TV with Freeview built-in.

At Horton Common due to our location and high elevation we actually get a very good Freeview signal. If fact we pick up the signal from both the North West and Midlands transmitters. Therefore, multiple BBC One’s pop up on the channel list. However, this might not be the case on all caravan sites you visit. Therefore, some people choose to go with TV’s that support Freesat.

Freesat has its Pros and Cons

With Freesat, you will obviously need to purchase a satellite dish. We have a couple of guests who have gone this route. Some choosing to use Freesat while others use a SKY box in their caravan. The most common option is a portable satellite dish. However, I recently had a guest with a pretty high-end A-Class motorhome and integrated satellite dish. This dish would lower down against the roof of the motorhome when on the road. When on-site it automatically raises up and finds the direction of the satellite. We are located close to the Jodrell Bank telescope (now a World Heritage Site). This dish was similar to watching Jodrell Bank in action!

Maxview caravan and motorhome satellite dish
Maxview is one brand of a permanent satellite dish for your caravan or motorhome. Image – Outandaboutlive.co.uk

However, a permanent satellite dish mounted to the roof of your caravan or motorhome can be pretty costly. Therefore most people choose a portable dish. Now, these portable kits can work well to provide your caravan or motorhome with satellite TV in pretty much any location. However, there are a few points I’ve observed over the years.

Maxview portable satellite dish for caravans and motorhomes
Most of our guests who have satellite TV in their caravans and motorhomes use the Maxview portable satellite kits.

You Need a Clear Line of Sight

This isn’t a problem on our site as we don’t have large trees to block the signal from the satellite to your dish. However, some guests have informed me of this issue on other sites. To be fair, Freeview can also have issues with poor signal quality due to lots of dense vegetation and buildings in the way. However, in this instance, your portable satellite dish is located pretty close to the ground. So you need to make sure no trees, buildings or importantly caravans/motorhomes block the line of sight to the satellite.

Guy Ropes are Essential

Granted, our caravan site is located in a more elevated position than many sites, so our wind speeds are above average. However, after observing guests putting up portable satellite dishes you need to fit guy ropes. Some portable satellite dishes come with guy ropes, but many don’t. So once you have found that satellite signal, if you want to keep it, securely fix the dish into position with guy ropes.

Streaming TV Services in your Caravan or Motorhome

In 2019 its actually got the point where most people don’t want to watch live TV, they want to ‘stream’ content. While it’s very easy to use streaming services such as the iPlayer, Netflix or Amazon Prime at home, its a different storey in your caravan or motorhome. So we’ll discuss the two main obstacles. Setting the TV up to use streaming services and how to get a suitable internet connection in your caravan or motorhome.

12V Smart TV for caravans and motorhomes
Cello is a pretty popular brand of 12V portable Smart TVs for caravans and motorhomes.

Smart TVs for Caravans and Motorhomes

So there is a range of ‘Smart’ portable 12V TVs for caravans and motorhomes currently on the market. I’m not going to go through the ins and outs of each model, but there is something you should now. Not all Smart TV’s receive all of the streaming services.

You need to be careful when you purchase a portable smart TV that it actually provides the services you’re looking for. Pretty much all of the portable smart TV’s sold in the UK for caravans and motorhomes offer iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Prime. However, some don’t actually offer ITVPlayer or 4OD among other services.

Also, the software on some of the more ‘niche’ TV brands may not get updated that frequently. Therefore, there can be situations where because the TV software doesn’t update the streaming service stops working. Therefore, instead of purchasing a 12V portable TV for your caravan and motorhome on its streaming services alone, purchase it based on its picture quality and other features. Often the best solution to ‘future proof’ your access to streaming services is to use an external solution. More details below.

Non-Smart TV’s – Chromcasts and FireSticks?

So following on from the discussion above on whether to chose a smart TV for your caravan or motorhome, let’s talk about Chromcasts and Firesticks. Now, these terms may appear very alien to you, don’t worry, that’s completely normal. A Chromecast is a small device which connects to your TV and its made by Google (yes search engine Google). A Firestick is a similar device and its made by Amazon.

Amazon Fire stick TV
The Amazon Fire TV Stick will give you access to all the major streaming services in your caravan or motorhome. It also comes with its own remote.
Google Chomecast
The Google Chromecast plugs into the back of your caravan or motorhome TV via an HDMI connection. You have to use your smartphone to control a Chromecast.

Both of these devices connect to the TV through an HDMI connection and can provide the full range of streaming services. The main differences between the two are with a Chromecast you’ll have to control it with your phone and a Firestick comes with its own remote control.

12V TV’s with Firesticks and Chromecasts

Something worth noting is that while both of these devices plug into your TV via an HDMI connection, they both also need a source of power. Now, out of the box, this comes from a 3 pin power adapter. If you’re on a site such as ours with mains power to our fully serviced pitches, not a problem. However, what if you are wild camping off-grid with no 240V supply and you’re running off your leisure battery?

Well, there are various solutions to this problem, both devices actually receive power through a micro-USB connection. So, if your 12V portable TV has a USB connection on the back, it may actually generate enough power to run a Fire TV Stick or Chromecast. You would just need to get a cable with the right USB connections on each end to suit. If the 12V portable TV in your caravan or motorhome doesn’t have a USB connection or it fails to generate enough power there is another option.

12V portable TV USB connections
Many 12V portable TVs for caravans and motorhomes have USB connections. Some such as the USB port on the left in this image can actually be used as a source of power.

Many people now own ‘power bricks’ as a means to charge their mobile phone on the go. Well, you can also use a power brick (also known as a battery bank) to run a Fire TV Stick or Chromecast. You just need to check that the amps provided by the battery bank are sufficient. Obviously the larger the battery bank the more viewing hours. However, even a relatively small battery bank should provide many hours of streaming goodness.

Power Bank US
This is a fairly typical example of a USB power bank (Anker, 5200mAh) which could provide sufficient power for a Fire TV Stick or Chromecast connected to your caravan or motorhome portable 12V TV.

On-Site Internet Connections for TV Streaming Services

I’ve previously written a fairly comprehensive post on how to get an internet connection in your caravan or motorhome. Therefore, I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Here I’ll just talk about the main choices, please read that post for more details.

Obviously, if on-site WiFi is available where your visiting that’s one option. There are various internal and external WiFi antennas available and WiFi boosters for caravans and motorhomes which you can buy to get a better signal. Just bear in mind, some on-site WiFi services are very slow and expensive. However, if you’re visiting a remote rural location such as our small caravan site where the landline broadband is very poor and no on-site WiFi is possible, other options need to be explored.

Taking Advantage of the 4G (and soon 5G) Networks

So the ‘Big 4’ 4G and 5G networks are EE, O2, Vodaphone and Three. The full roll-out of the 5G network is still quite a few years away. However, in most instances, the 4G network will provide sufficient speeds for you to use streaming services on your caravan or motorhome portable 12V TV.

4G and 5G Networks
The ‘Big 4’ 4G and 5G Networks

Often speed is not the problem, its sufficient data. You can buy mobile broad data cards from all the ‘Big 4’, but the amount of data they offer varies wildly. So you need to search around for the best deals. If there is a Three signal in the area you’re going to they offer by far the best deals currently (July, 2019) with unlimited data.

Using your Smartphone as a WiFi Hotspot

In many cases, you don’t actually need to purchase a MiFi device or anything else to provide a 4G/5G connection to your caravan and motorhome TV. You can often use your smartphone. With most smartphones, there is an option to turn the phones WiFi Hotspot. This is the method I use every day to share my phones internet connection with my computer due to our poor landline broadband. It’s important to check your phone has this feature and under your current contract, your network provider allows it. Currently, I’m with Three on an unlimited data contract and I use my phone as a ‘Hotspot’ pretty much all day every day.

Streaming Services TV Data Usage

So if you cannot get an unlimited 4G/5G data deal and you want to use TV streaming services you’re going to have to pay close attention to your data usage. For instance, Netflix states that 1 hour of streaming standard definition content will use around 1GB of data. Where streaming HD content will use around 3GB of data.

This quick video provides a guide on how to change the data usage setting on Netflix when streaming on your portable TV in your caravan or motorhome if you’re not on an unlimited data plan.

Now, I personally know these data usage figures are not accurate because at home on my 2MB connection Netflix often goes into HD and there is no way I can download 3GB of data in an hour. However, the point still stands, TV streaming services are data-hungry.

Caravan TV Sound Quality is…….Rubbish

So pretty much any small flat panel TV today, whether its a 12V for your caravan or motorhome or 240V for your home they all have something in common. They generally all have pretty much rubbish sound quality across the board. This even applies to premium brands such a Sony, Samsung and LG. With small flat panel TV’s there just isn’t the room to accommodate speakers which will provide a proper full range of sound and clarity at higher volume levels.

Thin TV Poor Sound Quality
As TV’s for caravans and motorhomes get thinner and lighter sound quality is sacrificed.

Within your home the solution is simple, get a soundbar or base or go full in on a surround sound system. Now, I’m not going to even imply such a solution is appropriate for a caravan or motorhome. They are too big, bulky and heavy. So what options do you have to improve the sound quality of the small portable TV in your caravan or motorhome?

A Bluetooth Speaker?

Depending on how ‘down with the kids’ you are, you may be familiar with Bluetooth speakers which can be linked up to smartphones and tablets. While Bluetooth speakers are flexible pieces of kit they do require a certain level of knowledge and skill to setup. Furthermore, most 12V portable TV’s for caravan and motorhomes are not Bluetooth enabled. Therefore, I’m going to skip recommending Bluetooth speakers and go for a much simpler (and cheaper) option.

Bluetooth TV Speaker
A Bluetooth speaker such as the Anker SoundCore works great with a phone or tablet, however, there are better options for the TV in your caravan or motorhome.

Desktop PC Stereo Speakers

The easiest and cheapest way to improve the sound quality of small portable TV’s used in caravans and motorhomes is to connect up to some PC speakers. Practically all small portable TV’s have a headphone jack on the front or back. You can use this headphone jack to connect up to the PC speakers. Once connected simply turn up the manual volume on the speakers to maximum and then use the TV remote to control volume. Now no more poor quality sound will be coming out of those tiny TV speakers, all sound will be sent to the PC speakers. Simple!

PC TV Speakers
There are lots of PC speakers such as these Logitech Z200 with a headphone jack which you could use to dramatically improve the sound quality of the TV in your caravan or motorhome.

Through this method, you have dramatically improved the sound quality of your small portable 12V TV for your caravan or motorhome and taken up very little additional space. Now, the PC speakers will require power and most run off a three-pin plug. But what do you do if you want good quality sound from your 12V portable TV while ‘wild camping’, well I have another solution.

USB powered PC Speakers

So many TV’s for caravans and motorhomes today have USB ports on the back. Typically these are used so you can connect a memory stick to show pictures or videos. However, most of these USB connections provide sufficient power to run a pair of PC stereo speakers. I know because this its how I’ve been powering a pair of stereo speakers which sit behind my 22″ Samsung Smart TV. So if you want to enjoy good quality sound in your caravan or motorhome, get a TV that has a headphone jack and USB connection. You can then get a pair of USB powered USB speakers such as those below:

USB Caravan TV Speakers
I have a pair of this Logitech Z120 USB powered speakers behind by 22″ Samsung Smart TV and they dramatically increase the sound quality.

Conclusions on the Best TV Setups for Caravan and Motorhomes

I chose not to write this post around the best individual TVs for your caravan or motorhome as the products available are constantly changing. What I wanted to do was provide some tips on how to get the best viewing (and listening) experience from the small portable TV in your caravan or motorhome. Using a Chromecast/Fire TV Stick and 4G internet connection from a phone/MiFi device along with some additional PC speakers you can enjoy a good quality modern viewing experience in your caravan or motorhome.

I hope you found the above useful and you consider coming to visit us at some point in the future at Horton Common šŸ™‚

Chris - Site Manager

Hi, Iā€™m Chris, I along with my father Robert we operate and maintain Horton Common.

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