3 TV Alternatives to Cable & Satellite for RVers

Why “cutting the cord” can be a great option.

Jon & Nadia Bajuelo Jon & Nadia Bajuelo  |  12.28.2018

For quite some time now, there has been a trend toward cutting the cord to traditional methods of watching TV. Luckily, you can cut the cord while traveling in your RV too.

There are many alternatives to cable and satellite TV in your RV. Options range from a simple HDTV travel antenna for free programming to multiple streaming services that can all be combined. These options can also prove to be more flexible and cost-effective for RV travelers.

Reasons to Cut the Cord

Cable and satellite TV in an RV can be entertaining and a nice perk while you’re camping. Unfortunately, you might experience some limitations.

Satellites need an unobstructed view of the sky. This makes it difficult to maintain service if you love to camp under trees (something we love to do in the Pacific Northwest and the South). Another thing to consider is that rain also wreaks havoc on satellite TV.

Satellite TV can also be an expensive option, due to the price of some channel packages and if you need to buy hardware. Local TV channels will also often be tied to your “home base”. If you want to receive the local programming in your RV’s location, you may actually have to call in an address change. But, some providers limit the number of times you can change your address.

As for cable, this can only be had if a campground has cable hook-ups and even then, some campgrounds may charge you for its use. And, if you like camping in state and national parks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any cable hookups there.

RV TV Alternatives

1. Travel HDTV Antenna

If you’re looking to save money, or are most interested in local TV programming, this might be a great option for you. For a relatively low cost, you can pick up an HDTV antenna designed for travel, like the Winegard Rayzar (either the Rayzar RV-RZ20 Micro TV Antenna or Rayzar RV-RZ85 Amplified TV Antenna).

The antenna allows you to pick up any free channels coming in over the air in the local area where your RV is parked. We’ve cut the cord and gone the HDTV antenna route before, and it’s easy to do in your RV. You can stick the antenna on any window. Because suction cups hold it in place, it can be taken down or adjusted easily at any time.

Some Winnebago models already have a King Jack HDTV antenna pre-installed. If that’s the case, you’re already set.

If you think you might miss watching movies, you can always find a local RedBox to rent movies from. The only box this option doesn’t check is cable network programming like ESPN or HGTV.

RV TV Alternatives - hdtv antenna

Travel HDTV antennas pick up programming. Your RV might already have a King Jack over-the-air antenna pre-installed.

2. Amazon Prime Video and/or Netflix

If you’re not a fan of making trips to RedBox, you might be interested in Amazon Prime. There are many streaming services to choose from, but if you’re already an Amazon Prime member, your Amazon Prime Video subscription is free.

We have personally used Netflix and Amazon Prime. At one point we had both, but we cut back to just Amazon Prime. In our case, we want to be sure to spend as much free time as possible outside. The cost savings is also a plus.

Not all streaming services are the same. Some have their own original shows. For example, the popular show Stranger Things is only available on Netflix, since it’s a Netflix original series. Some services allow you to download content for offline viewing while others don’t. Since Wi-Fi isn’t a guarantee as an RVer, that’s an attractive option.  (For more tips on off-line downloads, read this article by a fellow GoLife writer).

Some services allow multiple accounts and simultaneous streaming which might be of interest if you’re RVing with family. With Amazon Prime, we can stream on two devices. We’re in a Class C with just one TV, so we don’t generally use that feature.

3. Hulu & YouTube for Live TV

Some streaming services don’t offer Live TV or local programming. Live TV might be a must if you enjoy tailgating in your RV. If you’re a die-hard NBA or College Football fan you might want a bit more live TV than what an HD antenna can offer.

Luckily, more streaming services are beginning to offer live TV. Hulu, another popular streaming service, offers live TV for a higher monthly cost than its base package. In general, services or options with live TV are more expensive. If live TV isn’t a must, you can subscribe to a streaming service without it and use an HDTV antenna for local channels.

We’ve decided to give YouTube TV a try. YouTube TV makes live TV and local programming available to you. You can also watch national networks like HGTV and TNT. Movies are also included, but they do have ads.

Tips for Streaming

If you’re not going with satellite or cable TV, and you’re not interested in only having an HDTV antenna, then that means you’re likely going to go with a streaming service – like the ones mentioned above. A streaming service, regardless of whether it includes live TV, works by accessing the internet. In order for your TV to be able to stream, you must have a streaming player.

The streaming player we have is the Roku Streaming Stick. There is some free content from Roku. But, keep in mind, much of what you will see as “channels” may require an additional subscription. The Roku makes it possible to stream to your TV from any streaming service which is why you’ll see Hulu, for example, in the menu even if you don’t subscribe to their service.

RV TV Alternatives -Roku

To take advantage of streaming services, you’ll need a streaming player like Roku.

Last, you need an internet connection. The Roku and its competitors need to be connected to the internet for you to be able to stream to your TV. Streaming requires a lot of data, so you’ll want to make sure you have an unlimited data plan. We have a plan with Verizon and use our Verizon Mi-Fi hotspot when we stream.

Our set-up is very simple. We have our wall-mounted TV, plugged into its HDMI port is the very small Roku Streaming Stick. And we control everything with a small Roku remote control. (If you have an older TV in your RV, Roku does make one player that can connect to TVs without HDMI ports).

We hope these tips help you save some money while still enjoying your favorite TV entertainment!


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17 Comments

  1. Jane D. Posted on 06.15.2019

    Very good article! It did leave me confused in many ways, especially after reading everyone’s comments and alternative ways to do roughly the same thing–a simple thing–WATCH TV! I grew up with cartoons on a b/w tv and attended bluegrass festivals in my travel trailer listening to camp music until the wee hours of the mornings in the early 2000’s (before spine surgery and sepsis in 2011), so tv was nothing like it is now, especially capabilities of streaming and DVRs. I haven’t lost my mind YET … but I have retired after 30 years of federal service, sold my home (to my son), and bought a used Winnebago Adventurer to go where the roads take me and my five very small dogs. For now, we didn’t get far … we are camped outside my SON’s home and had a 30 amp plug/breaker installed at the garage so I could run the AC. My Beagle has prostate cancer and was given only a few months of non-painful living to do by the vet (that was 2 months ago), so we are staying at the only home he has ever known (age ap. 13 years) until the time comes to put him down.

    This new-to-me-and-my-furkids 2001 Class A 35′ home came with a hooked up Winegard, flatscreen tv, and dvd player already installed above the front seats. There are also owners manuals for EVERYTHING.

    Just one question … where do I begin? I have never used satellite TV. At a loss, except for hope. I do still have hope, ever since the rear hydraulic jacks got stuck out at ground level AND I WAS ABLE TO GET THEM UP MANUALLY ALL BY MYSELF after an unknown source popped up on my phone and asked what problem I was having with my RV. I figure I can do ANYTHING now

  2. Michael Yates Posted on 01.25.2019

    Nadia and Jon, great article. We use Youtube TV at home and it worked perfectly in our ERA. The thing we liked most about is we get all our regional channels while driving. For example we are Vikings and Gopher fans and our home base is in Minnesota. So even when we were another state where the local channels were not broadcasting our teams, we were still able to watch our sports live. Huge benefit for sports fans that want to support their home team even while traveling.

  3. laveta Posted on 01.25.2019

    For streaming you can use your Playstation or Xbox. The Xbox works great.

  4. Bonnie Posted on 01.13.2019

    A streaming player is not required. We use an Apple-to-HDMI adapter to “mirror” our apple devices to the TV. This is also an important factor if your cellular data plan has tethering limits vs “on device” data.

  5. LJ Posted on 01.13.2019

    We cut the cord at our home 3 years ago. We bought an OTA TIVO (DVR) that we take with us when we RV. We pre-record some of our favorite shows, then play them while RVing. We use Netflix, and Amazon Prime and OTA Antenna and do just fine. When staying long-term in an AZ rv park, we purchase Internet service from a local provider. We found it far cheaper, less frustrating, and more reliable than going to an unlimited cell plan or depending on park WiFi

    I have read where you can use Apps on phones and mirror them to a compatible TV without using as much data.

  6. Byron Bryant Posted on 01.12.2019

    Interesting, but I don’t think you made a compelling case to not use satellite TV.

  7. ANDREW STOY Posted on 01.12.2019

    I’m confused. Given that sreaming with a hotspot is cost prohibited, why wouldn’t satellite be the best option?

  8. JON NICHOLSON Posted on 01.12.2019

    For our home service we cut the cord 1 -1/2 years ago. We use Roku, streaming services and for OTA (Over The Air) antenna, use a Mohu Leaf antenna and a Tablo local streaming unit with a portable HD connected to DVR. Also use Prime, Netflix (family shared account), Sling TV and YouTube TV both of which have DVR services. Will never go back to cable or satellite. In our RV we have a Roku stick and hotspot off our Verizon unlimited plans when we can’t get OTA coverage. Have access to all our streaming services. Yes, we’re limited to 15GB, but we have 2 phones to hotspot with so really 30GB. Throttle back on the ROKU to a lower setting to consume less data. Also use downloaded programming.

  9. Dennis H Gregory Posted on 01.12.2019

    PS: You do not need a special antenna to watch off-air HD programming. HD programming uses the same channels/frequencies as old analog programming; nothing really changed except the “format” of the TV signal being broadcasted. Your old “batwing” antenna will work just fine. However, your TV set must be HD capable, or an analog-to-HD converter must be used between the antenna and the non-HD TV set.

  10. Jim Mason Posted on 01.12.2019

    You mention Verizon Mi-fi hotspot. We have a jetpack also, but I would think you would use all your data quickly with streaming.

  11. Lewis Edge Posted on 01.12.2019

    My wife and I both have so-called “unlimited” data plans with our Verizon Wireless phones and we also have a Verizon Mi-Fi device with a so-called “unlimited” data plan. However, if we use them to stream HD videos/movies from Netflix or Amazon we will burn up our “unlimited” data within a few days and then Verizon will throttle our speed. Once Verizon begins throttling our speed, it becomes virtually unusable for video streaming and is painfully slow for other purposes.

    Many campgrounds that provide Wi-Fi either have log-in procedures that thwart streaming devices and/or they have speed throttling if they detect that their guest(s) are streaming video. We are currently staying in a campground that allows unrestricted Wi-Fi, but when other campers begin putting heavy demands on their system, Internet speeds slow down to a crawl.

    During more than 16,000 miles of motorhome travels throughout the USA and Western Canada during the past two years, we have camped in only two campgrounds that offered HD cable TV. The rest offer only analog standard definition 640X480 channels or no cable TV at all.

    Our DISH-TV provides mostly HD channels and allows us to update our location for local channels with a smartphone app or with a toll-free phone call without limitations or extra cost. Our DVR allows us to record movies and programs that we have selected and then watch them at our convenience.

    We also have a roof-top HD TV antenna that can pull in the local channels whenever our satellite signal is blocked by trees, but commercial-free movies, which we prefer, are not available except on PBS. Until campgrounds improve their Wi-Fi infrastructure and wireless carriers offer truly “unlimited” data streaming, which may come with 5G, we have not found that streaming HD video in an RV is a practical option.

  12. Denis Posted on 01.12.2019

    Streaming this much data via a hotspot is expensive. If you travel in remote areas you may not have the cell signal needed for the hotspot. Getting a good tv signal by antenna while traveling is often iffy. The only downside to satellite is trees. Otherwise the service and value is good. Traveling coast to coast especially out west I recommend satellite.

  13. Randy Caswell Posted on 01.12.2019

    Verizon’s “Unlimited Plan” is not! Read the fine print. Once you use the monthly allotted 15GB, which you will do in just a couple of days of streaming, your download speed is cut by 98%. At the new downgraded speed you can read e-mail, but you won’t be streaming anything unless you wait for it to reset next month or cough up a chunk of money for more data.

  14. Guido Bauer Posted on 01.12.2019

    We cut the cord and couldn’t be happier. DirectTV Now allows you to stream on virtually any device and Netflix, YouTube & Amazon do the rest. Tape any show you’d like on DirectTV Now. Cost reduction: 70%!

  15. Drew Mueller Posted on 01.12.2019

    The old Winegard crank up recieves digital reception well. Most earlier rv’s built before ’09 or so have these. We get hd channels very well with it. If you’re going to stream on local wifi you’ll use bandwidth…sometimes at the expense of other guests in the park. Many resorts still have not upgraded their systems and can’t support multiple users streaming. It can slow down a park’s wifi so some people wouldn’t even be able to check e-mail.

  16. Scott & Jaime Sichler Posted on 12.30.2018

    Good suggestions here. We use Jaime’s iPhone connected to HDMI to our TV for streaming and for viewing downloaded shows and movies offline. Most of the apps like Amazon and Netflix will allow you to download content which is great when you have good wifi or cell signal to grab a bunch of episodes to view later when you don’t.

  17. Ray Hartman Posted on 12.29.2018

    We want to cut the cord from DirecTV but just cant seem to find the courage. Our concern is the DVR, which we depend on so much. Is there a streaming service that has this feature. It is just so simple to click on a series and see the episode list, we delete the ones watched and only have those not seen yet.