satellite dome

Satellite Dome or Satellite Dish?

A Guide to Satellite Domes and Satellite Dishes

There are a few ways to receive a satellite reception whilst away in your caravan, motorhome or tent, each with their own ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. This guide should help simplify the process in choosing one as at first glance they all seem to do the same thing but with varying price tags.

Selfsat Snipe 2 Fully Auto Satellite Antenna
Small and portable, can be fixed permanently or temporarily, built in GPS to detect where you are to auto skew to receive the best signal, 9 of the most common satellites are programmed in, 1 output only.

Last update on 2021-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Dome or Dish?

One of the main deciding factors in whether you go for a satellite dome (sometimes referred to as a sat-dome) or satellite dish is down to where you plan to travel to. The reason being that the most common satellite transmitting English TV programs is Astra 2, this satellite projects its signal over the UK and the majority of Europe. The further you travel to the edge of its transmission “footprint” the signal strength will get weaker.

So if you plan on going to say Spain you would need a larger Satellite dish to allow you the best possibility of still receiving the Astra signals as a dish has a larger receiving area compared to a dome.

If you are staying in the UK a satellite dome would be sufficient in most cases to receive Astra 2.

There are many other satellite signals that you can receive when abroad but they do not show many English speaking channels, the Astra satellites (Astra 1, Astra 2, Astra 3, Hotbird) show all the Free-to-air channels like BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc..

Satellite DomeSatellite DishCamping Dish
For CaravansYesYesYes
For MotorhomesYesYesYes
For TentsNoNoYes
Automatic setupYesSomeNo
Weight4kg to 13kg10kg to 17kg6kg to 7kg
Height (retracted)32cm to 36cm17cm to 20cmN/A
Caravan Accessories

Satellite Domes

Satellite Domes or Sat-Domes as they are sometimes called are basically a small satellite dish housed in a thin plastic dome. The dish inside can rotate 360 degrees and elevate up and down to find the signal from the transmitting satellite in space.

The actual dish size is up to about 35cm in width and 20cm tall, this is enough to receive most signals in the UK and Northern France.

They are usually a permanent fixture to the roof of your caravan or motorhome (although the Maxview VuQube 2 can be dismounted) and are “automatic” in finding the satellite you select from its control box. They require a 12 volt supply to operate and once locked on to a signal the power supply can be turned off as its done its job in locating the satellite, so no drained batteries if you are wild camping.

These smaller satellite domes are becoming popular due to being able to remove them when your van is in storage.

Maxview MXL023 VUQube 2 Fully Automatic Portable/Roof Mount Caravan Motorhome Satellite Dish with Twin LNB - White
  • The VuQube 2 is a fully enclosed automatic satellite system...
  • Twin LNB as Standard. For use with PVR’s, SKY+ or 2 receivers...
  • Includes Velcro to mount control box conveniently inside a...

Last update on 2021-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Satellite domes seem to be favoured over dishes on caravans as they are about half the weight of a dish, with the weight being up high, the less the better for towing.

Being totally enclosed is a big bonus too, it is totally protected from the elements so no rain,leaves, twigs and general road debris getting caught in its mechanism. The dome also means it can be used when its windy unlike a dish which will need to be closed, this is obviously a common scenario in the UK.

If fitted on a motorhome some manufactures offer in-motion tracking, this allows the dome to be used whilst in transit. It will track the satellite and allow your passengers to watch tv!

What’s inside of a Satellite Dome?

astra 2 Satfi
This displays the Satfi Domes catchment areas for the Astra 2 satellite. Depending on what model dome is used. Credit: Satfi.co.uk

Satellite Dome Pro's and Con's

Pro’s

  • Lighter than dish
  • Totally enclosed and maintenance free
  • Can be used when windy
  • Fully automatic, no setting up, just select which satellite you want it to point at and off it goes.

Con’s

  • The main one being that reception is never going to be as good as a fully fledged dish. So if you are on site and pitched in front of trees there is a chance that it will not receive a decent picture, it would be glitchy or may never find the satellite in the first place. This is due to the smaller “dish” inside just not having the larger footprint to capture the signal.
  • They make a van taller, if you have one that is tall it can put you over the limit on a ferry, meaning you will have to pay more. Just something to bare in mind. With it standing out it also means that they do get damaged by trees etc as the dome is very thin plastic. It obviously has to be to allow the dome to work but as they are around £150 to replace its not something you want to replace very often.

Satellite Dishes

Satellite dishes tend to come in 65cm or 85cm diameter varieties. The bigger they are the more chance they have of receiving the signals from satellites. For this reason it is the  “must have” when travelling in Europe if you still want to watch English Tv.

There are a few variations with in the term satellite dish as you can get a “manual crank-up”, “full automatic” or a “camping satellite dish”.

Manual "crank-up" satellite dishes

These dishes need to be fitted to the roof of a caravan or motorhome and as the name suggest have to be manually adjusted (from inside the van) to find the desired satellite to receive the signals. 

They come with a compass and map to allow you to work out the adjustments required to wind up the dish. The angle of the dish is set in degrees and varies depending on where you are in the world.

The “crank-up” dishes are obviously cheaper and work well as long as you don’t mind a bit of tinkering every time you set up camp. If this doesn’t sound enjoyable then an automatic dish is what you’ll want.

 

Maxview B2590/85 Crank Up Roof Mounted 85cm Satellite Dish System, White
  • Signal coverage greater than Dome Satellite Systems
  • Twin LNB as Standard. For use with PVR’s, SKY+ or 2 receivers...
  • Enhanced gearbox design for increased positional accuracy and...

Last update on 2021-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Fully Automatic Satellite Dish

Fully automatic dishes again require fitting to the roof of your caravan or motorhome and will actively seek out the satellite of your choice at the touch of a button.

They have a control box that is connected to the dish which is fitted in your van and from this you control which satellite you connect to. Its clever stuff and quite a few now do “remote” displays so you can play with it whilst sitting in comfort. 

They require a 12v supply to power them, this is done by supplying 12volt to the control box and from here the “co-ax” cables connected to the dish are used as power cables as well as being used as signal wires.

If gadgets are your thing then watching a dish rise up and do its thing is pretty cool!

Maxview are well known for their satellite dishes, this 65cm auto search dish with twin LNB is recommended for good signal strength in the UK

Maxview Target 65cm MXL017 Twin LNB Automatic Mounted Satellite Dish
  • 5 pre-programmed satellites as standard (ASTRA 1, 2, 3, Hot bird...
  • Low stream line profile, only 17cm in park position
  • Easy to use wired control box

Last update on 2021-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Camping Satellite Dish

Camping satellite dishes are very similar to manual “crank-up” dishes for caravans and motorhomes. They sit on a tripod and have to be manually dialled in to receive the satellite of your choice again with a map and compass to help with alignment.

There is a bit of assembly required to get it ready and there is the extra issue of transporting/storing it. 

Once it is setup and adjusted it works exactly like any other dish and the lower price is tempting. Maxview Precision 55cm Satellite system.

Satellite Dish Pro's & Con's

Pro’s

  • Excellent reception, the fully automatic dishes are even clever enough to bounce the signal off a building to get the best reception!
  • Similar to above really but worth mentioning that you will be able to receive all sorts of satellite signals with a 85cm dish that the others just don’t “see”.
  • Lower profile than a dome when folded down
  • Camping satellite dishes are a lot cheaper.

Con’s

  • Unable to be used when windy
  • Heavier than domes
  • Manual dishes require setting up every time you move.
  • A camping satellite dish will need to chained up or brought in every night just so it doesn’t go walkies!

The most reputable brands of satellite dishes are Maxview, Oyster and Teleco. All of them do various size dish diameters and varying levels of technology inside them. Receiving satellite internet is one of the latest trends. Outdoorbits.com have an excellent site with all the big brands and everything needed if you are thinking of DIY fitting one. 

Satellite technical terms

There are a few technical terms used when you start to look at satellite domes and dishes, here are the most common ones and what they mean.

LNB’s – “low-noise block downconverter”. These devices are part of the satellite dish and collect the signals to convert them into a format that a sat-tuner can display. You may see a device list it as having a “single” or “twin” LNB, this simply means a single output from the dish/dome or two outputs.

If you are going to use a Sky+ box and wish to record whilst watching another channel then you will require a twin LNB as two separate feeds are required to this. Alternatively you could supply two different sat-tuners at the same time from one satellite dish/dome.

A single LNB is a standard single output to a sat-tuner (like a Sky box or to a TV with satellite tuner built in).

Auto-Skew – This is a feature that rotates the  LNB to account for the curvature of the Earth. If you are travelling to the edge of your selected satellite viewing “footprint” it will help maintain a signal for longer. This is used mainly if touring in Europe and want to view the Astra 2 satellite.

In-motion Tracking – A feature found on more premium satellite domes, it allows the dome to be used whilst travelling as it tracks the selected satellite as you move. This allows motorhome passengers to be able to watch TV on the move!

Sky Q compatible – The latest Sky Q satellite receivers work in a slightly different way to standard sat-tuners and require a satellite dish/dome with a different LNB for it to work.  So if you plan on using Sky Q make sure its compatible with your dish first.

Other Questions...

Are there Satellite Domes and Dishes Specific to Caravans or Motorhomes? – No, there is no “caravan satellite dish” or “motorhome satellite dome”, they can all be fitted to either. 

Can a satellite dome or dish be DIY fitted? – Yes absolutely. As long as you are competent with tools and have a basic understanding of 12volt then it shouldn’t be a problem.

The trickiest part is finding a 12 volt feed when the engine is running to send a satellite dish down as a safety feature.

What channels will i receive from Astra 2E? – All the standard channels in the UK that free to air such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4 etc. Here is a comprehensive list of all available.

There is also Astra 2F and Astra 2G.

Astra 2F tends to be Sky and BT orientated so you would require a subscription to view.

Astra 2G is similar to Astra 2E.

 

I hope that this article has helped in understanding the basics of Satellite TV for your caravan or motorhome, if it did you may like A Guide to Wifi for Caravans and Motorhomes or our Best Caravan Aerial article also on CaravanMotorhome.org

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Disclaimer 

     Please note these are the words and opinion of the author only. Neither the author nor the website can be held responsible for any errors or omissions. You should seek professional assistance if in doubt.