Whilst many of us like to get away in our campervans, a bit of TV does no harm whether its keeping up with the news, keeping the kids occupied or helping while away dark winter evenings. But what are the options for receiving/watching TV in your campervan when you’re out and about?
Options to watch TV in your Campervan?
To watch TV you need both a means to receive a TV broadcast signal and a device on which to watch it.
Three main options for receiving TV signals are:-
- Internet Live Streaming – you can watch TV directly via your mobile or a mifi type mobile internet device using apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub etc. Freeview also have their own streaming app. You will need a mobile (or wifi) signal where you are and bear in mind that if using a mobile connection for streaming you will use plenty of mobile data from your allowance, so can be expensive depending on your mobile tariff.
- Satellite – typically seen on larger motorhomes, satellite systems have the advantage of being able to pick up a signal almost anywhere. You’ll need either a roof-mounted satellite dish or a stand-alone version and auto-tracking capability can ensure its always pointed at the right point in the sky. But they are expensive to purchase and normally require subscripton to a satellite TV service (some free channels). For most people they are likely overkill on a campervan unless you are seriously into your TV!
- Use a DVB/TV receiver – a DVB (Digital Video Broadcast) receiver and aerial will pick up a digital TV (Freeview) signal in the same way as you’d watch terrestrial TV at home. You’ll need to be in an area with TV signal reception but as you’re not using the mobile phone network its free to use and with no subscription.
Device options on which to watch TV include:-
- LCD TV – you can install a TV in your campervan, though more common in larger vans or motorhomes. You’ll need to consider screen size, mounting brackets and power. 12 volt TV’s are more suited to running off your leisure batteries and are available from manufacturers such AVTEX and Cello (Aldi and Lidl also offer 12v TV’s from time to time). Most TV’s have their own DVB Freeview receiver, so you just need an external aerial, or alternatively you could connect to a satellite system.
- iPad/tablet/phone – for more casual watching an iPad/tablet, with screen sizes between 7″ and 13″, makes an acceptable TV and all-round media device that can be handheld, propped up on a table or secured in a holder. You’ll need to stream TV or use an August T405 device which is a Freeview TV receiver that re-transmits the TV signal to an Apple or Android tablet or phone.
- Laptop – many van-dwellers are happy to watch a bit of TV or a movie on their laptop. Convenient for you lap or a table, and with screen sizes from 11″ to 17″, you can either stream via the internet or a connect a USB TV receiver.
- Projector – if you’re really into your TV or movies then a projector may be the way to go for a more cinematic experience. I’ve seen some impressive set-ups in smaller vans though you’ll need a large(ish) flat screen or surface on which to project the picture – it could be a white wall or a curtain/cloth. There are a number of mini-projectors available (like this Picopix or Nebula Capule) though brightness can be an issue on cheaper units – you may need to spend more ££’s for a projector suitable for daylight watching.
|12v TV||Apple/Android TV Receiver||USB TV Receiver||Mini Projector|
|Not the cheapest but Avtex regarded as best quality 12v TV||TV receiver that sends TV to your iPad, tablet or phone||The easy way to add Freeview TV to your laptop||For big screen entertainment a mini-projector is the way to go. This one gets 5* reviews|
Your choices will also dictate how you transmit/transfer the TV signal from the receiver unit to whatever device you wish to watch TV on – with both wired or wireless options.
The table below shows options depending on different combinations of a) receiving device and b) watching device:-
|Satellite receiver||Internet Stream (mobile/wifi)||Freeview DVB receiver|
|TV||Aerial or HDMI connection||HDMI cable to mobile/tablet||Built-in receiverCo-axial aerial lead|
|iPad/tablet/phone||–||Via app (need mobile or wifi connection)||Wireless DVB receiver – e.g. August DVB-T405 receiver|
|Laptop||USB TV receiver (connect via coaxial aerial lead from satellite receiver)||Via – via web (need mobile or wifi connection)||USB DVB receiver – e.g. August USB TV receiver|
|Projector||HDMI cable||HDMI adaptor/cable||HDMI cable|
Our chosen option – August DVB-T405 Receiver
Whilst Westfalia offer a TV bracket option for our Columbus van we didn’t want a fixed install. We just wanted the option to watch the odd bit of TV and were happy to use our iPad tablet (10″ display) as a screen. I just needed to find a way to receive Freeview TV signals and get them to onto my iPad.
Researching, I came across the August DVB-T405 – a small digital (Freeview) TV receiver to which connects to your phone/iPad/Tablet via its own local wifi connection.
The small match-box sized device has a wired connection to an external mag-mount aerial (which I pop on the roof through the sky-light) and creates its own local wifi network to re-broadcast the TV signal to you tablet or mobile, where you select/watch a channel using the accompanying SianoTV app.
It’s naturally limited to areas where you can pick up a TV signal (which is most of the UK) but importantly its completely free to use as it’s not using the mobile phone/data network. In a good reception area a channel search will yield almost 100 TV and radio channels. We even used it in Europe to pick up local TV channels – I manage to watch a few World Cup matches while on our Europe travels in 2018.
August DVB-T405 Features:
- Wireless Freeview Transmitter – turn your Smartphone, iPhone, Tablet or iPad into a mobile TV
- Free to watch – No mobile data, internet connection or subscription required.
- HD Recorder – Record and Play back TV programmes.
- Portable Aerial and Adapter included – Connect to any rooftop, indoor or portable antenna.
- Ultra compact design
- USB powered with internal battery
How to watch TV with the August DVB-405?
- Connect the aerial – I use the mag-mount aerial and open a roof sky-light to pop it on the roof after we’ve parked up.
- Turn on the August TV receiver, wait a few seconds and then on your phone/tablet you should see a new wifi connection called ‘Merion’. Connect to that and then open the Siano TV app.
- Go to Settings in the app and select ‘Scan’ to pick up any TV signals/programmes in your location.
- Then go to Live TV option and select your channel to watch
- Sit back and relax – you can even pause/rewind live TV.
Do I need a TV licence to watch TV in my campervan?
The short answer if no, not if if you have a TV Licence at home. Rules do differ if it’s a static caravan or if you’re a full-timer van-lifer, though in practice it’s difficult to see how it can be checked or enforced. Do your own research.
In an ever more connected world there are plenty of options available for watching TV in your van, whatever your preferences and budget.
We find the August DVB-T405 unit convenient for ad-hoc/casual TV given we’re happy to watch on an iPad tablet (which we also use for navigation), giving us the convenience of watching anywhere in the van, whether at the table or lounging in bed.