HDTV Satellite Television Systems for Yachts
The charter or voyage has been perfect so far. The international waters have been warm and calm, and the scenery has been spectacular. The sun is starting to set at anchor, and after a shower and a delicious dinner, it’s time to watch the big game on television. You’re swinging on the hook in a remote bay, a cold drink in your hand, thousands of miles from home, as the large flatscreen TV in the main salon flashes to life. There in front of you, the game begins in glorious high definition. How is this possible?
Satellite television systems for yachts have come a long way in just a few years, and there are now systems that can handle any satellite service anywhere in the world. The ease of operation of these systems and the flexibility they have in adapting to worldwide coverage is developing rapidly. The technology behind them is state of the art, and competition between satellite antenna companies is fierce. What this all means to the yachtsman is an unparalleled TV viewing experience with greater ease and simplicity, no matter where you venture.
Up until recently, there have been many restrictions and technical issues related to having a trouble-free viewing experience at sea. The difficulty of a stabilized antenna being able to stay locked on to TV satellites while in motion and provide a quality picture on TV screens was complicated by technological and physical restraints. To get reception in different regions, you needed a large dish, which had limits to its movements and required multiple interchangeable parts if you traveled out of range of one satellite system and into another. Those issues, along with others, are disappearing with developments in technology producing new and improved satellite dome systems.
One of the most important things to consider in deciding which antenna is right for you is the range of satellite coverage that you plan to use. If your yacht remains in one part of the world, with little change in latitude or longitude, and one satellite provider is all you need, then your system can be a lot simpler, smaller and less expensive. Larger dishes usually give you more range and less rain fade, but if the area of travel is limited, a smaller dish with a simple low noise break (LNB) setup would work well. It’s when you will be traveling between satellite system coverage areas and in more extreme locations that things get more complicated and the cost and required technology increases.
There are many satellite providers worldwide, and they use different technology to get their satellite programming to you. Providers in the Americas use circular polarized signals and linear polarized signals that are found elsewhere in the world. The different types of signals are sent down to your dish, which collects the signal and reflects and directs it to one or a series of LNBs mounted in front of the dish.
It used to be that each of these LNBs was specific to the satellite provider and the type of signal they were sending down. As you traveled to a different region of the world, the LNB would have to be physically swapped out for one that would work in the new area. The satellite dome software would in turn have to be reprogrammed to work with the new system. This could prove to be quite a cumbersome problem. Add to this the need to change the receiver boxes at each of the TV sets and you had quite a procedure each time the vessel moved to a different satellite provider’s region. A knowledgeable crew could make the changes, but the need to call in qualified technicians was often the case. Added to the mix was the fact that HDTV required yet another set of LNBs and until recently wasn’t readily available in many parts of the world. This meant all those wonderful, large-screen HDTVs were being used with no HD programming.
All those problems are a thing of the past with new offerings from major players in the satellite dome business. New products hitting the market now allow for a single LNB unit to receive any satellite signal without physically having to swap LNBs within the dome. All that is needed is to do a simple switch to the applicable system through a smart switcher box that can even be controlled through an iPad app.
Ryan Smith of KVH Industries points to the new TracVision HD11 as “a truly global system where you never have to touch the LNB.” This new dome is an expansion on the technology from KVH’s smaller HDS7 dome, which has full HD capability as well as a specialized “a tri-Americas LNB” that allows you to go from North to South America without having to touch the antenna. The technology from the HDS7 was expanded along with the dome size to give it true worldwide capability. The larger dish allows for use in more extreme latitudes and longitudes, and the single LNB can be programmed for worldwide reception. The new HD11 is available with a smart switch service and system selector box that allows for simple switching between service provider set boxes without the need for complicated switchers or rewiring, and it even allows for automatic switching between two domes if one loses signal temporarily. KVH even has remote diagnostic services for the HD11, as long as there is Internet access. This means service, if required, can be diagnosed and possibly repaired (or software updated) online. If a technician does need to go out on a service call, he or she will know exactly what needs to be done prior to leaving the shop. No more multiple trips for a repair.
Intellian, another major manufacturer of satellite TV domes, has its own version of the new wide-range HDTV domes. Its t110w Satellite Antenna is a worldwide capable antenna that does not need hardware changes when moving into different coverage regions. The dome boasts excellent reception even when near the equator or in polar regions. The t110w is capable of tracking from -15 degrees to 120 degrees. Sean Hatherley of Intellian also explains that another attribute of the t110w is the ability to receive the new broadcast standard (DVB-S2) that many HD service providers are moving to.
Vincent Valldeperas of Cobham points to the robust attributes of Sea Tel’s offerings, including a different take on the worldwide antenna with a new one employing Sea Band on one side of the antenna and KU one-meter reflector on the other side, literally piggybacked on one another, where the antenna is internally flipped around with some simple programming. He says this antenna should be available by time this article is published.
All of these manufacturers are producing and developing products that are inevitably making satellite TV more accessible and enjoyable for those on the water and those traveling worldwide. The issues of the past are being addressed, and now you can fully enjoy a cocktail while watching the game, hassle free, in glorious high definition.
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in West Central Florida. A second-generation professional photographer and journalist, he specializes in marine photography and writing. He can be reached at www.hayesstudios.com.