Adam from Motorhome Wifi discusses your best options for keeping up with the soaps while away in your van
Watching TV is a popular pastime for Brits at home or abroad and while it’s not popular to admit it, on average each of us watches over 3 hours a day. TV broadcast schedules have been dictating the routine and lives of millions of households who love to gather around the goggle box at a set time to get their fix of the latest soap, drama, sporting event, blockbuster film or maybe just some B list celebrities trying to cook, dance or eat bugs in the jungle. This article show how Streaming TV in Your Motorhome will keep us watching.
Technology has frequently intervened to try and let us take back control, starting with VideoPlus back in the 1980’s whereby entering a special 6 digit code on your video recorder’s remote, it magically knew when to start and stop recording and on what channel. Then there was Sky+, a Personal Video Recorder (PVR) with a built-in hard drive that recorded and paused live TV and various similar PVR boxes released for use on terrestrial and Freeview channels.
In 2019, more than half of UK households now have their TV connected to the internet, with eight in ten adults having a smartphone which they are increasingly using to watch video. Around half of UK households now subscribe to at least one subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) service (such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Video) and UK adults watch on average, about half an hour of YouTube content per day.
This begs the question, how do you watch TV at home and how do you watch it in your Motorhome?
Most motorhomes are supplied new with a terrestrial TV aerial, the most popular type being a directional type you can raise and lower through the roof. The direction in which they are adjusted is either impossibly sensitive to the slightest movement or of no consequence, with little margin in-between. They can often be spotted raised to full potential at 60mph on an A-road after being omitted from the pre-flight checks, the occupants returning a cheery wave despite your best attempt at “your aerials still up mate’ charades as you pass.
However, nothing told your fellow campers you had really arrived like a fully automatic 85cm satellite dish, raising majestically from your roofline, until you had to move pitches due to a rogue tree. With some models costing more than a week’s package holiday to Greece for a family of four, these systems remained at the forefront of technology for over 10 years delivering up to 4 simultaneous channels and until recently, even the internet.
However, with 42% of adults now considering online video services to be their main way of watching TV and film, how is that changing and how does that affect how you watch TV in your Motorhome?
If you don’t have a Smart TV at home, the easiest way to make it Smart is with an Amazon Firestick. While various streaming devices exist, Amazon seems to be one of the most versatile and well-reviewed and can be purchased for around £30. They simply plug into a spare HDMI video input and take power from a 5v USB socket, usually on the TV but if not, from a suitable 12v socket or mains outlet. A wireless RF remote then allows you control the on-screen menus, although it will take you a while to get used to not having to point it at the screen to make it work.
Once connected to the internet, you can access the main terrestrial channels via their own stand-alone apps. BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4OD and Channel 5 can all be loaded or a third-party app such as ‘TV Player’ which can be used to give a more traditional Live TV experience allowing you to flick through channels.
If you feel like dipping your toe in the water on a subscription-based TV service, then both Netflix and Amazon Prime offer 30 day free trials that can be used through the Firestick. If you’re more into
content published on YouTube then YouTube’s app has returned to the Firestick after a brief feud between Google and Amazon earlier in the year.
So how does this viewing experience translate to your motorhome?
Well, firstly you need a Wi-Fi connection and that’s unlikely to be the one provided by the campsite as unfortunately, everyone else will be trying to do the same thing. Streaming TV does require a fair amount of data and a stable connection to be viable, which has become something of a challenge for campsite owners in rural locations to meet demand.
For that reason, a connection via 3/4G is the best source and your mobile phone could hold the key. Smartphones have the facility for you to create a personal ‘hotspot’ or WiFi network to share your data plan with other Wi=Fi-enabled devices, including the Firestick mentioned earlier.
You may find, however, that the places that you camp are also areas that tend to be flaky for mobile phone reception and so it may be that you need to consider some form of 4G system to install into your vehicle, to provide you with a reliable connection wherever you travel. The rooftop antenna makes a significant difference to the coverage footprint given by mobile operators and while blackspots do still exist, you will be surprised how rare these can be. What’s more, if you’re abroad, you can roam onto any network (except when using Three, who have ‘roaming partners’) meaning you’re less likely to be without a signal in Europe than you are at home.
Regardless of if you’re using your mobile phone or a 4G system, you’re going to need a suitable data SIM card. Unlimited data is now readily available from all networks, starting at £25 or less on a pre-paid (non contract) basis from ‘Smarty’ (smarty.co.uk) which is on the Three network. Smarty allows you to take out a data plan for 30 days and pause it for up to 6 months meaning you don’t have to pay for the months you don’t use. Both Vodafone and EE offer Unlimited SIM’s from £30 and Three from £20 on varying contract lengths.
What about use in Europe? If you’ve ever tried to use BBC iPlayer on campsite WiFi then you’ll know it won’t work because it ‘knows’ your abroad. Not so on a 3/4G connection on a UK SIM card, your traffic is routed through the UK and so all of your streaming applications work just like at home.
The biggest consideration when abroad is data use. Streaming TV uses roughly 500MB per hour in standard definition, let’s face it, after a glass of wine nobody can tell the difference on the TV in your motorhome. When starting a programme, it’s wise to check what the quality is set to maximise your data.
Each network imposes various limits on the amount of data you can use abroad. For EE it’s 15GB, Three 15GB PAYG and 19GB contract, Vodafone 25GB for its ‘Unlimited’ plans. Seemingly O2 doesn’t enforce any data limits, but is known to use traffic management policies to reduce the permissible speeds and are more likely than most to point out that you’ve been outside the UK for more than 2 months.
The most tried and tested SIM is the Vodafone 50GB Mobile Broadband SIM, all of which can be used abroad and enough for roughly 100 hours of TV a month with no reported instances of SIM’s being blocked due to time spent abroad. This is available on a 30-day contract for £30pm direct from Vodafone or when purchased with a 4G system we can discount it to £15pm on a 12 month contract and for a limited time, more than double the data to 110GB for the same price.
Sky customers can opt for a Sky Mobile SIM which gives ‘unlimited streaming’ – apparently even in Europe, the caveats being that you can only use Sky Go on a mobile device (not a TV) and any advert breaks eat into your data allowance of which 50MB must remain in order for you to stream. SkyGo itself can be used in Europe for up to 37 consecutive days, longer if via a UK IP address and/or a friend or family member can log in for you back home to reset the counter.
Getting into the mindset of paying monthly for something and potentially not fully benefitting from that on some months depending on the data plan selected is often the biggest hurdle. However, if you consider that the most popular Satellite System is around £2500 fitted vs £400 for a 4G system, you can buy more than 11.5 years’ worth of data at £15pm or almost 6 years at £30.
Payload is also a contributory factor, with the 4G Roof Antenna weighing just under 1KG compared to the general weight of a satellite system sitting at roughly 11KG – 15KG.
If you haven’t already joined the streaming revolution, think about picking up a Firestick on Black Friday or putting it on your Christmas list.
1 Source “https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0026/149075/ampere-analysis-current-status-future-development.pdf
2 Source* https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/160714/media-nations-2019-uk-report.pdf