How to Watch Mobile TV in Your Car

Wireless Television Options

watching tv in the car
Don Mason / Blend Images / Getty

Whether you’re traveling in style in your tricked out motorhome, or crammed into the family minivan with the kids, nothing helps while away those endless miles of road like some multimedia entertainment. And while music and DVDs, or BluRays if you’re so inclined, are great, mobile TV can add some much needed variety to the mix.

Taking your TV on the road isn’t quite so simple as just strapping an aerial to the roof and plugging any old set into an inverter, but it’s not far off.

In fact, there are a number of different options that you can explore, some of which are incredibly easy to implement.

The Path of Least Resistance

In order to watch mobile TV on the road, the basic components that you’re going to need include a:

  • display
  • tuner
  • antenna or satellite receiver

If you have an existing mobile video system in your vehicle, then you’re probably set as far as the display is concerned. You’ll just want to check if your existing screen has multiple inputs. If it doesn’t, you’ll need some type of external splitter or input selector. A lot of video head units have multiple inputs, though, as do roof- and headrest-mounted screens.

The tuner is the component that receives an over the air (OTA) signal and converts it into something that your screen can display. In the United States, you’ll need an ATSC tuner that’s capable of receiving digital, high definition broadcasts.

Some tuners have built-in antennas, which is the easiest way to receive wireless TV on the road.

However, an external antenna will typically be able to pull in weaker signals. If you’re in an area that isn’t close to any broadcast antennas, a good, omnidirectional, external antenna is a must. However, there are a lot of places where you won’t be able to receive any OTA signals at all.

Satellite Television in Your Car

The other main option for wireless TV in your car is a satellite receiver.

This option provides you all of the same channels you can get from a satellite subscription at home, and you don't have to worry about driving outside the range of a local broadcast television station.

The drawback of satellite television in your car is that you need a special satellite dish, and they aren't cheap. These special dishes were initially available in a large dome-shaped configuration that was really only suitable for RVs, but that is no longer the case.

In addition to the dome-shaped dishes that have been available for a long time, you can now get a mobile satellite dish in a flat configuration that can be mounted to the roof of virtually any vehicle. These flat satellite dishes cost thousands of dollars though, which is a pretty hefty investment just to watch TV in your car.

If you want to watch mobile TV on long road trips that will take you well outside major metropolitan areas, a satellite receiver may be what you're looking for, but price-conscious drivers may prefer to look at other options.

Other Mobile Television Options

In addition to OTA and satellite broadcasts, there are a few other ways to watch television on the road. They all rely on an Internet connection, so you’ll need some type of Wi-Fi hotspot to take advantage of them.

This hotspot can take the form of a dedicated device, a phone that can share its Internet connection, or a laptop that is capable of doing the same.

Some of the most common Internet-based mobile TV options include:

  • Internet TV
  • Slingbox
  • Home DVR

There are a few standalone products that provide access to television broadcasts that are available via the Internet. The available channels differ from one product to another, and some of these devices have to be plugged into a computer. In that case, you can connect the device to your laptop and then use the laptop as a video source. If you're using a laptop as a video source, you may be able to access wireless cable TV through your provider's website.

Slingbox is another product that can provide you with access to wireless cable TV. When you set this device up in your house, you connect it to your cable or satellite television. It then provides you with the ability to watch live television via the Internet.

Time-shifted Television and Other Video Sources

In the same way that a Slingbox can allow you to watch live television anywhere you have an Internet connection, some cable and satellite companies allow you to watch shows that you have stored on your DVR. This service isn’t available from every provider, and it typically won’t allow you to watch live television.

Other sources of non-live television include sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Youtube. If you set up an Internet-connected laptop as a video source, sites like these can provide you with hours of mobile TV entertainment on the road.

Ongoing Mobile TV Developments

Tablets and cellular phones are both good sources for Internet TV and locally stored video content, but there have also been multiple attempts to serve live television to mobile devices. MedaFLO was an early attempt by Qualcomm, which served up 16 channels to mobile devices, until it folded in 2011.

Another service that required a dongle and an app, MyDTV, was launched in in 2013 across limited markets, and for limited stations, like KOMO TV in Seattle

Dyle was another service designed to deliver live television to properly equipped mobile devices, or to any mobile device via a receiver unit. It launched with varying support in about a dozen markets, but support for Dyle devices ended in 2015.