How to Watch Mobile TV in Your Car

Wireless television options

Whether you’re traveling in style in your tricked out motorhome, or crammed into the family minivan with the kids, nothing helps whittle 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.

watching tv in the car
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Live Streaming Television in a Car

Services like Sling TV, YouTube TV, and others aren't specifically designed for use in cars, but they do represent the easiest way to watch live television on the road. You need a cellular-data connection to use these services, and watching a lot of television on a mobile data connection can quickly eat through your monthly allotment.

Watching live streaming television in your car is as easy as signing up for a service like Sling TV, YouTube TV, PS Vue, Xfinity Stream, or DirecTV Now, and downloading the associated app for your phone or tablet. You can then watch on your mobile device, or even cast to a larger roof-mounted screen if you have one.

For services like Xfinity Stream and DirecTV Now, you'll gain access to the content you see on your home cable or satellite-TV subscription.

Local Broadcast Television in Your Car

To watch the same local broadcast television in your car that you watch at home, you'll need three basic components:

  1. Some type of video display
  2. A television tuner
  3. An antenna

With a mobile video system in your vehicle, watching live television in your car is actually pretty easy. You’re probably set as far as the display is concerned, so you just need to check if your existing screen supports additional inputs. If it doesn’t, you’ll need some type of external splitter or input selector. A lot of video head units support several inputs, though, as do roof- and headrest-mounted screens.

The tuner is the component that receives an over-the-air 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 include built-in antennas, which offer the easiest way to receive TV on the road. However, an external antenna typically pulls 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.

Just as with terrestrial radio, OTA TV signals offer limited range. Thus, for a long road trip, you may only grab these signals for as little as an hour, depending on the location of the station relative to your route.

Satellite Television in Your Car

The next option for watching 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.