Elec­tron­ics

There are more op­tions than ever to binge-watch your fa­vorite se­ries or catch the big game from any­where your boat can take you.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - By Ben Stein

The way peo­ple are con­sum­ing TV has been chang­ing rapidly. Learn the best way to stream your fa­vorite show aboard.

Some peo­ple re­gard their boat as an es­cape from the rest of the world—TV in­cluded. I fre­quently feel this way. Still, for those who like to bring the comforts of home with them on the wa­ter, I field a lot of ques­tions about the best way to get TV ac­cess on board. The first step should be an hon­est as­sess­ment of how you use your boat, how much TV you watch and how im­por­tant it is to have ac­cess on the boat—oth­er­wise known as how much you’re will­ing to spend. The tra­di­tional op­tions were al­ready more com­pli­cated on a boat, es­pe­cially a cruis­ing boat, and now there’s the added choice of stream­ing TV over the in­ter­net. At­tempt­ing to eval­u­ate all the choices can make your head spin.

There are four op­tions avail­able on board: broad­cast, satel­lite, cable and stream­ing ser­vices. All but stream­ing re­quire spe­cific hard­ware, and re­li­a­bil­ity de­pends on a num­ber of fac­tors.

Broad­cast

If your boat pri­mar­ily stays in a sin­gle area and you’re in­ter­ested in watch­ing pro­grams on the ma­jor net­works or lo­cal channels, broad­cast TV makes sense. Re­cep­tion will vary de­pend­ing on your lo­ca­tion and your choice of an­tenna, but these days all over-the-air broad­casts are in HD.

If you’re in­ter­ested in record­ing broad­casts you’ll need a DVR de­vice like a TiVo Roamio or Tablo DVR, or you can run soft­ware like Plex, Emby or Sil­i­con Dust DVR. The lat­ter op­tions use over-theair tuners like Sil­i­con Dust’s HDHomeRun line of tuners to record avail­able pro­gram­ming.

Record­ings are then avail­able on a wide range of de­vices in­clud­ing PCs, tablets, phones, Roku, FireTV, Ap­pleTV and many smart TVs. When these pack­ages work they’re a great op­tion; I’ve found re­li­a­bil­ity to be a chal­lenge in my time us­ing them. How­ever, broad­cast TV com­ple­mented with stream­ing ser­vices can be among the most cost-ef­fec­tive op­tions.

Satel­lite

For many, satel­lite TV is the ul­ti­mate way to re­ceive tele­vi­sion on the wa­ter. Sta­bi­lized satel­lite dishes are ca­pa­ble of re­ceiv­ing sig­nals any­where within a provider’s broad­cast foot­print while un­der­way, at a dock or at an­chor. Satel­lite TV ser­vices re­quire a sub­scrip­tion with a provider like Dish Net­work or DirecTV.

There are two ba­sic bands satel­lite providers use, Ku and Ka. Orig­i­nally all the providers used Ku and all the sta­bi­lized in-mo­tion dishes were built for this band. As part of the move to HD, DirecTV mi­grated nearly all of its pro­gram­ming to Ka. The Ka band presents a smaller tar­get in space and re­quires much higher pre­ci­sion (read: more ex­pen­sive) in the sta­bi­liza­tion and track­ing sys­tems within the dish. The two least ex­pen­sive op­tions for re­ceiv­ing Ka are the KVH TracVi­sion HD-7 with a sug­gested re­tail of $12,995 and the In­tel­lian S6HD with a sug­gested re­tail of $9,995. Ku dishes start with In­tel­lian’s i2 or KVH’s TracVi­sion TV1, both of which list for $2,695. All satel­lite providers of­fer re­ceivers with DVRs built in, so you have the op­tion to record con­tent.

Cable

Cable TV is lim­ited to when you’re dock­side be­cause, well, there’s a cable con­nected to your boat. Cable is the eas­i­est way for mari­nas to de­liver TV to its guests but, be­cause it only works dock­side, it’s also the least flex­i­ble. If you’re out for the day or trav­el­ing away from your

home ma­rina you won’t have any TV. Most mari­nas don’t dis­trib­ute cable boxes so you’re lim­ited to un­en­crypted channels. Fre­quently this also means pro­gram­ming is lim­ited to stan­dard def­i­ni­tion. If a cable box is pro­vided, you may be able to get one with DVR; you could then record pro­gram­ming at the dock to en­joy at a later time once you’ve tossed off the lines.

Stream­ing Ser­vices

Cord cut­ting—can­cel­ing tra­di­tional tele­vi­sion and re­ly­ing on stream­ing ser­vices—can be just as prac­ti­cal on an in­ter­net-equipped boat as it is at home. This in­cludes pro­gram­ming from Net­flix, Hulu and Ama­zon Prime as well as live-TV stream­ing from ser­vices like Sling TV, DirecTV Now and a hand­ful of oth­ers.

I’ve found the orig­i­nal con­tent ser­vices like Ama­zon Prime, Hulu and Net­flix work quite well; how­ever, the live stream­ing TV of­fer­ings (such as YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV, PlaySta­tion Vue) have proved far less re­li­able. Be­tween the var­i­ous com­pat­i­bil­ity is­sues, bugs and re­li­a­bil­ity chal­lenges I en­coun­tered, none of the ser­vices proved ready for reg­u­lar ser­vice. I’m con­fi­dent many of these glitches will be re­solved, and I be­lieve In­ter­net Pro­to­col (IP) de­liv­ery is the fu­ture of TV. I’m just not sure that fu­ture is here yet.

In ad­di­tion to the ser­vices men­tioned above, many in­di­vid­ual net­works have stream­ing op­tions avail­able via down­load­able app. So if you sub­scribe to cable or satel­lite at home, there’s an ex­cel­lent chance you have ac­cess to their con­tent via your smart­phone. The stream­ing ser­vices of­fer a mix of cloud-based DVR func­tion­al­ity and on­de­mand pro­gram­ming.

Stream­ing’s big­gest down­fall is it re­quires a ro­bust in­ter­net con­nec­tion. I’ve found that if I can man­age about 5 megabits per sec­ond I can pretty re­li­ably stream any­thing. But, if you’re out of in­ter­net cov­er­age you will also be with­out TV.

For stream­ing on the boat I use Ama­zon Fire TV sticks. At $39.95 they’re cheap enough to put one in each TV, are a breeze to set up and have Alexa built in for voice launch and con­tent con­trol. There are also many other op­tions, in­clud­ing Ap­ple TV, Roku, smart TVs and a myr­iad of other de­vices.

Mak­ing the De­ci­sion

De­cid­ing on the best way to re­ceive TV is largely a fac­tor of how you ex­pect to use it and your bud­get. I live on my boat much of the year and have young chil­dren. Once they go to bed my wife and I re­tire to the the salon and watch some TV—so it’s pretty im­por­tant to us that we have a re­li­able way to watch our fa­vorite movies and shows. Your own boat­ing and cruis­ing habits may dic­tate a dif­fer­ent so­lu­tion.

With to­day’s rapid changes in tele­vi­sion de­liv­ery there’s a good chance you can find some­thing that will work for you. But if you can’t, new op­tions are com­ing rapidly enough that any chal­lenges you ex­pe­ri­ence to­day may well dis­ap­pear in the near fu­ture.

If you like the idea of catch­ing an NFL game from your fa­vorite gunk­hole while you bar­be­cue on the swim plat­form or binge­watch­ing Break­ing Bad while overnight­ing in a se­cluded cove in the Ex­u­mas, there’s a way to make it hap­pen. Just re­mem­ber why you’re there in the first place—friends, fam­ily and time spent on the wa­ter is, in my opin­ion any­way, way bet­ter than any broad­cast.

TV on board your boat— like at home—comes down to pref­er­ence and view­ing habits.

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