Sunday, December 27, 2009

Digital TV conversion for your boat DYI project

The vast majority of boats floating out there do not have digital TVs for reasons I discussed earlier, so I thought this would make a good subject for a DYI project that could be done by boat owners. When the project is done, you will have transformed your boat into an on air wonder with many crystal clear digital channels. Right now, most of you don't get on air channels at all since the digital change over. You need a few reasonably priced items, and some patience. The picture below is from a late model 44’ Searay Dancer, and this is the starting point for the project. If you look to the left side of the cabinet, you will see the Glomex TV signal amplifier. This is an ideal place to put the gear we are going to use. You can click on the picture for a closer view.

You are going to need some bits and pieces such as the following items. The first is an A/B switch shown below. This is used to switch the cable input between the dock, and the on air antenna. These run from about $10-$20 and can be found online, or at  Radio Shack

The next item is a LXXR extender. This cool small flying saucer shaped gadget will take the digital converter’s infrared remote control and will convert it to a radio frequency remote control. This will work with any infrared remote control that uses AA, or AAA batteries. This means you won’t have to open the cabinet door to change channels. This is available online for about $75.00. You can only use one per boat. Additional units hear each other.

The digital converter I like the best is the Apex unit available from Best Buy. This costs about $60.00, and is a nice compact unit with remote control.
You will also need to buy some coax TV cables (2-3), a plastic collar to pass the wires through the cabinet  side (1" diameter, 1 1/8 drilled hole) found at your hardware store, and maybe a small power strip. The converter, and the LXXR both need 110VAC. You will also need some 90 degree coax adapters. These little things screw onto a male coax fitting, and turn it 90 dgrees. This reduces the depth of the converter box by allowing the coax cables to come in sideways. A couple of coax butt connecters may also be needed. Both of these things can be purchased at a Radio Shack, or hardware store.

Below is a simple diagram of the wiring. You can click on the diagram to blow it up, and then print it as a 8 1/2" by 11" page,

Step one is to locate the boats coax splitter. This is often located somewhere behind the Glomex controller. This most likely means opening the electrical panel, and looking behind for a bunch of coax cables terminated into a splitter. One is the input, and all of the others are outputs, and all are clearly marked. The input to the splitter is the center cable of the Glomex box. This cable needs to be disconnected from the Glomex box, and moved to the "To TV" center connector of the AB switch (it may have to be stretched with an additional cable). A new short cable is installed from the center connector of the Glomex box to the "Antenna in" of the digital converter box. The Glomex box only has the "Antenna In" cable, and the center cable now connected. The dockside cable, that was the third cable to the Glomex, is attached to the "B" connector of the AB switch, and the digital converter "To TV" cable attached to the "A" connector. Look at the diagram if I have confused you.

In the picture below, I drilled a 1 1/8" hole to pass the cables through. This was a bit tight, but I got it all through. A 1 1/2 hole hole would be a little easier to work with. The LRRX, and the converter need 120VAC, and if you are lucky, there may be an outlet you can use behind the panel. I was not, and had to wire a small power strip in. If you have to do this, use 12/3 triplex marine wire, with real connectors, not wire nuts. If you are not comfortable with doing this, have your local boat electrician do this for you.

All in all it took me about 5 hours to do this. As you work, label the cables. They all look alike, and it is easy to put a cable in the wrong place.


The Glomex box has to be on, and turned all the way clockwise to pass the signal to the converter. You will see the red light lit.

The converter box can be set for channel 3, or 4. The default is 3. This means the TV's must be set for on air antenna, and tuned to channel 3. This is done in the TV's set up menu. To watch cable from dockside, the TV's set up must be switched to cable.

The digital converter is easy to program, and just takes a couple of minutes to program if you move to another port of call.

"A" on the AB switch must be pushed for local channels, and "B" for local cable.

When attaching the small eye to the infrared window of the converter, move it around while changing channels until you find a good location, then stick it on, and leave some extra cable, so the LXXR can be pulled out. It is also the batttery charger, and you need to get to the bottom of the unit. I used velcro to attach it. You can look a the picture to see the approximate location. In the Sarasota area the system receives about 30 channels, all very clear. You can now cancel the local channels you pay DirectTV for. Questions, post me a comment, and I will try to help.