Friday, November 11, 2011

KVH M1 101

Marinas and yacht clubs are slowly learning that providing some sort of dockside cable television service to their customers is getting increasingly more difficult, and complex. The switch to digital cable systems more than ever before, now requires a digital receiver box to be installed in a home, or boat for each television. But short of tornadoes, landslides, or sink holes in Florida, your house doesn't typically travel, your boat does. The equipment cable providers give you is based on a home installation scenario. You know the type, you can get behind your TV and plug and play all of the cables, in air conditioning, without sweating or bleeding. On a boat this is much different.

A local yacht club is discovering how painful this is becoming. Their Comcast system now requires digital tuner boxes for each television to receive the channels. That's not quite the truth, the first 24 channels of very basic cable is still available for now, but for most cable TV suppliers a box of some sort is required. So here is the catch, if you install your local vendors box in your boat, and you travel to another marina with another cable TV vendor, your box won't work with their system. This problem is going to get worse, and never better. I do have a suggestion for marinas. With a good quality digital on air antenna, and an amplifier system you could provide in most urban areas 20, to 30 or more digital high quality free local channels to your boaters. The capital cost is low, and you can get rid of those costly cable TV bills.

A good option for boaters that cruise, and who want broad channel options is a satellite marine TV system such as the KVH M1 seen below.

So in this vignette we will follow an install. This really isn't very difficult technically, and a reasonably skilled boater with some forethought, and a basic sense of how TV's are connected should be able to do it themselves. There are a few extra things you will need to do this. String, a good wire fish, electrical tape, patience, and checking things out before you start.

The worst of this job is getting the cable from the hard top or arch down to where the receiver will be located. In the picture above the large opening is below the dome location. The cable run goes from there forward, takes a right turn over to the side access plate, then down to the first Beckson plate, and from there out the arch bottom by the speaker.

The next step on this boat is removal of the refrigerator, and behind it two more access plates. To get through the bottom of the arch, there are actually two holes you have to pass through. The first one on top is easy, the second one is about 6" lower, and you just have to poke the fish around until you find it. Good deal, half way there.

Now the cable has to go forward. In this case the lower access opening behind the refrigerator is just large enough to painfully get your head and one arm in. There is a sealed  bulkhead that the engine room wiring is passed through, and it is sealed with lots of goo. This bulkhead keeps gases from the engine room from getting into the cabin. Abandon any hope of using the the existing gooped up hole, and drill a new one, about 5/8" will do. Pass the cable forward through the new hole, and then, and it's important, do a good job of sealing the hole with more goop. Expired boaters are not likely to pay my bill.

It gets easier now, the access next to the helm station comes out, and the cable can now be fished forward into the control panel area in the main salon. Make sure the battery and AC power are shut off when you do this, because the potential for arcy sparky exists if you're using a metal wire fish.

The ideal location for the receiver is to place it as close as practical to the boat's coax splitter block and existing TV antenna switch. In this case this is a storage cabinet just aft of the electrical control panels. A hole has to be drilled to allow the wires to exit, and the small black box with the wire hanging off of it is the RF antenna for the remote control. The receiver comes with mounts that allows it to hang on a wall, or hung from above.

I'd often give my kingdom for more space, but alas I don't have much of a kingdom, so we make due. On the receiver I installed ninety degree fittings for the composite, and coax cables which saves me a couple of inches. On top of the receiver is the A/B switch box we are going to use to switch between shore cable, and the KVH satellite system.

It's time to get our inner geek on and deal with the coax splitter and the Glomex or Shakespeare antenna switch. The splitter is typically located somewhere behind the electrical panel, but it could be anywhere in the boat. It is important to locate this before you start, because you won't have a clue about cable lengths if you don't. I'm going to have a connection drawing at the end of the story to show you how to do it. In effect we are going to take the "line out" from the antenna switch, which goes to the input of the splitter block, and move it onto a input of the new A/B switch. The output from the KVH receiver goes to the other input on the A/B switch. The output from the A/B switch then goes to the splitter block. The little glitch in all of this wiring is The KVH receiver only sends out a composite video signal, which we have to translate into a coax cable feed. For that we need a RF modulator. This little box takes the yellow video signal, and the red and white audio signals, and combines it into one feed on a coax cable that the cable backbone in the boat can use. I will come back to this a little later.

I mount the KVH dome near the end of the install. The first consideration is to answer the question "will the dome be higher than the anchor light?" If so, the light need to be changed out for a higher one. Now is the mounting area flat, and parallel to the water line? In this case it is not. I'm using a Seaview mount along with their circular adjustable mounting wedge. By rotating the two wedge pieces, the mounting angle can be anywhere from zero to twelve degrees, and I need about six degrees to make it level. By the way making it look good takes a bunch of climbing down, squinting at it from the dock, cursing a bit because it is leaning somewhat, and readjusting the angle. This goes on even if you have a small level. Once everything is good, it becomes mechanical after that. Drill a one inch hole for the cable, install the mount, and attach the dome, and the one cable. Now go below, and use silicone, or the waterproof goop of your choice, and do a good job of sealing the one inch hardtop hole, and mounting bolts.  

Allmost done now. The final electrical connections consist of getting 110VAC power to the RF modulator, and 12VDC to the KVH receiver. I favor RF modulators that have a regular power cord, instead of a transformer that will require an outlet. I can cut the plug off, and wire it into directly into a breaker. If you're not comfortable with doing this yourself, then this is a sign you shouldn't, and find someone with experience to do it for you. The KVH receiver wires to a 12 volt breaker or source. Turn on the system and off you go into TV land.

A wee bit of clarification, and some thoughts about installing these systems is in order now. The KVH M10 receiver outputs a composite video signal, and passing it through a RF modulator, and then through the splitter onto the boat's coax backbone reduces the picture quality a bit. The final picture is good, but not as good as it could be. An option here I used was to take the second composite output from the receiver and cable it directly to the main salon TV. This will improve that TV's picture. The other option is to buy the DX version of the M1 system, and get a receiver from DirectTV, or Dish Network that has component or HDMI outputs. The trade off is the receiver will be much larger, and will require AC power. Providing high definition cabling to every TV in a boat can be very expensive in both time to pull all of the wiring, and the cost of cables. Likewise, adding a second receiver, or more increases both the complexity of the system, and increases the costs.

Locating the items such as the splitter block, and antenna switches in advance is important, and drives the receiver location options. Cables can be expensive, and in this case, the modulator, cables, A/B switch et al cost about $180.00. If you have the time, you can shop online especially for the cables to save some dinero. 

This install took me about 12 hours to do, of which two thirds of the time was spent pulling cables from A to B.

Read the KVH installation instructions first, and then read them again. They are clear and easy to understand.

When you call DirectTV, make sure you tell them that the receiver will not be connected to a phone line. If you don't after some period they will shut off the feed because ET can't call home, and they think you are stealing movies. Also be patient with them, the receiver is a model M10, and it won't be familiar to the agent, just persist.

Here is the basic wiring diagram, see it isn't really that scary.

A good book also offers great entertainment at considerable savings. Here is another article about entertainment systems on boats.

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