Tracvision M9

Satellite Technology from KVH for Your Passagemaker – Part 1

KVH Satellite Dome on a Trawler

KVH Satellite Dome on a Trawler

You want satellite TV.  Yes, you do; you know it.  And you’d like to have an Internet connection available while offshore; even if you don’t intend to use it very much because it’s expensive.  And the security of a reliable, truly global satellite phone would lend peace of mind not only for you but for family back home.  You’re not alone with these wants.  According to KVH Industries Director of Marketing Chris Watson, “Our customers want to stay connected to the same sorts of things they have at home; the same entertainment, the ability to make calls, have the Internet and Wi-Fi.”  KVH is the biggest manufacturer of marine stabilized antennas, with more than 150,000 delivered.  So, it made sense to talk to them when we wanted to begin exploring satellite capabilities for passagemakers.

It’s Elementary

Says Watson, “Satellite TV is probably the first place” most customers go.  “It’s ubiquitous these days.  The antennas are not that expensive any more.  Everyone wants the news, their favorite sports season,” Watson says.  It used to be that sat TV antennas and domes were so big and heavy and unwieldy that you couldn’t consider them for a boat much under 50 feet.  Today, the antennas have gotten much smaller and less expensive.  “We’re not putting ‘giant igloos’ on boats anymore,” says Watson.  “Our smallest antenna is only 12 inches in diameter, and yet you get coverage throughout all of North America.

That Size Thing

We should probably answer right up front one of the worst questions ever raised:  Does size matter?  Eh, if I said, “only if you get into extreme performance” would that satisfy you?  The best thing about the modern electronics revolution, indeed perhaps the raison d’etre of the revolution itself, is the miniaturization of modern components and systems.  Remember the first sports bar that had satellite TV?  It had one of those NASA-sized antennas out back that took up the entire yard.  Today, the same performance comes from a tiny unit barely a foot wide by one foot high.  The key will satellite reception on your passagemaker is the distance from shore at which you want reception.  Remember that most satellite TV service is “aimed” at land-based subscribers.  The signals can be received offshore but how far offshore does relate to how big of an antenna you have.  Coastal cruisers will be happy with the smallest units as far as reception is concerned, but if you will be several hundred miles offshore, you will need a bigger antenna to compensate for the weaker signal.  KVH and most other satellite TV equipment makers maintain coverage maps on their website showing the approximate coverage areas met by their equipment.  You can see detailed coverage maps on the KVH website here.

How Expensive?

KVH M1 Tracvision Satellite Dome and Receiver with Remote

KVH M1 Tracvision Satellite Dome and Receiver with Remote

That smallest of the small is KVH’s M1 system.  It’s a 13.5 inch unit, using a 12.5 inch antenna, and has a single cable that sends power up and brings the signal down.  It’s easily installed by a handy boat owner and it comes with an integrated 12-volt DirecTV receiver and RF remote control.  If you’re already a DirecTV subscriber, you simply call the company and add your boat as another room in the house.  The M1 has an MSRP of  $2,995, but you can almost always get it for less.  Defender had it listed online recently for $2, 416.99.  KVH has a list of authorized dealers on its website if you want to get an estimate from a local supplier who can also install and service the units.  The M1-C is available in a Canadian version for use with the ExpressVu service. 

High Definition TV

There are some limitations with the M1.  Since DirecTV is moving all its HD service to Ka-band satellites and the M1 will only receive Ku-band signals, you are limited to standard definition programming.  So you want HD programming on that nice flat screen?  Move up to the M3DX, which is 2 inches wider at 15.5 inches and 4 inches taller at 17.5 inches.  It has a base model, the M3ST, which only gets standard definition DirecTV, too.  The M3DX has an MSRP of $4,995, but it too can be found online for quite a significant discount, as low as $4,065.95 in one case.  The M3DX can also be configured to receive European and Mexican satellite TV broadcasts.  Its slightly larger antenna extends North American coverage slightly farther offshore.  As an example, the M3DX might be able to maintain a good signal into the Bahamas, whereas the M1 probably wouldn’t. 

Going Bigger

KVH M9 Tracvision Top-of-the-line Satellite Dome and Control Unit

KVH M9 Tracvision Top-of-the-line Satellite Dome and Control Unit

The farther offshore you go, the bigger antenna you need to maintain reception.  In the KVH product line, you can go all the way up to the M9 series, which has a radome diameter of 35 inches, and a height of 39 inches.  The dome weighs about 65 pounds.  These measurements, while significant, are still greatly reduced from the units of yesteryear.  These units also have integrated GPS receivers as well as their gyro stabilization which helps them obtain a quicker lock-on and faster transition from satellite to satellite.  The MSRP for the top-of-the-line M9 unit is about $15,000.  You’ll want to have it installed by a certified marine electronics tech.  The top three units in the KVH line can be configured with a special triple LNB (essentially a triple receiver head in the antenna) so they can easily switch from North American to Central American and then Latin American satellites.

You can download this brochure (caution: large file) which compares the various KVH Tracvision satellite TV products.

(Part 2 in this series, next week; satellite phone and Internet service)

Copyright © 2009 OceanLines LLC

Posted by Tom in Technology