Upgrading a TV for RV Living

Upgrading a TV for RV Living

Starting Small

People often ask what we miss most about living in a house. It turns out that our list is really small. Actually, it’s a list of just two things. For Tiff, it’s a full-size bathtub. For me, it’s a big screen TV. There’s not much room for a “big” screen TV for RV full timers, but for me, it’s difficult to look at a TV if there’s too much wall surrounding it! So here’s how and why we decided to squeeze as much TV as we could into our International 27FB Airstream.

Lucy enjoying the new TV

Our Airstream came with a stock 22″ Samsung TV, which is nearly half the size of our earlier TV. That wasn’t such a hard pill to swallow for our TV show or movie watching habits. Tiff and I haven’t subscribed to cable in over 6 years. We stream most of our video over the internet where HD is hard to get and expensive. We’re happy as long as we can stream without constant buffering, so screen size is nice, but doesn’t matter as much for us for video. For other things though, small screens just won’t do the job. We’re about 6.5 feet away from the screen while sitting in our “lounge” configuration (table down forming a couch against the back wall of the Airstream).  At this distance, sniping Xbox aliens requires squinting and reading email is like an eye torture test. For video gaming, web surfing, or anything else that requires you to read and interact, you really need as much size as you can get. That’s really why we decided to upgrade.

Out with the old!

 

Our TV for RV Living

 

VIZIO E291-A1 29-inch 720p 60Hz Razor LED HDTV

 

Choosing a New TV for RV Living – Size

As with most new purchases we bring into the Airstream, making sure a new TV would fit was our first concern. In the 27FB, there are 27 inches to of cabinet wall  beside the fridge. Welcome to our first challenge. TV manufacturers offer lots of options under 24″ and over 32″, but 26″ – 30″ is a ghost town. A search of 25 to 29 inch TVs on Amazon results in tons of 26″ TVs and monitors and literally only one 29″. This is where we learned more about TV measurements. You see, a TV isn’t measured by its length or height. In fact, these measurements are often more difficult to find. The number plastered all over the TV marketing material and retail outlet shelves is the DIAGONAL screen measurement from one corner to another. When measuring for a tight space, this number doesn’t tell you much about the TV’s true width or height. It also doesn’t mention how much screen real estate you lose to the plastic casing surrounding the screen (called the Bezel). But if you dig deep enough, you can typically find the L x W x H numbers that give you the real size of the TV. In addition, you should consider a couple other measurements when trying to properly size a TV for RV living:

  • Measure side walls – Airstream walls are curved – measure in multiple locations to make sure all 4 corners of the TV will fit, not just 2 or 3.
  • Measure the power cord – Cord length is a problem, so be sure to know how much you need, or have extensions at the ready.
  • Measure the HDMI / RCA / Cable connection needs – are all of your connections close by or will you also need to run extensions?
  • Measure Depth – make sure the tv you choose isn’t so “thick” that it interferes with the mounting bracket or connections.
  • Measure for VESA compliance –  If you’re using a mounting bracket, it will probably be VESA compliant. This ensures the holes on the back of your new TV will match the holes on the arm. If you want to be 100% sure the TV will fit, the link above should help you figure things out.

Choosing a New TV for RV Living – Power

New TV Sips Energy

New TV Sips Energy

Now that we found the right size, we needed to decide on the power source – AC or DC. Personally, I think this is becoming less and less relevant with the rapid decrease in energy consumption on most modern TVs. Let me explain as best I can. The Vizio 29″ we chose is an AC TV that consumes 33 Watts when we have AC shore power. If we want to run the TV for RV boondocking, we will need to convert from AC to DC to run on battery. That means we’ll have to use 33 Watts PLUS an extra amount of power to convert. For us, that’s around 7 watts [ 33 Watts * (1- percentage efficiency of our inverter, which is 80-90%) ] = 6.6 Watts + 33 is a total of 40Watts. The largest, most comparative DC TV for RV and Trucking i could find is the Jensen 32″ LED TV, 12V DC Power. According to Jensen, it needs ~90Watts. Sure, there are smaller DC TVs like the NAXA 22″ or 24″ that use ~18W, but then we’re back to a smaller screen and lesser known companies. So even with the inefficiency of converting AC to DC, I don’t think there’s that much difference – but I’m not an expert on the subject – what am I missing? At the end of the day, we’re probably not boondocking anytime soon, and if we do, we’ll need to do a few solar upgrades before the few watts AC vs DC TV would matter. You’re mileage may vary.

 

Choosing a New TV for RV Living – Features

There are a few features that i thought i wanted when I started the TV for RV hunt. I stuck myself on 1080p resolution, for sure wanted LCD, and had to have at least 2 HDMI cables in the back. I ended up with only 1 of those. 1080p was a must have for me – until I learned that 1080p really doesn’t make that much of a difference under 46″. One Gotcha – 1080p is best for “Computers”- but I still think this assumes you’re sitting 2-3 feet from the screen, not 6-7. From our lounge, text reads well and aliens die quickly. It turns out the LCD and LED aren’t that different to our eyes – I would even edge toward LED for better picture when looking at them side by side. Also, it’s hard to argue with LED’s power consumption and price. And finally, I have 2 hdmi ports, but I really only use one. I’ve found that there’s maybe a problem on the HDMI port where the stereo in the Airstream has an older version of HDMI than this TV, so audio isn’t working through the Airstream’s stereo system. Luckily a feature I didn’t think i would need, the TV’s audio features and speakers are top-notch. The quality is slightly tinny, but overall more than acceptable, and doesn’t come down on top of our heads while sitting on the lounge like the poorly placed Airstream speakers do.

 

Summary

Overall, this TV fits, it’s super easy on power consumption, and the picture quality is outstanding. The only cons we’ve found so far are easy to turn positive – audio doesn’t work over HDMI (possibly a hookup problem, but we like the TV’s audio quality) and so far I’ve not been able to lock the catch on our mounting bracket (another thing I’ll have to investigate, but the weight of the TV doesn’t pull the unit away from the wall at all while travelling, so this is easy to overlook). That’s why we feel that we made a very good choice with with the VIZIO E291-A1 29-inch LED HDTV. Weaselmouth Approved!

16 Comments

  1. How come the pictures cover the first paragraph? Can’t read much this way.

    Reply
    • Hi Rich! We’re not seeing any pictures covering text on our end. I noticed a few of the images were broken and fixed them – which pictures are blocking the text for you? What browser / device are you using?

  2. We’re upgrading the teeny, weeny 15″ on our 2005 Safari with a model similar to this one. Two questions: First, what did you use as a mount for the monitor (our ’05 has a 15″ TV on an extension arm — I don’t think it will handle this larger monitor)? Second, and this is something we’ve never been able to figure out, how do you watch TV when it’s piped in via cable at an RV park? We don’t have a tuner or box (our factory stereo has a DVD player which sends video to the TV) so I’m not sure how to actually watch TV. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Hey Jim!

      I just replied via email but thought I would post here also in case others have similar questions.

      Luckily for us, we were able to use the same arm that came with our original TV for a couple reasons. First, the new TV is larger but weighs much less – i would say half as much – as the first one. I have it on the same arm and we don’t even need to lock it down when we travel. It NEVER moves. Secondly, almost all arms are “VESA” compliant, which, among other things, means the 4 screws are pretty much in a standard position with the 4 holes in new TVs.

      I’m not an expert, but I would imagine that the replacement TV you get will be lighter than the one that’s on it now, even if it is is physically bigger (unless you’re going DC or DVD built in). If so, then the arm for the 15″ will probably work just fine (unless you’re going over 26″).

      As for cable from the Park, our 2010 27′ has an actual coaxial cable port on the outside. it’s beside the power adapter with a similar weather cover on it. We can pop it open, connect the cable, and then we’re good to go. I wonder if they cut this corner on your model? I would be surprised – if you have coax ports inside, then you probably also have them outside somewhere.

      Here’s a link to the parts manual for your year model. It looks like the coax ports are all there… not sure where they stuffed it outside tho. http://www.airstream.com/files/library/d10a340f20efdfbd.pdf

      One other thing you might be missing is that you’ll need to change the software “inputs” on your tv from video (usualy vga or rca on older tvs) to “tv” or coax once you’re actually getting cable from the park. you’ll probably need the remote for this and go into your TV’s setup menu. Again, on older TVs this is much more of a hassle than on the newer ones. You’ll have to do this anytime you want to switch from DVD to cable once its hooked up.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions or if anything here is unclear.

      -deke

  3. Have y’all tried using an Apple TV? I wonder how the wifi at campsites would work? Thoughts.?

    Reply
    • We have a Mac Mini — and it works great, but I’ll have Deke get back to you more on this one…..

  4. I’m wondering if my iMac (27″) would be okay to have in an airstream model like yours. The line voltage of the iMac is 100-240V. What do you think?

    Reply
    • Hi Brandon,

      We actually have a mac mini hooked up to our TV and it works great! I don’t think the power draw would be a concern (until you are boondocking), but if you are talking about replacing the TV in the same location, you would need to really check the measurements and understand how you would mount it. I believe the imacs have a large bezel around the screen, so if the screen diagonal measures 27″, the actual measurements may be more than that. Also, I’m not sure that they have the same universal VESA compliant screw holes for articulating arm mounts.

      Thanks for writing in!

  5. Even more than shifting, I would be concerned about more catastrophic effects when extended during travel. If you hit a pothole or curb, will it be able to withstand the increased weight of the TV due to g forces? If you have to swerve or, worse, get in an accident, could this swing about and damage itself, the TV, the RV, or the passenger?

    Reply
  6. I like the look of the 29″. I think they are putting in 26″ Samsung LED televisions in the new 27FB. I am going to do the television upgrade next year and I will look at the Vizios. I want a bigger television. My stock tv in my 2006 28′ is small and heavy. That looks like a worthwhile upgrade. I think you are right about 1080p. It doesn’t matter until the screens are much larger. Thanks for sharing. This should help me moving forward.

    Reply
  7. Is there any way you could get an arm that could swing the TV up to the ceiling? That way, it could be as wide as the widest part of the ceiling, since it is facing upward when folded up the screen would be protected, and it might even be able to rotate once deployed to face toward the side of the room (or angled). Another idea, if deployed in the bedroom, for example, would be for it to face downward when folded up, so that you could watch TV while lying on your back in bed.

    Reply
    • Ha! You know, we looked for a mounting arm that could rotate for vertical “portrait” mode for storage and travel, but then swing out to normal horizontal widescreen for viewing. I specifically had my eye on this one, since it spins AND looks like an iRobot arm coming out of the wall.

      It would allow for a bigger screen, but seems like lots of trouble, wouldn’t hold the weight on our walls, and probably couldn’t lock it while travelling. Might be worth checking out someday :)

    • That’s really cool! I’m not sure our aluminum ceiling falls under the “reinforced” category they suggest even if we had the height, but its still an awfully cool idea. Wonder if anyone has installed a pulldown (or alternatively installed) TV in an Airstream?

    • Deke, I am upgrading my 13 inch in my PleasureWay to a larger LED. The mount that works great and will adjust from horizontal to vertical is the ATDEC Articulating Wall mount , model TH-1040-VFM. My only concern is locking in place while passenger is watching on the sofa while RV is traveling. It will lock BACK on the wall, but when extended, would the travel motion allow the TV to shift? Your thoughts after viewing their movie? Thanks, Dallas in SC

    • Hey Dallas – first off, sorry for the delay! Secondly, I would agree with Tom that there are some safety concerns with a TV-on-a-swing setup like this. That said, we’ve not “locked” our TV once since upgrading. It turns out that the weight of our new 29″ TV is less than the tension of the existing arm in the Airstream. Even with the extra force of moving down the road, it just doesn’t move (or hasn’t yet).

      Looking at the video, it looks like a decent enough quality arm. I bet it has some tightening screws at the elbow that would give you the ability to keep it from moving much during travel (depending on the weight of the TV you put on it). Also, looking at the design, it seems that you could use some strong velcro straps to hold it from moving too much whilst rolling down the road.

      Again, I’m only guessing after looking at the video. I would actually give them a call and explain to them how you want to use their product. Keep calling until you get someone who can answer your questions and help you fit their product to your needs.

      Good Luck!

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