Up On The Roof

OnTheRoof

I finally made it, up on the roof, the very top of the Castaway, our 40-foot motorhome.

I wasn’t sure how to get up on the roof of my Newmar Dutch Star. I have two ladders, one 8-foot step ladder and a 7-foot multi-purpose ladder. After checking with the customer service team at Newmar, I used the 7-foot multi-purpose ladder to make the climb. They assured me that the side panels were more than strong enough to hold the weight. Fully extended at a safe angle, the ladder was almost two feet short of the top edge of the coach. Not ideal but I was able to hold on to the top edge of the coach and swing my legs over to the roof itself.

Success. A castaway has landed on the roof.

I needed to finish detailing the very top areas of the coach that were simply out of reach from the step ladder. Being on the roof made it so much easier to apply paint sealant to the top part of the front and rear caps as well as the top ridge of the sides of the coach.

I found a number of items on the roof: air conditioning units, vent covers for the Fan-Tastic Fans, drain-waste-vent outlets, a small solar panel, a cover for the solar prep wires, the satellite dish, the digital TV antenna, radio antennas and antennas for the Sirius XM radio.

I spent roughly 3 hours topside. Lorraine was kind enough to ferry up the supplies. Things like detailing spray, clay bars, paint sealant, microfibre cloths and fluids. Even though it was a cloudy day, there was enough heat and humidity to produce a lot of sweat. The constant moving along with the cleaning and waxing activities does constitute a pretty good workout.

Here is a short video about the experience up on the roof.

Weird AV Settings

WeirdAVSettings

Weird AV Settings.

That was the title of a post over at the iRV2 Newmar Forum. And it reads, in part:

I finally got to sit down tonight and figure out what in the world was going on with the AV setup in 2015 DSDP. I’m fairly AV savvy and was mostly stymied by not having (a) time, (b) extra cables from my big pile back home, and (c) the ability to take apart that insane amount of velcro holding all the boxes in the cabinet above the driver.

This is a picture of our AV Cabinet in the Castaway:

AVCabinet

Since that picture was taken, I have added two 120mm fans to pull heat out of the cabinet, one Harmony Hub universal remote base station, one IR blaster, and a Bell HD satellite receiver. I also need to add an Apple TV. But right now there is too much clutter and not enough space.

Installed in the coach was a cheap Sony STR-DH550 AV Receiver, a Sony BDP-1500 Blu-Ray player, a Winegard Trav’ler base station, two splitters and lots of cables.

Nothing about this setup makes much sense to me. What was bad? Well, a cheap subwoofer hidden inside the kitchen cabinet. The front grill literally a few millimetres from the cabinet sidewall. Incorrect settings for the surround sound receiver — all speakers were set to large and, with 3-inch drivers, they are certainly not large. No ability to see the receiver settings on the TV panels because of the way in which the cabling was interconnected. Lots of heat and no space for adding or changing components. Way, way too many remotes. The first thing I purchased for the AV cabinet was a Logitech Universal Remote.

I have to literally empty the cabinet and get myself a bit more room in there. The receiver barely fits in the space which will limit my choices in terms of a replacement unit. There is no shelving to create some distance between the components. And the default routing of the HDMI cables limits the functionality of the various components. One example is dropping the Audio Return Channel functionality with HDMI. The living room TV returns audio through a digital cable, not through HDMI. Unnecessary cable run. Another example is not being able to program the receiver using the receiver’s GUI on the TV screen. The only way to program the receiver is by using the receiver’s small LCD panel.

The only physical change that I have made to the setup thus far is to connect an external subwoofer. It is placed behind one of the recliners. I also changed the speaker setting to small and set up the crossover to allow the subwoofer to shoulder most of the work on the lower end of the frequency spectrum. It sounds so much better now.

I have a compact subwoofer on order as the one I am using is really too large for the space. I will be installing a Cambridge Audio Minx X201 powered subwoofer. It is very compact at roughly 8.5 inches wide x 8.5 inches high x 10 inches deep. I will need to make my first hole in my coach to route the subwoofer cable through the back of the kitchen cabinet to the new subwoofer. I suppose a coach really isn’t your own until you make that first opening. This small subwoofer should be fine for the size of the listening area.

Obviously, audio is not a strong suit of the Newmar Dutch Star. The components are functional as entry level components go but I will be replacing all of the audio components: receiver, blu-ray player, speakers. The listening space will sound significantly better with a better set of speakers.

This is a time consuming project though and one that I won’t start for a while. The external subwoofer along with a few setting changes make the system bearable in the short term.

RV Ladders

Ladders

I need a different ladder.

For when we travel.

The coach is tall and I need a ladder that can get me on the roof as well as allow me to get to the upper areas of the coach, like the windshield. And this ladder needs to fold up into a compact form so that we can carry it in the basement of the coach.

If you take a look at this video, you can see the type of ladder I do not want. That looks like one dangerous way to get on the roof of a Newmar Dutch Star (same model of coach as our Castaway). You can watch the entire video if you wish as it does have some interesting perspectives on risk management and staying healthy. I’ve pointed the video to start at where he gets up on the roof.

At my age, I need a less risky path. The choice of ladder for me will be a telescoping ladder like this one from Werner:

 

WernerLadder

This ladder is available from Home Depot here in Canada for under $200. A similar design, Little Giant Ladder, is also available in Canada at an outrageous price. In the States, it sells for about $250USD. In Canada they want over $500 CAD for the ladder. Ouch.

The Werner can function as a step ladder, up to 9 feet, and it can function as an extension ladder up to 19 feet, more than enough to safely get on the roof of the coach.

I’ll also be able to clean the windshield.

I love a clean windshield.

Garmin RV 760LMT First Impressions

Standby

I ordered the Garmin RV 760LMT from Amazon last Friday. It arrived earlier this week. I have had a chance to work with it for a few days, enough to form a first impression in case you are thinking about buying this unit.

What’s in the box?

Open the box and you will find a GPS unit, a docking station, a windshield mount, a 12V car adapter and a very short USB cable. If you want the detailed manual, you have to jump online. You can download a pdf of the manual from the Garmin site here.

What did I like?

That 7-inch colour monitor! Very nice indeed.

I also liked BaseCamp.

We have used a number of Garmin GPS units over the years so the interface itself is very familiar although the integration with their desktop software, BaseCamp, is a new experience for me. Here is a sample screenshot of BaseCamp:

BaseCamp

BaseCamp is software that you run on your computer. It is free and you can download it from the Garmin site here. To use it, you really do need to pair it with a Garmin device.

Like any new software, BaseCamp does have a learning curve. I found that it took me several tries to plan a trip with two stopovers. But, once I gained a bit of mastery over the software, it was very easy to plan and export a trip back into the GPS. Under Garmin’s main menu is an icon for Apps. And under Apps is an icon for Trip Planner. There it was. My trip to Petosky Motorcoach Resort. All ready to go.

I liked Garmin Express, another software app that runs on your computer. Garmin Express manages the firmware and map updates for the GPS. The updates are free for the life of the device. Free updates? I liked that as well.

You can tell that the unit has been designed for the RV community. It has an extensive database of over 20,000 RV parks and service locations coupled with information about campground amenities.  It also allows you to enter the profile of your RV to identify any related restrictions.

What didn’t I like?

Two different USB connectors. A mini USB connector to the main unit and a standard USB connector on the small docking unit that connects to the back of the device.

Mounting. Garmin only provides a suction cup mount. I was able to make mine work by attaching the mount to the Driver’s side window just in front of my line of sight to the Driver’s side mirror. I was able to get enough of a pivot to provide a good view of the monitor. But the mount is fussy. Very easy to pivot just a bit too far and the unit literally drops out of the mount.

Overall First Impressions?

Very positive. I am glad we bought it. I’ll have better insight into the unit once we have completed our trip to the Petosky Motorcoach Resort in a couple of weeks.

Audio Video Tech Stuff

Studio

My home studio. That is one part of our transition to retirement that I will miss. Lots of high tech goodness in that part of the house.

I will have some recording gear with me when we go out on the road full-time with the Castaway and it will be far more modest than my current studio. Although, I think I will still be able to get some good sound even with the limited space and gear. However, that is a different topic for another time.

Today is about how we are approaching the Audio Video technology in our coach.

The current equipment in the coach is okay. In the forward section of the coach:

  • Entry-level Sony STR-DH550 AV Receiver
  • Bell Expressvu 6131 HD Satellite Receiver
  • Entry-level Sony Blu-Ray Player
  • Winegard Satellite Antenna Control
  • Winegard Digital TV Antenna Control
  • Two 120mm Cooling Fans in the Forward Cabinet
  • Two as yet unidentified boxes routing the HDMI satellite feed
  • Two Sony LED TVs

In the back section of the coach:

  • One Sony LED TV
  • One Entry-level Sony Blu-Ray Player

We are adding a few things to make the place a bit more geek-friendly.

I had Newmar pre-wire an Ethernet Cat 6 Cable between the forward AV cabinet and the back AV cabinet. For some reason, this caused our dealer to ponder such a custom request. Why would we need an Ethernet cable? Isn’t everything wireless today?

Well, yes and no. Read on.

We will set up a wired and wireless local area network in the coach to allow media streaming to all of our devices and screens. We expect to carry at least two iPhones, three iPads and a laptop. And we want to be able to throw things up to any of our TV screens. We will have a fair amount of technology in the coach.

We will install an Apple Airport Extreme in the back AV cabinet. It will be connected by Ethernet to a Synology DS416play NAS. It will also be connected by Ethernet to Apple TVs in the forward and back AV cabinets.

The NAS will run an iTunes server for all of our music and video content. This will allow us to stream media over the wire to the Apple TVs and, by extension, video content will go out to the TV screens. Wired lines still provide the best performance particularly when streaming high definition video content.

I have already configured our Harmony Elite remote along with the Harmony Hub to simplify the operation in the forward section of the coach. I will configure our older Harmony touch remote to operate the technology in the back section of the coach.

The NAS will hold basically all of our data, documents and media content, so it will be the overall digital workhorse for our coach.

I expect to have most of the technology in and running over the next couple of weeks. I will do a video walkthrough to show you how it all worked out.