DIRECTV Installation Equipment Guide: SWM, DECA, and MRV

DIRECTV SWM Installation Guide for more than 16 tuners

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We all wish we had this problem… You’ve done well for yourself and you’ve rewarded yourself with a home theater system in several rooms.  You’ve got so much equipment that you had to hire a custom installer.  Your system features multiple DVRs and a server closet filled with DVRs.  Now you want to expand it further.

DIRECTV’s SWM system doesn’t count receivers, it counts tuners.  A regular receiver is one, a DVR is two, and a Genie is five.  While DIRECTV will not activate a second Genie on a customer account, it’s still fairly easy to bump up against that 16-tuner limit.  What can you do?

DIRECTV installers will not be much help. There are many documented cases where an installer simply refuses to go above 16 tuners in the home.  They claim that any more tuners require a commercial account.  This isn’t true, but many installers think that it is. You might simply be a sports fan, watch a lot of television, or just have a big family.  No matter what, you’ll need to have some skill and knowledge because you might need to help the installer, hire a custom installer, or do it yourself.

Choosing the Right Equipment

SWM32

If you need more than 16 tuners, the obvious choice is the DIRECTV SWM-32.  But is it the right choice? The SWM-32 is not designed for residential use.  In fact, it’s designed for apartment buildings.  It’s also a really big box with two power supplies.  The goal of a SWM-32 is to provide up to eight tuners to each of four apartments.  While each of those sets of eight tuners can use Whole-Home, it’s not possible to share Whole-Home programming between the banks of eight.

Know What You Have Now

The first step in knowing how best to upgrade is to know what you have now. Take a look at your dish. Are there four lines coming from it or just one? If there is one line coming from the dish, then you will have to make a change to the dish because you have the “SWM LNB.”  This dish is not expandable to accommodate more than eight tuners.

If you’re reading this article, you probably have gone beyond the basic installation.  If you do need to upgrade your dish, read the instructions below.  You’ll have to buy a whole new dish but all you’ll need to change is the LNB (the front part).  If you have four lines coming from your dish, trace the wires to find the multiswitch.  Unless this is a very old system, there are three possibilities: the WB68, SWM8, and SWM-16.

When you have more receivers than you have connections for at the dish, you need to use another switch.  But if you’re connecting two or more receivers to the same signal from the dish, the signal would get divided and the power would drop equally.  These switches have buffer amps to isolate each receiver and keep the levels the same whether one or eight are connected.  This type of setup is based upon switches, and each receiver must connect each tuner to the switch at the dish or the additional switch.

A legacy dish (non-SWM) has four outputs that carry all the signals between these four.  Connecting a switch down the line with one of these units means all four cables need to connect.  All receivers must connect to a switch with four cables from the dish, and you can’t add a switch or a splitter to one of the outputs of the switch to connect another receiver.  Remember, each tuner sends a voltage and a signal that controls the switch position, powers the buffer amp, and ends up powering the LNB at the dish. If you need to change out the LNB, do that first.

When changing out the LNB, remember to be careful. Use a pencil to note the mounting angles on the dish. This will help you see if you have inadvertently moved the dish. Gently mark the position of the dish on the dish bracket, and also mark the angle on the top and bottom adjustment areas on the mounting arm.  Disconnect and remove the old LNB then attach the new one.  You will need to run four wires to the multiswitch, so connect those then run them inside.

DIRECTV Multiswitches 

WB68

DIRECTV used its WB68 multiswitch until the early 2010s.  This provides the opportunity for up to eight tuners but doesn’t support whole-home.  If you have this switch and you’re happy with it, there’s no need to change; but be aware that DIRECTV’s newest receiver, the HR54 4K Genie DVR, does not support this switch. If you’re planning to upgrade, this could be the right time to move from this switch to something newer.  If you do want to stay with this older technology, you can purchase another one from Solid Signal and use up to 16 tuners that way.  While it’s possible to split the signal even further with additional WB68s, this might require the use of an amplifier.

SWM-8

In the mid-2000s, DIRECTV experienced explosive growth but there was a problem.  While many homes were wired with high-quality RG6 cable, the standard was for only one wire per room.  The DIRECTV HR20 DVR and its successors required two wires each, and it was unnecessarily expensive to run new cables.  Homeowners didn’t like it, either.  DIRECTV’s answer was the single wire multiswitch (SWM).  This piece of equipment replaced the old WB68 and let the DIRECTV DVRs get two tuners (or more) over one line.  The new switch requires that power be inserted into the system through a separate module.

SWM-16

When DIRECTV’s SWM-16 first hit the market, it seemed destined for commercial use in bars, restaurants, and apartment complexes.  With the DIRECTV HR54 4K Genie DVR, it became more common to put it into homes.

If you have a SWM-8 multiswitch, you have two choices.  You can add another SWM-8.  This will keep your investment in a SWM-8; however, DIRECTV Whole-Home will not be supported between the two switches.  There are ways around this and the risks of these are discussed below.  An easier, although more expensive, option is to use the SWM-16 multiswitch.

The SWM-16 can take the place of the SWM8 with only minor changes to the system.  First, look at the power inserter.  All SWM-8 switches should use the PI-29Z power inserter, but some SWM systems have the PI-21 power inserter.  While this does not pose an issue for SWM systems already in place, you need the PI-29Z.  Switch out the power inserter before making any other changes.  

Once that’s done, look at the SWM8 and note if there is a wire coming from the Legacy 3 port into the power inserter.  This will be especially obvious if there is no wire coming from the Legacy 1 and 2 ports.  When replacing a SWM8 with a SWM-16, connect all the lines in the same places as before, except if you noted the line from the Legacy 3 port.  You can get power from the power inserter to the SWM either through the SWM1 port on either SWM8 or SWM-16, or through a separate line. On the SWM8, that separate line runs to the Legacy 3 port. On the SWiM-16 there is a separate connector marked PWR between the SWM1 and SWM2 connector. Connect the inserter line appropriately.               

There is a clear benefit to having a specific line run from the power inserter to the switch.  Wiring this way will make it impossible to accidentally fry a receiver if you incorrectly hook up the power inserter.

It also becomes impossible to use the power inserter’s “TO IRD” port to connect a receiver inline with the power inserter.  If you have two SWM8s, you can replace them with two SWM-16s.  If you have one SWM-16, then you have more options.

In order to connect two SWM-16s to a dish with four outputs, you will need the following:

(click each item to be taken to the product page)

Two multiswitches with power inserters 

A combination of splitters as needed:

Remember not to oversplit the signal and terminate any unused connections.  Also, don’t forget to ground your equipment whenever possible. Better to ground too often than not often enough.

Lines from the dish should be run to the four power-passing splitters.  Run each line from each splitter into the same port in each multiswitch.  In other words, the 18V line for each multiswitch should come from the same splitter.

For the most consistent line-to-power-inserter results, run a line from the DC/PWR port into the POWER TO SWM port on the power inserter. You will not be able to run a receiver from this connection.

Run lines to the splitters from SWM1 and SWM2.  It’s not necessary to worry about which line goes into the power passing ports, but it’s important that you use “green label,” whole-home-compatible splitters. Use the smallest splitter possible and feed no more than eight tuners from each splitter. Note: Be aware of your signal levels.  Using splitters or cascading switches can often lead to loss of power.  An amplifier, when combined with a signal locker, can be critical in maintaining a clean, strong signal.

Connecting Four Multiswitches of Any Type

When connecting four multiswitches of any type, you might want to use them to upgrade your home.  This is especially true if you have older multiswitches and don’t need whole-home service.  Any combination of multiswitches can be used together in this method.

Line loss is the biggest concern when using this many switches from a single dish.  The recommended splitters introduce line loss of 10dB into your system, and that might be enough to cause problems with rain fade.  In order to avoid this, you should consider the use of an amplifier and a polarity locker, which will be shown in upcoming posts.  An amplifier will increase signal strength, but it does not help signal-to-noise (also called carrier-to-noise) ratios.  In other words, it’s like turning up the volume on the TV.  It makes everything louder, including the background “hiss.”

Another option is the use of a second dish which would solve line loss problems but of course is less aesthetically pleasing. Using up to four multiswitches creates a very complex system and if you are considering whole-home, using two SWiM- 16 devices will give you an easier, more reliable whole-home experience.

You’ll need any of the following multiswitches:

A combination of splitters as needed:

Remember, do not oversplit the signal and terminate any unused connections.  Also, don’t forget to ground your equipment whenever possible.  It’s always better to ground too often than not often enough.  Note: In place of power-passing splitters, you can use the Sonora Quad SWM-E4 Expander.  This device stacks up to four SWMs together using the same method as the SWM-E2.  As with the SWM-E2, two of the switches are installed upside down.  This equipment is intended for commercial installations, but should provide reliable performance in the home if you choose to go that direction.

Lines From the Dish

Lines from the dish should be run to the four power-passing splitters.  Run each line from each splitter into the same port in each multiswitch.  In other words, the 18V line for each multiswitch should come from the same splitter.

Line to the Power Inserter

On the SWM-16, run a line from the DC/PWR port into the POWER TO SWM port on the power inserter. On the SWM8, run a line from the Legacy3 port into the POWER TO SWM port on the power inserter.  You will not be able to run a receiver from connections on the power inserters.  WB68 multiswitches do not require power inserters.  DO NOT attach a power inserter to a WB68 system.

Lines to the Splitters and Receivers

 Run lines to the splitters from SWM1 and SWM2 on both SWiM-16 and SWM8. It’s not necessary to worry about which line goes into the power passing ports, but it is important that you use “green label” whole-home-compatible splitters. Use the smallest splitter possible and feed no more than eight tuners from each splitter.

For WB68 multiswitches, run lines to each receiver from the output ports of the WB68. Remember that in WB68 installations you must run two lines to each DVR (the HR54 4K Genie DVR is not supported), and each HD receiver (except HR23 and H23) must have a B-band converter to watch HD programming.  Do not use splitters with WB68 multiswitches!  If you are mixing WB68 and SWM systems, remember to run satellite setup on each receiver and choose the proper satellite dish type for the multiswitch you’re using.

Using an Amplifier and Polarity Locker

LA144Polarity Locker

Every piece of cable, every splitter - in fact, everything that comes between your dish and your receivers - causes some signal loss.  This is an unavoidable fact.  That’s why the best practice is to use as few splitters as possible and use the smallest splitter possible.  Sometimes, though, you have to split the signal.  If you’re using more than one multiswitch, you’re losing at least 6dB of signal.  That probably isn’t a problem by itself, but it can be a problem if you have many splitters further down the run.  

If you’re using more than two multiswitches, you’re losing at least 10dB of signal.  That could be a real problem when rain, snow, or even dense cloud cover comes into play.  For that reason, we recommend the Sonora line of amplifiers and polarity lockers.  Used together, these devices help provide a more stable signal for installations with more than 16 tuners.

The Sonora LA144R-T DBS/SMATV input amplifier is an excellent choice for amplifying a satellite signal. It is placed so it is the first piece of equipment, closest to the dish, and provides up to 14dB of gain, which should be enough to combat the losses brought on by multiple splitters. An amplifier by itself is not going to solve all the problems that may exist.

The LA144 is only going to work with the signal it has, and that signal might benefit from further processing.  For that reason, we recommend the use of a polarity locker as well.  A polarity locker does not remove noise from a signal, but it does help stabilize the signal by adding more voltage and locking in the four specific signals required for a high-definition dish.

The Sonora 4SATPL-T polarity locker is the right companion to the LA144 from Sonora.  This device isolates the signals from the LNBs and gives priority to only those signals that should come through each of the four lines.  Each line pulls signal from a different part of your dish’s LNB assembly, and provides signal from a different set of satellites. By locking in each line’s polarity, the 4SATPL should help compensate for noisy or weak signals.  It also provides a power source for those LNBs to make them as efficient as possible.  (Normally, this is done by your receivers or the power inserter in your system.)

Adding voltage specifically to power the LNB helps avoid voltage drops that can cause problems for the receiver.  Installation is easy.  Just place the LA144 closest to the dish followed by a short run to the 4SATPL.  If used together, the power inserter for the 4SATPL can also power the LA144.  If the LA144 is used without a polarity locker, attach its supplied power inserter.  If you decide not to install an amplifier and polarity locker, it’s wise to leave room for one later and make sure that cables from the dish can reach to where the amplifier would go.

Without a satellite meter, it’s not possible to tell whether or not you’re getting enough line loss to need an amplifier.  But if you start receiving 771 errors when watching, or see long stretches of unexpected black, the culprit is often line loss.  Installation of the LA144 and 4SATPL will stabilize your installation and keep things running smoothly.

Special Considerations for Whole-Home Viewing

DIRECTV’s Whole-Home Viewing service is designed to work around a single SWM8 or SWiM-16 multiswitch.  While it is possible to use Cinema Connection Kits (DECABBs) to bridge separate DECA clouds, there are some issues with which you should be aware.

SWM-32 is Not Recommended for Whole-Home Viewing

The SWM-32 is designed for multi-unit residential use and was not designed with Whole-Home Viewing in mind. While Whole-Home Viewing service will usually work with a SWiM-32, four Cinema Connection Kits must be connected via a switch.  Use one CCK from each SWM output.  The internal wiring of the SWM-32 is not certified to work with Whole-Home Viewing and any Whole-Home Viewing application using a SWM-32 will be unsupported. 

It Might Not be Possible to See More than Eight DVRs

Depending on random factors, which might be impossible to avoid, you might not see more than eight DVRs in your setup.  If possible, try to build your Whole-Home Viewing system so that one Genie and seven HR24s are sufficient.  This yields the ability to record 19 channels simultaneously.  If you need more than that, you can add additional DVRs, but some receivers might not be able to see them.

Conclusion

Seeing more than 16 tuners in a home is becoming more and more common.  While it has always been possible to use equipment intended for commercial buildings to get more than 16 tuners in the home, DIRECTV’s whole-home service adds another layer of complexity.  While there are no current solutions for a supported whole-home setup with more than 16 tuners, it’s possible to get some Whole-Home Viewing function.  In conclusion, it’s important to remember to:

  • Avoid long cable runs and unused cables when possible.
  • Terminate any unused connections.
  • Use the smallest splitter possible.
  • Be aware of the effects of signal loss.

Most of all, remember that almost all these methods are unsupported by DIRECTV.  If you are comfortable with this level of wiring, you probably have as much knowledge as many DIRECTV technicians, and you should not expect to get support for this sort of system.


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