How to Power a TV in a Van
There are two common ways to power a tv in a van off-grid. The first way is to use a 12-volt tv powered directly from your battery bank, and the second way is to use power from your battery bank to run a 120-volt television with an inverter.
In this post, we’ll discuss which is better and recommend any products you’ll need to make it happen.
2 Ways of Powering a TV in a Campervan
As stated in the intro, there are only 2 ways to power a tv off-grid: The first is by using a 12-volt inverter to convert electricity from your car or “house batteries” to AC power for use with a traditional 120-volt television as you’d use in your home. The second option is to use a 12-volt television which also uses power directly from your house batteries and does not require the use of an inverter.
Which Is Better?
Since both 120-volt and 12-volt televisions require battery power to work off-grid, the best solution is whichever most efficiently uses that battery power.
There is no debate here… 12-volt televisions are more efficient for off-grid campervans, RVs, or overlanding vehicles because they don’t require an inverter.
Inverters work by converting power from one electrical voltage to another (in this case, from 12-volt power in your batteries to 120 volts for use in household appliances). The conversion process is costly because power is used in the actual conversion. On average, about 85% of the power converted is available and 15% is lost.
When using a 12-volt television, the power does not need to be converted to AC because the television already runs on 12-volt electricity. That means you can simply connect your TV directly to your battery bank (through the appropriate electrical distribution panel) without losing any power.
How Long Will Your Campervan TV Run?
The 24″ LED smart tv we recommend from Sylvox consumes just 50 watts of power at the high end and will run for ~24 hours off a single 100 amp hour battery.
Compared to a 50-watt AC-powered tv, a 100-amp hour battery will provide about 4 hours less watch time (20 hours in total – which is still great) because of the 15% inverter loss.
Now that we have established why 12-volt powered televisions are better for off-grid use, let’s discuss how you can hook up and power a 12-volt tv in your camper van.
Powering a 12 Volt TV in Your Van
As discussed in our van electrical system guide, a basic 12-volt campervan electrical system has 4 main components.
- Power Source: The power source is as it sounds, the source of power for your electrical system. This is how you recharge your batteries. This could be solar power, your vehicle’s alternator, shore power, or all 3.
- Battery: Your battery storage can be as simple as your vehicle’s starter battery (not recommended), a portable power station like a Goal Zero or Jackery, or a full 1,000-amp hour lithium-ion battery bank from Battle Born.
- Fuse Box: A fuse box sits between your battery bank and appliances and protects them from power surges and overheating.
- 12 Volt Television: 12-volt TVs are more efficient to use than 120-volt TVs because they don’t require the use of an inverter.
With each of these components in place, you can simply plug your 12-volt television in and you’re good to go. Using a portable power station like Goal Zero is a very simple way to run your TV off-grid but just be aware that if you are using a traditional tv plugging into that household 120-volt socket is going to cost you ~15% efficiency so if you plan to use your tv off-grid long-term it’s best to go with a 12-volt tv.