Review: DirecTV's Sat-Go takes your tailgating up a notch

If you go on a road trip into the wilds that lie out past suburbia, you'll soon notice that once you get beyond the reach of cable TV, satellite reception is the only game out of town. In some places, satellite dishes have become so pervasive that some locals joke that they should be declared the new state flower. Having all those channels at home is great, but now with DirecTV's new Sat-Go you really can take it with you, whether you're hosting a tailgate party or heading into the wilderness in some really cushy interpretation of camping. I tried out the Sat-Go recently — check out my thoughts bon it by following the link.

Early Adopter's Special
The very first generation of most new tech devices is usually pretty clunky when we look back years later (think the original iPod), and the DirecTV Sat-Go somehow manages to appear particularly cumbersome from the outset. Weighing in at an arm-stretching 26 pounds, it brings to mind some of the very first portable computers, back when they were called "luggables" rather than laptops. Indeed, the chocolate brown and beige color scheme has a decidedly retro '70s look to it, like something Roger Moore would have unveiled to ooohs and aaahs in an old James Bond flick.

Style and portability issues aside, the Sat-Go does work as advertised, with the outer case folding open to form the antenna, while revealing the 17-inch 4:3 LCD screen housed inside. The screen can either be folded out while still in the case or removed completely to sit up to 15 feet away from the case/antenna. You get power from either the 12-volt car-power cord (which goes into that socket on your dash), a regular AC adapter, or the built-in rechargeable battery. Clearly this thing sucks a lot of juice, as battery life was limited to only a bit over an hour in my testing.

Signal Snatching
Once you've found a spot with a clear shot to the South, you aim the swiveling and tilting antenna to point toward the satellite (parked somewhere over Mexico), using the handy built-in compass along with a list of suggested starting angles for various parts of the country. A beeping signal-strength meter helps you fine-tune the positioning, then the system downloads the on screen channel guide, and you're ready to find that pregame show for whatever NFL event you're parked in front of.

Should you choose to provide your own programming, the Sat-Go has both composite- and component-video inputs (up to 1080i) for a DVD player. Audio is provided by a pair of 3-watt speakers flanking the screen, or you can plug some headphones to the stereo minijack for private listening. While you can connect the Sat-Go to an external display, the only video output is a composite jack, putting limits on the potential picture quality — bummer! For indoor use, any standard DirecTV outdoor dish can be connected to the Sat-Go.

It Works!
With its relatively small SXGA (1,280 x 1,024) 4:3 display, pictures displayed on the Sat-Go are bright and detailed, and there is a good complement of picture controls to help optimize the image. As expected, the picture washes out badly in bright sunlight, but with a bit of shade you do get a perfectly watchable picture even in daylight. In a darker environment the picture is excellent given its small size — helped, no doubt, by the fancy deinterlacing chip used.

For anyone who needs to be the first on the block with the latest toys, the Sat-Go takes satellite TV to places it's never been before, and helps you to redefine the words camping and tailgating. Just don't plan on an extended hike in with a Sat-Go in tow. While I'm sure that a few generations down the road we'll be chuckling at its bulk, for now, the $1,000 Sat-Go is the only game in town.

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