How to Watch TV with a Generator

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If you have a generator in your RV or you’re thinking about purchasing one, then you may be wondering how to watch TV with a generator? That’s a good question to be asking. We’ve answered it fully in the article below.

So, let’s dive right in.

How to Watch TV with a Generator

A generator in a recreational vehicle, towable, or campervan is designed to provide additional power to run plugged-in electronics. When your 12-volt house batteries have insufficient charge to run a TV, then you need to look at alternative power sources.

One way to manage the power requirements is to run a generator. Either your RV will already have one or it’s possible to purchase either an inverter generator, a regular one, or a solar battery generator.

Is it OK to Run a TV on a Generator?

Can you run a TV off a generator? Is it safe? Yes… certainly.

Generators produce different types of 110VAC compatible power to use to run your 110VAC TV. There are two primary types of generators for TVs, the regular one and the inverter generator. We cover them both below:

Regular Generators

A regular generator is designed to produce raw power for use in the motorhome or camper.

The difficulty and risk with them are that the power tends to be “dirty.”  What does this mean? It means that because the generator is powered using gasoline or another fuel source, it is subject to fits and starts that can prevent it from providing a steady 110VAC supply without sudden power interruptions, spikes, or surges.

Most electronics in an RV or camper are sensitive to the ups and downs of these types of generator snafus. And you might not even notice right away because voltage fluctuations can mess up a TV’s internal workings over time (the same is true of a laptop, and other electronics too).

Some other systems like vehicle engines are designed to handle literal bumps in the road, voltage irregularities, etc. They have a far higher tolerance for them, including their internal electronic systems in the dashboard too. However, separate electronics including a TV do not have such tolerances.

The generator that may have come installed with an RV could have an inverter built into it. In most situations, other than either a very new or high-end RV model, that won’t be the case. As such, the power they produce will be the “dirty” type that you need to watch out for.

Inverter Generators

An inverter acts to modulate the power supply it’s receiving to prevent too high of a voltage or excessive watts from being passed to the power outlet on the generator. While they don’t usually provide complete protection, an inverter generator is far superior to a regular generator for any RVer or someone into Van Life.

When considering plugging a 110VAC plasma TV or other power-hungry TV into a generator, we would never even consider it unless it was an inverter generator. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before your TV will need replacing.

Here’s an example of a portable generator:

Champion Power Equipment 200988. 4500-Watt Dual Fuel Portable Inverter Generator (RV Ready, Electric Start)

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How Many Watts Does a TV Use on a Generator?

A generator for a TV will require a different number of watts depending on the TV type and model. Even with a 110VAC TV, there’s considerable variance. Here are some approximations as a guide:

  • 19-inch TV: 80 watts
  • 25-inch LED TV: 150 watts
  • Plasma TV: 350-400 watts
  • Large TV: 600+ watts!

TVs with the Energy Star label consume considerably less power – around 20-40% less relative to their size/type. Look out for them if you’re in the market for a new 110VAC TV for your motorhome or campervan.


For existing TV owners, look at the back panel to see what it says. In almost all cases, the power consumption information is found on the back. If it’s rubbed off or faded, then search on Google for the product’s manual or look at the manufacturer’s website. It is possible to use a meter to verify the power consumption requirements, but locating the information is usually quite doable.

As a point of comparison, here is how the wattage consumption looks like for a 12-volt RV TV.

How Many Watts Does a 12 volt TV Use?

The alternative to using a generator to power a 110VAC TV is to stick to using the 12-volt coach batteries to run a 12-volt TV instead. The battery pack can be recharged when driving, through using solar panels, or at an RV campground too.

It’s worth pointing out that RV and camper owners don’t always opt for using 12-volt TVs. The reasons include because the size is usually restricted to the wattage limitations from 12-volt systems and they prefer the battery power to be used for other devices like the refrigerator, smartphones, LED lighting, etc.

For more occasional TV viewers who want a plasma TV or a similar size, then a 110VAC TV and inverter generator makes the most sense.

Now do bear in mind that the power consumption for 12-volt TVs does vary on the wattage requirements. Therefore, here is a rough breakdown for different 12-volt TV sizes:

  • 15-inch, 12-volt TV: 25-30 watts
  • 24-27 inch, 12-volt TV: 55-85 watts

What Size Generator Do I Need to Run a TV?

The size of the inverter generator required depends on several factors.

Will you only be running a 110VAC TV or do you plan to power other 110VAC electronics too? For instance, a generator for a TV and Xbox are going to need more juice.

If you own a large plasma TV that eats through 450-watts, then you’ll probably require a generator that has at least 600-watts. Do consider that the starting watts and the running watts from a TV may be different too. Usually, it’s not, but that’s not always the case. It depends on the 110VAC TV model.

With inverter generators, and even a portable solar battery generator covered in the next section, a higher capacity is better than purchasing a smaller one and regretting it later. After all, generators don’t have add-on packs to boost up their wattage capacity a year later…

Can You Power a TV with a Solar Battery Generator?

A portable lithium-ion battery generator – the most well-known type is the Jackery, EcoFlow, and Yeti brands. These have handles, come with a substantial built-in battery pack, and can be recharged either at home or using a supplied solar panel.

The majority will power a 110VAC TV quite happily for many hours. Ensure that the solar battery generator has sufficient wattage availability to run the TV. Given that most 110VAC TVs do not exceed 400 watts anyway, the majority of these lifesavers will do so.

It’s a good idea to follow some of the additional suggestions below about how to clean up generator power for electronics.

How to Make a Generator Safe for Electronics

The below recommendations apply universally for a 110VAC TV as they do other electronics like running a laptop off a generator. A TV isn’t – generally speaking – more or less sensitive in that sense.

Here are some steps to follow:

Surge Protector as Standard

While your inverter generator may come with a surge protection system, it’s never a bad idea to have a second one. Because if your generator suddenly goes wrong in a bad way, it may send an excess wattage surge down the line that exceeds what the built-in protector could handle.

So, plugging an independent surge protector into the power outlet of the inverter generator, and then the TV plug into the surge protector power outlet, is best.

UPS

An uninterruptable power supply is something from the laptop and desktop PC world. It has an internal battery capable of providing smooth power that won’t upset delicate electronics. The UPS batteries are replaceable. They need replacing about every 1-2 years.

Power surges and other issues are handled well with a UPS. And a UPS can play nicely with a regular generator by smoothing out the power it receives, adding it as juice to its battery, and then feeding the regulated battery power to whatever is plugged into it.

Also, the UPS can be used with a TV and a laptop PC; it’s highly recommended to do so.

Power Line Conditioner for Regular Generators

To address any voltage irregularities, a separate approach is to use a power line conditioner.

When you already have a regular generator – not an inverter generator – then the power line conditioner added before the stage where the electronics are plugged in will save the day.

The idea with these line conditioners is that they prevent high voltage from reaching the TV and any other electronics being powered by the generator too.

The majority of these types of protective products some with a sophisticated AVR surge protection system. They will handle a maximum wattage limit, volts, amperage, and hertz too. So, it’s necessary to choose the appropriate one with the right specifications for your system.

Tripp Lite 1800W Line Conditioner. AVR Surge Protection. 120V, 15A, 60Hz. (6 Power outlets, 6 ft. power cord)

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Power Surge Arrestor

The final way to protect from excessive wattage reaching your TV is to get a power surge arrestor installed.

These devices manage the electricity level inside the RV or camper to prevent any excess current from reaching your TV or other electronics. The difference with these compared to a standard surge protector is that an electrician must install it because it must be grounded properly to function correctly.

Using one would protect from irregular power issues inside the motorhome or camper, but it won’t do anything for lightning strikes, etc.

Generator Safety Tips

Here are some generator safety suggestions for RVers and Van Lifers:

  1. Keep the generator away from moisture and dampness.
  2. Use an outdoor, covered, and ventilated area.
  3. Ground the generator using copper wire connect to a metal pipe that’s buried under the ground.
  4. Verify all electrical cords are undamaged with no cuts or other damage before plugging them in.
  5. Confirm that the generator is topped up. Don’t risk it sputtering out due to a fuel shortage as this could cause electrical flow irregularities.

How Noisy Will a Generator Be?

Generator noise is one of the reasons why they’re kept outside (the possibility of fume venting is another reason).

When wanting to watch TV and not use coach batteries with a smaller 12-volt TV, the noise from the generator is one of the trade-offs, unfortunately.

One thing you can do is to pick an inverter generator that has a quiet mode. It likely will reduce the wattage output below the model’s maximum wattage output capacity but using it will be more pleasant.

Here is our recommended quiet inverter generator for a TV in an RV:

WEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000-Watt Portable Inverter Generator. (Fuel Shut Off, Ultra Lightweight, CARB Compliant)

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Closing Thoughts

Never plug a 110VAC TV directly into a generator. If you’re still using a regular generator without a built-in inverter, get a power line conditioner installed, or use a surge protector and a UPS. However, we’d highly recommend replacing an existing generator with an inverter generator for a TV. It’s the safest approach. Then add a separate surge protector or use one of the other suggestions from earlier to provide assurance. Don’t risk dirty power messing up your electronics! It’s an expensive lesson that far too many RVers and Van Lifers go through, unnecessarily.

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