To SWiM or not to SWiM… that is the question!

If you’ve had DIRECTV service for over a decade and haven’t upgraded at all, you might be using what’s called a “legacy” system. While most folks in homes have upgraded during that time frame, it’s possible that your RV, cabin or boat is still using older equipment.

In a “legacy” system, there are four wires coming from your dish. If you have more than two DVRs (or one DVR and two regular receivers) you have a multiswitch that allows you to split those four lines to go where they are needed. How can you tell for sure?

  • If you have two lines running into your DVR, that’s a legacy system.
  • On an older receiver, if you press the {DASH} button on your remote and it doesn’t say “SWiM Connected,” that’s a legacy system.
  • If you are using a Genie system then you are definitely not using a legacy system.

As far as I know, these older systems will be supported indefinitely. The backbone of a legacy system is also used for commercial customers because it allows very large cable runs. That doesn’t mean the parts will all be available forever, though. However, for home, RV and boat users, it’s well past time to upgrade if possible. Obviously you want to be smart with your money, but it’s usually best to upgrade on your schedule instead of waiting until something breaks.

What is SWiM? (or SWM)

SWiM stands for Single Wire Multiswitch, and it’s a proven technology from DIRECTV that was first rolled out to customers in 2007. The idea is to make installing and managing a DIRECTV system simpler and more like a cable television system. A single wire can be split in order to put service wherever it was needed, unlike the earlier system that required a separate line from the dish (or multiswitch) to each room.

The good news is that replacing a legacy system with a SWiM system can be easy. If you have an existing multiswitch, the four lines in from the dish can go into a SWM-8 module that can take the place of an older switch like a Zinwell WB68. If you just have a dish with no multiswitch, there are SWM-equipped dishes that run one wire out instead of four. The addition of a splitter can give you as many lines as you need. Finally, add the appropriate power inserter to power the SWiM system and you’re almost done. The next step is to take the B-Band converters off the back and reboot the receivers. In newer receivers and DVRs the new setup will be recognized automatically. Older receivers might need to go through Satellite Setup.

Why go SWiMming?

The biggest question is of course, if you have a perfectly good system, why make a change? At this point, with almost 10 years of SWM technology behind us, it’s a stable system. It’s the only system used for current AT&T and DIRECTV systems. I’ve been told over and over again that there will be no more “legacy” receivers made. The last legacy receivers currently offered are the H24 and HR24 DVR, and both will eventually be discontinued. Neither has been made in several years and we’re just working through old stock.

If you want to upgrade to Genie you’ll need to upgrade to SWiM. SWiM  gives you quieter, smaller boxes in every room and a massive upgrade to recording capacity. It also gives you a single box that takes the place of a lot of other little small boxes in your house. It even supports wireless receivers. The key to all of this is an upgrade to SWiM.

There is also another excellent reason. AT&T has built a large on-demand library and is moving toward offering new internet services like YouTube Videos and Pandora. In order to use these services, or to share programs from one DVR to other receivers, you’ll need to make sure all your receivers are networked. The easiest way to do this is with another beneficial SWiM improvement: the Cinema Connection Kit. This little device, also called a “Broadband DECA,” plugs into your home router and also into your coaxial cable, and provides internet connectivity to all your receivers, instead of having to run Cat5 cable to each receiver. This is a huge timesaver and also makes the installation much cleaner.

What else do I need?

If you’re doing your own SWiM conversion, you’ll need a few more parts. If you have a very old HR20, HR21, or HR23 DVR, you’ll need a DECA. The DECA is a converter that splits out the Ethernet cable for use by older receivers. You’ll also need a DECA for your H21 or H23 receivers. If you still have standard definition receivers or really old HD receivers, they will need band stop filters to help them “ignore” the ethernet information.

What should I look out for?

The first and most important concern is how to handle the power inserter. If you’re using a splitter, only one line is set up to pass power from the dish to the power inserter. That line should be run to the inserter itself. Be careful! Putting the power inserter in the wrong place, or having cables backwards, can fry your receivers. If you’re using an external SWiM module, the line called “SWM1/PWR” goes to the splitter, then to the power inserter.

Make sure that you’re not “oversplitting.” Solid Signal carries a range of 1×21×4, and 1×8 splitters. Over-splitting can lead to line loss and poor signal quality. Using DIRECTV-branded splitters with a green label guarantees that the splitters are designed to handle the bandwidth of a DIRECTV signal. Other splitters from home improvement stores are not.

A 8-channel SWiM can send the signal to 8 tuners, not 8 receivers. A regular DVR counts as two tuners, and a Genie can count as up to 7. So add carefully There’s an excellent tutorial here. Over-subscribing the SWiM is the term used for trying to use too many tuners and it can lead to real problems. If you need more than 8 tuners, check out the SWiM-16. It’s enough for most homes. Still not enough? Check out the new DSWM-30, which can handle up to 26 tuners.

Really though you should be looking at a complete system upgrade. This is the time. There’s a great tutorial which has been downloaded over 100,000 times that shows you every possible scenario and gives you the parts lists you’ll need as well as detailed setup instructions.

A SWiM upgrade can be a fun and worthwhile upgrade and is an excellent way to add both new function and future-proofing to your setup.

One last thing…

Is it SWiM or SWM? Since 2009 I’ve heard both used. When speaking we always pronounce it “swim” but in print I’ve seen “SWM” more commonly used. So choose whichever you want and you’ll be fine.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.