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Troubleshooting Your Cable TV

Jeramiah has been a telecommunications tech for 10+ years and enjoys helping others to deal with common tech issues!

I'm going to discuss the most common cable problems that you can fix without calling your cable provider.

Here they are:

  • "No Signal" displayed on the screen
  • "One Moment Please, This Channel Will Be Available Shortly,” or “Not Authorized for Use”
  • Red “Record” light on when nothing is being recorded
  • No lights on the front of the cable box, or says “Standby”
  • Snow on screen
  • Can only get Channel 3
  • No audio using a new HDMI cable
  • TV turns on and cable box turns off, or vice versa
  • Can only get basic cable, none of the digital channels

"No Signal" Message on TV Screen

Guess I'll go read a book... Wait, no, I think I'll yell at my cable company.  Way more entertaining.

Guess I'll go read a book... Wait, no, I think I'll yell at my cable company. Way more entertaining.

"No Signal" is almost always due to one of these three issues:

  1. The cable box is not turned on or has no power.
  2. The video cable connecting the TV to the cable box is not plugged in.
  3. The TV is on the wrong input channel.

Dealing with issue number 1 is pretty basic: just make sure the cable box has electricity and the power button has been pushed.

Issue number 2 is a little more complicated, in that you need to know which cables connect the box to the TV. Look online for a step-by-step guide on how to plug in your cable box and determine what kind of cables you are using. Once you have determined what kind of cable you are using, simply plug the cable into the appropriate jack (plug) on the back of the box and on the TV, and you should be fine.

Issue 3 is a related issue. Each jack on the back of your TV has its own special input channel, in addition to the normal numbered channels.

To change the input channel on your TV you will need the remote control that came with your TV when you purchased it.

Second, you will need to find a button on that remote called “Input,” “Source,” or “TV/Video.”

Press that button and it will either bring up a menu showing the choices below, or it will simply display one of the choices:

  • Video 1, 2, & 3 (RCA Cables)
  • Component 1, 2, & 3
  • HDMI 1, 2, & 3
  • RGB (Computers)
  • PC (Computers)
  • Game (XBOX, PS3, WII)
  • DVD
  • Cable—this refers to the coaxial cable from the wall.
  • TV—this refers to the antenna jack, which is connected to an antenna on your roof.
buttons on a remote

buttons on a remote

If you can't find any of those choices, then your remote should allow you to use the “Channel Down” button to move through the input choices. In this scenario, you will put the TV on Channel 2 and then hit Channel Down or Channel "-" (minus). Once you get below channel 1 you will start to see a menu of choices like those listed above.

If you figured out which kind of cables you are using to connect the box to the TV, then go to that channel, either by using the Up, Down, Left, and Right arrows on your remote, or by changing the channel on the TV.

If you were not able to figure out which cables you are using, then just go through all the choices SLOWLY to see what they are. Leave each one on for 5–10 seconds before changing channels, so the TV can unscramble the video.

(If you are using HDMI and this doesn't solve your problem: See section VII, part 2 below.)

“One Moment Please: This Channel Will Be Available Shortly” (Motorola) or “Not Authorized for Use” (Scientific Atlanta)

These messages could result from one of several issues:

  1. The cable box is connected to the cable company, but it doesn't recognize the channels you are paying for.
  2. Static buildup in the coaxial cable is blocking a range of channels.
  3. The “Head End” (where the cable signal comes from) is having a problem.
  4. Your provider has turned off your account for non-payment.
  5. The provider of the channel is having a problem and has taken the channel offline.

Issues 3, 4, and 5, of course, can only be dealt with by your cable provider. A message like this may mean your cable provider has turned off your account for non-payment. Call your provider and pay your bill, or find out why they didn't apply your payment. If the message persists even after you pay your bill, you may have had the cable box bypassed so you could get basic cable while your account was blocked.

Issues 1 and 2 are dealt with using the steps below.

  • If you use two coaxial cables—one from the wall to the cable box and another from the TV to the cable box—you may have the two coaxial cables switched. Go to the back of the cable box and switch CABLE IN and CABLE OUT (sometimes called RF IN and RF OUT). See the picture below. Check to see if the cable from the wall is plugged into the TV or the cable box. It should be plugged into CABLE IN.
  • It may be that the coaxial cable from the wall is not connected on one end or the other. If all other connections are plugged in, make sure the coaxial cable is also plugged in: make sure both ends of this cable are screwed all the way down finger tight (if they are the kind that screws on) or pushed in all the way (if they push on).
  • Put the TV on the correct input channel (for example “HDMI,” “Video 1”, “AV 1”...)
"Cable In" (circled at left) next to "Cable Out."

"Cable In" (circled at left) next to "Cable Out."

Red "Record" Light on, on Front of DVR Cable Box, but I'm Not Recording Anything

This issue has the same solution as above so keep reading for the fix.

Simply unplug the electrical cord from the power port (at right in the picture above) and disconnect (unscrew or unclip) the coaxial cable from the “Cable In” port (at left). Count to ten. First, reconnect the coaxial cable, then plug in the electrical cable again.

And now we wait.

  • Scientific Atlanta cable box: Just wait for the time to come up on the LCD panel on the front of the cable box. (This can take a long time: up to five minutes). Then hit “Power” on the cable box and wait till you see a picture. Hit “Guide,” and off you go.
  • Motorola cable box: After plugging in the electrical cord, wait about 60 seconds. If the cable box doesn't turn on by itself, simply hit the “Power” button once and wait while everything loads, normally about two or three minutes.
  • TIVO: If you have no lights on the front after the electrical cord is plugged back on, simply hit the power button. A TIVO is like a computer; if you reboot it after turning off the power, it takes a really long time to load up and show a picture. It may take three to ten minutes, depending on whether it decides it needs to download and update something. Go make a cup of coffee or a sandwich; this may take a while.

No Lights on the Front of the Cable Box, or Says “Standby”

If the “Power” button is on, and you get this situation, you are not getting power.

  1. Verify that BOTH ends of the electrical cord are pushed in.
  2. Press the power button on the front of the box (don’t use the remote to do this).
  3. If the above doesn't work, then you will need to find out if the problem is in your home's electrical outlet or in the cable box. To do this you will need to move the electrical cord to a different outlet.
  • Plug it directly into the wall (not into another slot on the power strip) and see if that helps.
  • If not, take the cable box and the electrical cord to another room and plug it in there.
  • If the lights go on, the problem was with the place you were plugging the box into; if you don't get lights, then the problem is the box and you need to replace it.

"Snow" or "Ants" on Screen

Ant Races

Ant Races

Snow on screen usually means:

  1. The input channel on the TV has been changed to an analog channel. Grab your TV remote and use one of these buttons: “Input, "Source" or "Video." Either hit the button multiple times to switch channels, or use the arrow buttons to select the correct input channel.
  2. Another possibility is that your cable has been hard disconnected; if so you'll have to call your cable provider.
  3. If you are not using a cable box, snow may mean that the coaxial cable on the back of your TV is not plugged in. If you are not a cable box user, simply plug the coaxial from the wall directly into the TV.

Can Only Get Channel 3: Everything Else Is Snow or Black Screen

For this error I need to ask a couple of quick qualifying questions:

Are you using a cable box? AND are you using two coaxial cables to connect the wall to the cable box and the cable box to the TV?

1. If you're using a cable box and two coaxial cables:

  • You are changing the channel on your TV instead of on your Cable Box.
  • Put the TV on channel 3.
  • Hit "CBL" and then "MOT" (for Motorola), "SA" (for Scientific Atlanta) or "SAT"(for satellite).
  • Now hit "Guide," or try to change the channel.

2. If you are not using two coaxial cables, but you ARE using a Cable Box:

  • You may have two kinds of video output cables plugged in at the same time.
  • If you have good quality cables, like HDMI, Component, or even RCA, you do NOT need to have a coaxial cable plugged into Cable Out and then connected to the TV.
  • Remove the extra coaxial cable and put the TV on the correct Input Channel (HDMI, Component, Video, AV, etc.)

3. If you are not using a cable box, but just have your TV connected to the wall with a coaxial cable:

  • You need to do what's called a channel scan.
  • Grab your remote for the TV. Hit "MENU"; use the arrows to select " SETUP"; you may have to hit "Select/Enter/OK; then hit "Channel Scan / Auto Program."
  • Get a drink, this is gonna take a bit.
  • Once it's done you should be able to simply change channels normally.

No Audio When Using New HDMI Cable

This is likely caused by one of two common issues:

1. Many cable boxes have a setting that you have to switch from Dolby Digital Surround to HDMI Digital Output.

  • Just hit "Menu" twice to get access to advanced settings.
  • Go to either "Audio Setup" or "Audio: Digital Output"
  • Change the setting to "HDMI Digital Output"
  • After you make the change and follow the on-screen instructions for applying the new setting, the sound should come on.

2. There is a little-known glitch spoken of only in secluded tech-support basements: For some odd reason, sometimes a TV and an HDMI cable simply stop communicating with each other.

  • First, turn off the power on the TV and unplug it.
  • Then pull out the HDMI cable from either the box or the TV (doesn't matter which).
  • Plug the TV back in and turn it back on.
  • Finally, plug the HDMI back into HDMI 1 and make sure the TV is on the HDMI 1 input channel.

The sound should work fine now. This also works for "No Signal" sometimes. Say about 50/50.

TV Turns On and the Cable Box Turns Off, and Vice-Versa

You are using one of those cool remotes that lets you turn on and off multiple devices with the click of a single button.

  • Stop hitting "All Power" or "System Power."
  • Go to the device that is currently off and turn it on manually, without using a remote.
  • You should have a picture now, and you can go back to using the "All Power" button.

Can Only Get Basic Cable, No Digital Channels

If you do not use a cable box:

  • Do a channel scan.
  • If that doesn't help, then you have what is called a "trap" on your line outside that you can't remove without calling your cable provider.

If you do use a cable box:

  • Call your cable provider. You may have been accidentally downgraded to Basic Cable, or you have signal loss on a massive scale.

Well There You Go...Simple Eh?

I hope the solutions above helped you navigate your cable problems.

I wanted to give you the exact same advice that I would give to a customer that I would speak with on the phone.

If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a comment below, and I'll do my best to answer you.



This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Jeramiah Gladden


Jeramiah Gladden (author) from Austin, Texas on July 14, 2019:

I think I'm going to need more information Sandra.

So I can guess about the scenario

Are you using 1 Cable Box to feed 2 TV's

Or are you using 2 Cable Boxes and 2 TV's and wondering if the Inputs matter?

Scenario 1: 1 Cable Box feeding 2 TV's

It is not common to have 1 Cable box feeding 2 TV's unless you are a business that wants the same screen on multiple TV's

The individual HDMI Ports are used so you can have multiple devices on the same TV.

For example:

HDMI 1 - Cable Box

HDMI 2 - Blu-Ray Player

HDMI 3 - PlayStation / Xbox

By having you on HDMI 1 and him on HDMI 2 means that when you are watching it, he will not be able to, but when you change to HDMI 2 his TV will now be in control of the box.

Scenario 2: 2 Cable Boxes, 2 TV's - Does the HDMI Port matter?

In this scenario the HDMI Ports don't matter.

What matters is that Cable Box #1 is plugged into an HDMI Port and the TV is on the HDMI channel associated with that port.

So Cable box #1 is plugged into HDMI 2 on the back of the TV and you change the input channel on the TV to HDMI 2.

Let me know if I'm misunderstanding your question.

Feel free to let me know what you setup is and I'll do my best to help you.

Spotter1952 on June 12, 2016:

UPDATE & CORRECTION. Jeremiah, I was wrong: my TV Input button is actually behaving correctly as a "cycle button". My husband read your response, and knowing how my mind can lock in, told me to follow your instrucs while he watched. Sure enough, I was clicking TV Input once, then clicking *the arrows* on the remote (like you would on a Windows pop-up or fly-out), not clicking the TV Input button multiple times as you'd clearly instructed. Hubby now smiling broadly (he knows me) & hope you are, as well. Ah, the human factor... Thank you & best wishes.

Spotter1952 on June 12, 2016:

Jeremiah (aka "Kind Sir"), to your first question, no, the remote TV Input button isn't working as a cycle button. Instead, pressing it yields a pop-up box to the left on which arrowing appears possible, yet it isn't (the arrow up/down keys do not move the highlight). If both TV and Blu-Ray are powered on, both the HDMI1 and HDMI2 choices are highlighted; if only TV, just HDMI1.

The brochure for this remote describes 3 set-up approaches: A, the one I used, is Popular Brands, and all I did was select generic option 5 = Samsung. Option B is Code Search, wherein you hold down two keys until the set-top discovers the right code for you. Option C is Direct Code Entry; and for Samsung TV's & this remote, four 4-digit codes are listed to try.

Yes, my cable company is mailing a new remote, so it will be interesting to see (1) if it's newer/different model number; (2) if same three set-up options are possible; and (3) if the same four 4-digit codes are listed for Samsung when using Option C, Direct Code Entry.

Something else just struck me: I wonder if there's a firmware update for my TV (I'll look). Annoyingly, there *was* a firmware update for my Blu-Ray, yet I couldn't install it for love nor money. I found at least 3 versions of general install instructions online, none of which worked. I sense I didn't save the unzipped file correctly to thumb drive, causing my Blu-Ray not to find it due to a directory problem. I also wondred about USB compatibility: no clue what my USB port is on my Blu-Ray (Samsung materials don't say), but my PC USB side port is definitely USB 3.0. But to be honest, my take on firmware is not to install it unless something isn't working, and my Blu-Ray is working...

Anyhow, thank you. Soon as my new cable remote arrives, I'll go at it again & will post an update. You are much appreciated!

Jeramiah Gladden (author) from Austin, Texas on June 11, 2016:

Hello Spotter1952,

First let's get the simple troubleshooting out of the way.

1. When you press the TV Input button, do you immediately go to the Arrows, Channel, or Page Buttons?

If so this is wrong - The TV Input button is a Cycle Button - you need to only continue pressing the TV Input button to change your source. Each press will change the source down one in your list.

Let's assume that you have already done that and it's not working.

If the above is true than your symptoms suggest that, regardless of the fact that the remote has SOME of the functions, the remote is either not supported by the TV Mfg(even if they say so) or the code used doesn't match the TV Model.

Since the remote is used by this service provider for customers other than yourself, we can rule out that the remote isn't supported.

Moving on to Codes.

Since we are talking about simple IR Communication, it's very common for a wrong code to give partial function. It's also more common for a wrong code to give, say for example, the volume buttons the function of changing channels while the channels buttons turn on and off the power.

Samsung has a tendency to use broad spectrum codes that cover a range of TV's they manufacture.

My gut tells me this is probably the case and the TV is simply too new in comparison to the codes that are programmed into the remote. Your remote is from the Mid 2000's, your TV is last year's model.

OK, done pointing out what you may have already concluded.


1. Use the step by step programming instead of codes. When you reach a code that works, do your due diligence by testing all function. Once you've determined that Input/Source do or do not work. Start over and pass that one until you get another. During the programming process using this remote, the TV will shut off - you just keep going until it turns back on - that will be the second code that works(if there is one)

2. I would have suggested that you get another remote just to eliminate it as possibly flawed. It seems you have one on the way.

Logic dictates that if the remote is replaced but the symptoms remain, then the problem is not with the remote's hardware, but either with it's hard coded programming, or the TV itself.

If the new remote has the exact same symptoms and the above suggestions do not work, we can assume the remote is working as intended and there are no codes that match your TV.

Let's start with this and see what happens. Feel free to reply and I'll do what I can to help you further.

Spotter1952 on June 11, 2016:

Any advice on a probably related issue? I have Optimum Remote URC2464 (a model with a "TV Input" button), a new Samsung LED TV (4000 series), and a Samsung set-top box (SMT-C5320). PROBLEM: on the Optimum remote, the "TV Input" button isn't working (several examples follow). BTW, to fix this, Optimum first sent this new Samsung set-top box (no go), and now it's mailing a new remote (which I expect not to help). Bottom line: when I programmed the Optimum remote, it took over the expected functions (channel & volume) but NOT Source. When I programmed, btw, I used Setup Method A, Popular Brands, and selected 5 (generic Samsung); and the TV turned off as expected, indicating a successful set-up.

1. I sometimes get the "No signal" problem described in the (great) article, with only static appearing on TV screen. I understand the problem---I'm not on the right source---but trying to correct source using the Optimum remote "TV Input" button doesn't work. The pop-up showing possible sources appears as expected, including HDMI1 (my TV connection), but I can't DO anything with the display because arrow down (using the key contiguous to SEL button) doesn't move the highlight down to HDMI1; similarly, using Channel down key doesn't move the highlight either. Instead, what changes with both methods is the INFO display of channels (HUH?!) at the bottom of TV screen: it increments or decrements. I am able to correct my source & get my picture back, but only by using my Samsung *TV remote* (depress Source, arrow down, then Enter).

2. Similarly, remote "TV Input" button doesn't allow switching source from HDMI1 (my TV) to HDMI2 (my Blu-Ray). Same result as in #1: the pop-up of various sources appears, but I can't move the highlight to a different source. Arrowing up/down or using Channel up/down only toggles the INFO display on the bottom of the TV screen.

So far, I'm able to fall back to my Samsung TV remote to get back on track, but I would like to fix this very annoying gap in the functioning of my Optimum remote. So, any thoughts? Thank you all!

ChrisAna on February 05, 2014:

great post! After going down through your list it must be a damaged coaxial cable. Makes sense since I have reused and moved those cables repeatedly over the years every time I buy a new TV or move it to a different room. After I get a new one, if it doesn't work I will be back!

topledtvs on August 29, 2013:

I have been having problems with setting up my cable tv. Thanks for all the information!

Cherry Ann from New York on December 16, 2012:

Thanks for the info I was searching hubs to find out how to connect my cable and trouble shoot my cable. Thank you.