Troubleshooting Your Cable TV
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 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 front of cable box, or says “Standby”
- Snow on screen
- Can only get Channel 3
- No audio using 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
"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 here 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 thas 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)
- 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.
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 than 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, than 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, than 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:
- The cable box is connected to the cable company, but it doesn't recognize the channels you are paying for.
- Static buildup in the coaxial cable is blocking a range of channels.
- The “Head End” (where the cable signal comes from) is having a problem.
- Your provider has turned off your account for non-payment.
- 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”...)
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 picture above) and disconnect (unscrew or unclip) the coaxial cable from the “Cable In” port (at left). Count to ten. First re-connect 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.
- Verify that BOTH ends of the electrical cord are pushed in.
- Press the power button on the front of the box (don’t use the remote to do this).
- 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
Snow on screen usually means:
- 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.
- Another possibility is that your cable has been hard disconnected; if so you'll have to call your cable provider.
- 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.
More by this Author
Troubleshooting common problems on your Echostar/Dish TV System: no picture on any channel, missing channels, poor picture quality, remote not working, "remote wars."