Troubleshoot Like a Boss

The day will come when you will press the “Watch TV” button on your fancy remote control—or however it is that you turn your system on—and…nothing will happen. Or something will happen, but it won’t be the right thing. Generally the problem will boil down to you’ll be able to see it but not hear it or you’ll hear it but not see it. Before you panic and start spiraling down into a world of Apocalypse Now-level darkness, try these five simple troubleshooting tips. Chances are one of them will get you back on track before the first commercial break!

Power Down

Before you get too deep into troubleshooting, check to see if this was just some one-off glitch. Press the “System Off” button on your remote (or manually power everything down), wait a second, and then try powering it back on. It’s possible—especially with a smart remote—that some component just missed its turn on or input flip command and starting over from ground zero will get you back on track.

Check Batteries

The batteries in your remote control are going to die. And probably when you least expect it and when you need them the most. And I don't care if you just changed them; humor me and change the batteries anyhow. Because in my years of experience, “I just did it,” often means that you replaced the batteries about a year ago. And even if the remote LOOKS like the batteries are fresh, let’s just change them for laughs. I don’t know how many battery milli-amp, milli-joules, pico-watts or whatever it takes to generate a significantly powerful IR signal to change your receiver’s volume from 12 feet away, but I DO know that a battery change—even when you have JUST done it—magically seems to fix a variety of ills. Also, if you have a rechargeable model, at some point that battery is going to stop holding a charge and will need to be replaced. Might not be a bad idea to get a spare if yours is more than two years old…

Reboot/Power Cycle

Modern electronics share more in common genetically with computers than any other device, and what does your computer need occasionally? Yep, a good ole-fashioned Ctrl-Alt-Del reboot! Sometimes a hard power cycle is just the kick-in-the-pants a device needs to get its heart right once again. This is especially true of cable boxes, cable modems, and routers which seem to lock up and need rebooting fairly regularly. Other modern “smart” devices like A/V receivers, Blu-ray players and even TVs occasionally need to have a hard power cycle. Just last night I needed to power-cycle my multichannel amplifier when it stopped responding to the 12-volt trigger that normally turns it on and off.

Check Front Panel

A device can often give you clues to the trouble if you know what to look for. On a modem or router, it can be that activity lights aren’t blinking. On a receiver it might show it isn’t receiving the correct input signal (saying “analog” instead of “digital” for example) or that it’s in a wrong mode. Also, I can’t tell you how often the problem boils down to something—usually the cable box—not being on. Devices can get out of sync, and the remote can end up turning them off instead of on. You might also see that a power light is blinking, usually the sign of some bad juju. Never hurts to physically check to see that things are actually on.

Ditch the Remote

If you get to this point—and actually DID change the batteries in the remote—and things still aren’t working, you might have some real trouble going on. Go up to the unit and see if it will respond to direct button presses. If you press the channel up button, the power button or turn the volume on the unit and nothing responds, that’s a massive red flag. If it DOES respond, then you have likely some other issue going on—a wrongly assigned input, a loose cable, etc. Hopefully you know how your system is supposed to be configured for a given activity (ie: what inputs the TV and receiver need to be on) and you can manually get it straight.

If you get this far and it still isn’t working, well, I've got some bad might have something that's just broken. But before calling for tech support you can help them by getting the make and model numbers of your equipment and also by taking a digital picture of your system—with a close-up of the receiver—and seeing if you could e-mail it to them so they can get an overview of what is going on. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been able to help someone avoid a paid service call when they can provide me this info over the phone!