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Troubleshooting Your Home Theater System

What to Do Before You Call The Repairman

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You've finished setting up your new home theater system and big-screen TV. You turn everything on and...nothing happens. Most consumers, including us "pros", have moments like this. However, this doesn't mean that it is time pull out the cell phone and dial tech support or a repair man just yet.

Before you grab the phone, there are some practical things you can do, and knowledge you can arm yourself with, that may get your system running, or determine what the actual problem is that needs repair.

1. Nothing Turns On

Check all power connections. If you have connected everything into a surge protector, make sure the surge protector itself is turned on and plugged into the wall. Believe it or not, this is one of most common reasons that home theater systems and/or televisions don't power up the first time.

2. No TV Reception

Make sure your antenna, Cable, or Satellite box is connected correctly to your Television. If you have a standard Cable or Satellite box, make sure it is connected to the antenna/cable connection on your TV and that your TV is turned to channel 3 or 4 (depending on area).

If you have a High-definition Cable or Satellite box and an HDTV, make sure you have the box connected to your TV via HDMI, DVI, or Component Video Connections.

In addition, if have your HD Cable or Satellite video and audio outputs routed through a Home Theater Receiver to the TV, make sure your Home Theater Receiver is turned on and set to the appropriate input so that HD-Cable or Satellite signal is routed to the TV.

3. The Picture Quality is Poor

If the picture is grainy or snowy, this could be the result of an incomplete cable connection or bad cable. Try a different cable and see if the result is the same. If you are on Cable, your cable company usually provides free service to check your main cable line for any defects. If using an antenna, change the position of the antenna to get better reception, or try a better antenna.

Another factor is watching analog signals on an HDTV.

4. Improper or No Color

First, check to see if the color is bad across all input sources. If so, make sure you have your Televisions' color settings set to your preferences. If everything looks good except, say, your DVD player, and it is connected to your TV via Component Video Connections (which is composed of three cables - Red, Green, and Blue), make sure they are matched up correctly with the Component (Red, Green, and Blue) connections on your TV. This is a common mistake as it is sometimes hard to distinguish the Green and Blue connectors if the lighting in the connection area is dim.

5. The HDMI Connection Doesn't Work

You have a DVD, Blu-ray Disc player, or other component with HDMI connected to an HDMI-equipped TV, but when you turn them on, you don't get an image on the screen. This occurs sometimes because the source and the TV are not communicating. A successful HDMI connection requires that the source component and TV be able to recognize each other. This is referred to as the "HDMI handshake".

If the "handshake" doesn't work, the HDCP (High-Bandwith Copy-Protection) encryption that is imbedded in the HDMI signal is not being recognized properly by one, or more, of the connected components. Sometimes, when two or more HDMI components are connected in a chain (such as a media player or Blu-ray Disc player through an HDMI-enabled home theater receiver (or HDMI switcher) and then to the TV, this can cause interruption in the HDCP encryption signal.

The solution is usually figuring out a sequential turn-on procedure for your setup - in other words, does the sequence work best when you turn the TV on first, then the receiver or switcher, and then the source device - or vice versa, or something inbetween?

If this solution does not work consistently - check for any announced firmware updates addressing "HDMI handshake" issues with your components.

For more tips on HDMI connection problems, check out my article: How To Troubleshoot HDMI Connection Problems

6. The Surround Sound Doesn't Seem Right

The first thing to check: Is the DVD, TV program, or other programming source in surround sound? Next, check all speaker connections and make sure they are correct, according to the channel and polarity.

The next thing to check is how you have the DVD player, Cable, or Satellite box connected to your Home Theater Receiver. To access Dolby Digital/DTS surround sound, you need to have either a Digital Optical, Digital Coaxial, or 5.1 channel analog connection going from the source component to the Home Theater Receiver. Only these connections are able to transfer a Dolby Digital or DTS-encoded soundtrack.

If you have RCA analog stereo cables connected from a DVD Player, or other source component, connected to a Home Theater Receiver, the only way to access surround sound is with Dolby Prologic II, IIx, or DTS Neo:6 settings, if available. These processing schemes extract surround sound from any two-channel audio source, including CDs, Cassette Tapes, and Vinyl Records. When using this method with DVDs, it isn't the same as a true Dolby Digital/DTS signal you would get from digital or 5.1 channel analog audio connections, but it is more immersive than a two-channel result.

Another thing to remember is that even with true surround sound material, surround sound is not present at all times. During periods of mainly dialog, most sound comes from the center speaker only, with ambient sounds coming from the rest of the speakers. As the action on the screen gets more complicated, such as explosions, crowds, etc... or when the music soundtrack becomes more a part of the film, you will notice more sound coming from the side and/or rear speakers.

Also, all newer Home Theater Receivers offer an option to balance the sound coming from your speakers, which will optimize the surround sound experience. Using the setup menu on many Home Theater Receivers, the user can set speaker distance, speaker size, and speaker channel level in relation to the listening position.

In addition, here are some reference articles that can aid in setting up correct speaker balance: How Do I Position My Loudspeakers and Subwoofer For My Home Theater System? and Correcting Low Center Channel Dialog. Also, if something still doesn't sound right, you may even have a bad loudspeaker that could be causing the problem, check out How to Determine If You Have a Bad Loudspeaker

Proceed to Page 2 - Correcting Radio Reception, DVD, and Turntable Problems - Final Take

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