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Troubleshooting Basics

FTA wants to give you, our customer, the most up to date information on the techniques for trouble shooting your home theater system. We are currently compiling a list of troubleshooting techniques based on our experiences with customers whether we installed the system or we our fixing a system that another professional or a do-it-yourselfer installed. In the meantime the information is from a site called All the links on this page will go to this site. We will try to organize the links on our page to make for easy navigation for you to get the answers that you are looking for. If there is any questions that you cannot find an answer to please e-mail our web-tech guru and we will get back to you as soon as we can.

  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 you are using a Home Theater Receiver and you have your HD Cable or Satellite video and audio outputs routed through the 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 supplied 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 player (or other source component) with an HDMI output connected to a TV with an HDMI input, but when you turn them both on, you don't get an image on the television. This occurs sometimes because a successful HDMI connection requires that the DVD player and Television be able to recognize each other, which is referred to as the "HDMI handshake".
    One way that may resolve this is to turn on the DVD player first and then the TV, or turn on the TV first and then the DVD player. If you still fail to make the connection work, try another HDMI cable; it could be as easy as a cable replacement.

    However, if changing the cable doesn't solve the problem, then this would be the proper time to make an inquiry to the DVD player's tech support number or, better yet, the DVD player's support website page, to see if there are any firmware upgrades that are available that would enable the connection to work. Such upgrades are usually downloadable directly to a CD or one can be mailed to you.
  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 of your speaker connections and make sure they are done correctly, according to the channel and polarity.

    The next thing to check is how you have your DVD player, Cable, or Satellite box connected to your Home Theater Receiver. To access true Dolby Digital or 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 your Home Theater Receiver. The reason for this is that only these connections are able to transfer a true Dolby Digital or DTS-encoded soundtrack.

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

    Now, the last thing you have to remember with surround sound is, that even with true surround sound material, surround sound is not present at all times. During periods of mainly dialog, most of the sound may come from the center speaker only, with some 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 listenng position.
  7. The Radio Reception is Poor
    This is usually a matter of attaching better antennas to the FM and AM antenna connections on your Home Theater Receiver. For FM, you can use the same type of rabbit ears or outdoor antenna used for analog television reception. The reason for this is that the FM radio frequencies actually lie between the Television channels 6 and 7, if you reside in North America. Vermont Public Radio offers an excellent resource for checking and improving radio reception.
  8. A DVD Won't Play, Skips, or Freezes Often
    There could be several reasons for this. One reason is that some DVD players, especially ones made before the year 2000, have difficulty playing back recordable DVDs.  If you are having trouble playing a homemade DVD, check the disc it was made on, if it is a format other than DVD-R, this could be the culprit.

    However, if you also have trouble playing DVD-Rs, it could even be the brand of blank DVD-R used to make the DVD. There is no guarantee that a specific homemade DVD will play in all DVD players, but DVD-R's should play on most of them. For more information on recordable DVD formats, check out my resource article: What Are The Recordable DVD Formats?

    Another reason a DVD might not play at all, is that it may be the wrong region or made in the wrong video system. For more specifics on these issues check out my resource articles: DVD Region Codes and Who's Your PAL?

    Another factor that contributes to DVD skipping or freezing is the playing of rented DVDs. When you rent a DVD, you don't know how it has been handled and it could be cracked or be full of greasy fingerprints that may cause some DVD players to mistrack the DVD.

    Lastly, it is possible that the DVD player may be defective. If you suspect this, first try using a DVD player lens cleaner, and also, try cleaning the "problem" DVDs. If this does not improve DVD playback, then consider exchanging the DVD player for another one, if still under the exchange or warranty. However, take the "problem" DVDs with you to your dealer and see how they play on other DVD players in the store first to rule out any problem with the actual DVDs.
  9. The DVD Recorder Won't Allow Recording of One Channel and Watching Another at the Same Time
    Just as with a VCR, as long as you are not using a Cable TV or Satellite Box, you can watch one program on your TV, while recording another on your DVD recorder. The reason you are unable to to do this when using a cable or satellite box, is that most cable and satellite boxes can only download one channel at a time through a single cable feed. In other words, the cable and satellite box determines what channel is sent down the rest of the path your VCR, DVD recorder, or Television. For more details on this, read my FAQ: Can I Watch One TV Program While Recording Another With a DVD Recorder?.
  10. The Turntable Volume is Very Low or Distorted
    Yes, many of us still have vinyl record collections and a Phono Turntable. However, one problem that is becoming more common, is that many newer Home Theater Receivers do not have dedicated phono turntable inputs. As a result, many consumers try to connect their turntables into the receiver's AUX or other unused input. This does not work due to the fact that the output voltage and impedance of the turntable cartridge is different than the audio outputs of CD players, VCRs, DVD players, etc... as well as the requirement of the turntable for a Ground Connection to the Receiver.
    If your Home Theater Receiver does not have a dedicated phono turntable input, then you need to purchase an external Phono Preamp or a turntable that has a phono preamp built-in.

Final Take
In setting up any home theater system, things can end of being connected improperly due to both inadvertent oversight or lack of knowledge. This can result in thinking that there is something wrong with the system's components. However, many of the most common problems, such as the ones illustrated in this article, you will run into can be easily remedied, once a closer look is taken, especially when reading the user manuals before setting everything up.

Even when taking time to do everything correctly, it is not unusual, especially in a complex setup, that you may still run into a problem that you can't seem to solve. You have done everything you can - you've connected it all, you set the sound levels, you have the right size TV, used good cables - but it still isn't right. The sound is terrible, the TV looks bad. When this happens, instead of spending more time and money, or returning it all, consider calling a professional installer to assess the situation.

It is possible that, indeed, something may be defective in one your components. To find out for sure, you might have to swallow your pride and pay for a house call, but the investment can salvage a home theater disaster and turn it into home theater gold.