Intermittent TV satellite signal - help!
June 22, 2011 6:52 PM   Subscribe

Intermittent TV satellite signal. I can't figure out what it is, but I'm loathe to pay a technician to come troubleshoot it for me. Does anyone have an idea of what the problem could be, and how I can diagnose and resolve it?

For the last few weeks, my TV satellite signal occasionally drops and my receiver is left searching for the satellite -- sometimes for hours, or most of a day. And then, the signal comes back for a few days. When I have a signal, the diagnostics say that I am getting over 85% signal strength (usually ~95%, up to 100% on some transponders); when I lose the signal, it shows 0%.

The signal loss has happened while it's nice and sunny out, so I don't think it's weather-related. I don't think it's the cable, because then I would always have a degraded signal. Although my dish is pointed close to a tree (it's hard to tell), I can't imagine that it's the leaves blocking the signal, because then I would never (or rarely) have reception.

I called tech support, and they tried to diagnose it remotely, with no results. They offered to send a technician, but it costs money that I would have to pay if it's my fault. Also, since it's intermittent, I would imagine that it would be difficult to figure anything out if he shows up and there's no problem -- but it would still cost me.

Does anyone have an idea of what the problem could be, and how I can diagnose and resolve it?

If it matters, I am with Bell TV and I have a standard-def PVR receiver. Only one receiver in the house, so the cable goes direct from the satellite to the receiver. PVR and satellite installation are 3-4 years old.
posted by Simon Barclay to Technology (8 answers total)
Check that the wire connection is snug and properly seated at the dish. Make sure then is nothing within the dish itself (caked on mud). Also the wind could have pushed your dish slightly out of alignment with the satellite.
posted by axismundi at 7:08 PM on June 22, 2011

This happened to us when the wind blew. A nearby tree had grown over a couple of summers and branches would occasionally blow in front of the dish, sometimes even in very light breezes. Relocating the dish fixed it completely.
posted by jquinby at 8:00 PM on June 22, 2011

Have you run the aiming procedure again? You may find that something has gotten ever so slightly loosened or shifted. (Our signal had similar problems a few years ago, and the dish was only a degree or two out of alignment.)
posted by jlkr at 8:12 PM on June 22, 2011

Best answer: I have been a satellite tech. I had a long reply typed up detailing the various problems it could be, but I'm using my phone and an errant keypress means it has vanished into the aether, so just take my word for it that it was fantastic. The condensed version: unless you've been actively messing with the system or any components, there's a near-zero chance that this problem is your fault. Have you put new shingles on your roof and then put the dish back up "in basically the same spot?" Did you insert a splitter somewhere in the line to try to get signal to another tv? Does your dog use the cable as a chew toy?

Ok good, it's not your fault. (You did answer "no" to all of those, right?) The best way to get it fixed is to call and have a tech sent out. A good technician will have the problem diagnosed in a half hour or less, and has the right told for the job. I don't know how Bell's customer service is run, but if you complain about the fee being unreasonable and threaten to cancel and switch to a competitor, they'll probably waive the charge or offer you a very reduced rate with a monthly warranty plan that you can cancel as soon as the problem is fixed.
posted by kyleg at 9:43 PM on June 22, 2011

There is nothing wrong with your set up. Your receiver is old. The HD in it is old. It happened to me several times, and the quickest way to re-establish signal was to unplug the receiver and wait 30 seconds or so and then power up. It will take a few minutes to acquire signal. If you have a rental contract on the receiver I would suggest getting it replaced.
posted by Gungho at 5:17 AM on June 23, 2011

Response by poster: Gungho: I've tried "re-booting" the receiver while I have a signal loss (ie: turn off power for 30 sec, also tried removing and re-inserting the smart card per Bell's phone assistance) but the signal doesn't come back. Does this mean that it's not my receiver? The receiver is a rental, so if it's dying that's (relatively) good news for me.

kyleg: If the tech happens to show up while I have a perfectly good signal (like I do today), will he still be able to figure out what's wrong? I don't mind paying the money, but I'd hate for him to show up, tell me he can't fix something that isn't misbehaving right now, but take my money anyways.
posted by Simon Barclay at 6:28 PM on June 23, 2011

If the signal keeps coming and going, there are a few things you can check. First, do you receive some channels and not others? If your dish is receiving from multiple satellites, it's possible that the line of sight for one might be partially blocked. Can you check the System Info screen? You should be able to find it under in the menu under something like Setup>Installation>System Info

That screen should tell you the setup you have currently, and if you view the details it can tell you what signal losses you've had recently. There should also be a list of engineering values for troubleshooting. I might be able to narrow things down further if you tell us the model number of your receiver.

Another possibility is damage to or a bend in the cable. Make sure any furniture is far enough away from the wall that there are no crimps or sharp bends in the cable running to the satellite input port; there can be signal loss if the interior of the cable is damaged or if the exterior shielding is insufficient to block outside interference.
posted by kyleg at 2:15 PM on June 24, 2011

Response by poster: I called a technician and fortunately I had a lost signal when he came, so when he saw that the receiver was not getting a signal, the next step was to check the dish. It turns out that the horn that receives the signal on the dish (a three-letter acronym whose name escapes me now -- it starts with an L) was defective.

Bell still wants to charge me $75 for the service call, but I will definitely contest that. Thanks everyone for the suggestions/help!
posted by Simon Barclay at 5:40 PM on July 29, 2011

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