Please help us watch TV on our TV
January 30, 2014 6:48 PM   Subscribe

We have a TV but no cable subscription (we mostly watch content through Netflix or purchase on Xbox). We used to be able to watch the normal network channels with no problem -- Fox, NBC, CBS, ABC, and several PBS stations, along with some other stuff. We had both regular and HD channels. Now they're all gone and the only channels we can access are some jazz scheduling thing out of San Mateo, a bunch of radio channels, and NHK World (learning a lot about Japan!). I really miss PBS and wouldn't mind watching the Super Bowl. Please help.

It's an HD Dynex TV. When it picked up all the network channels, we had found them by going into our TV's menu and doing a channel scan. We went several months without turning on the TV channels, and when I did, there were no channels at all. I went in and did the scan again, but it just finds NHK (channel 17.8589) and that jazz channel (channel 17.8586), along with around 30 local radio stations in the 95.xx's.

On the TV's menu you can select Tuner Mode, with options Cable or Antenna. I find the channels I mentioned above through a channel scan under the cable option. When I do a channel scan with the Antenna option selected I find no channels. Is this potentially the problem? We haven't purchased a separate antenna, but since the channels used to come through I assumed that the TV has an antenna built in. Unfortunately I don't remember if the channels worked under the Analog or Cable option when we were able to watch before.

Is it possible the channels did come through on an antenna and the antenna simply broke? Is it possible something simply got unplugged? (I really know nothing about this stuff -- please don't hesitate to suggest something that may sound obvious).

We are in the Bay Area (specifically Marin County) and our internet is provided through Comcast. I assume I can't call them for help since we don't purchase cable through them. Also, I don't really love the idea of trying to get help from them, because they're Comcast.

Any help you guys could offer would be greatly appreciated! Let me know if you need more info or need me to clarify anything.
posted by imalaowai to Technology (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If this helps, the exact same story for me too recently in San Francisco.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:53 PM on January 30, 2014

Comcast in the Bay Area used to send the channels in the Limited Basic tier in "clear QAM", unencrypted. They started encrypting on October 1, 2013. I was a legit limited basic subscriber, so they sent me a bunch of notices before, telling me to get a cable box from them.
posted by morganw at 6:55 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you're only interested in over-the-air channels (e.g., ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, etc.), then you can buy an antenna to get those channels (your TV almost definitely doesn't have a built-in antenna). If you go to and enter your address, it should tell you what type of antenna you need to buy.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 7:03 PM on January 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

In my case, less than two miles from a half-mile-tall TV transmitter tower, weird conspiracies between geography, the nearby police station, the neighborhood power transformers, and aforementioned tower means I don't get squat/all on my TV OTA. (Over The Air) regardless of antenna - in your case, where you're getting =some= signals, a powered HDTV antenna would be of immense help. The mast-mounted outside models are the best, but the inside, wall-mounted ones should be plenty for your circumstances. You'll get all of the old channels back, and then some. It may be too late to get one in time for the superbowl, unless the local audio-visual installer is better stocked than most, otherwise Amazon has 'em for $60 and up.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:05 PM on January 30, 2014

Best answer: Morganw has it exactly correct.

This happened to me with Comcast in late 2011 (if I recall correctly) in Seattle.

I recommend getting a simple HDTV Antenna, connecting it to the Antenna connector, and doing a channel scan using the Antenna option. You can pick one up for $20-30 at any electronics store.

I get my Over The Air (OTA) channels via a Silicondust tuner and a cheap antenna now. While the reflections near where I live make some channels hard to get, most come in fine.
posted by Kakkerlak at 7:05 PM on January 30, 2014

This is regarded by a lot of people on various sites as the best cheap antenna for the price. I have one that was $6.99 on slickdeals. Just go use the search on that site and buy whatever the cheapest flat antenna is that shows up.

Comcast encrypting the lines has already been explained, but yea, that's the solution. Cheap antenna.
posted by emptythought at 7:22 PM on January 30, 2014

Response by poster: Wow, really helpful - thanks for the info about Comcast encryption. That explains everything.

I'm going to check out HD antennas this weekend. One thing that worries me though: I looked at and when I entered all my info it said I would only get ABC at my location. How accurate do you think that website is? I don't really want to buy an antenna just to get one channel, unless that channel is PBS.

And just to confirm: it sounds like all I should need is the HD antenna? Not a tuner or cable box?
posted by imalaowai at 7:40 PM on January 30, 2014

You're not gonna know until you try. Can you borrow one to try? If you were in MN you could try mine.
posted by Setec Astronomy at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2014

Is there a cable jack in your house? Even if you don't subscribe, plug your TV in and scan again.

If that gives you nothing, yes, you want an antenna.

Re, how rural of an area do you live in? If you live in a major city and the site says you'll only get ABC, I think it's worth picking up a cheap antenna and experimenting. If you live in a more remote area, yeah, you might be stuck with just ABC.
posted by Sara C. at 8:29 PM on January 30, 2014

Also, I've seen tutorials online to patch together a makeshift antenna to see what your channel options are. Maybe worth a try if you have this stuff around the house?
posted by Sara C. at 8:33 PM on January 30, 2014

If you live somewhere with decent signal strength and have a short piece of co-ax with a plug on it (say your old cable connection), you can easily make a rudimentary dipole antenna that will bring in a good enough signal to at least get you started.

You can measure everything carefully and do it correctly or just connect about 18” of wire to the inner conductor, another 18” to the shield and stretch them apart on a stick (to keep them spread apart and so nothing shorts out). I did this about two years ago to give me something to get the tv in our spare room going temporarily until I could get a real antenna — it works well enough that I never bothered to buy anything better. We’re about 10 miles from the transmitter, no hills though and we have a wood framed house.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:11 PM on January 30, 2014

I have Aereo - it works on your laptop or tablet and you'd need to be able to push it to your tv via a Chromecast or AppleTv. Works great now but their future is pending in the Supreme Court fwiw.
posted by rdnnyc at 4:31 AM on January 31, 2014

Bay Area antenna TV has always been dodgy because of the topography of the region.

Go to Radio Shack and talk to someone there about what your options are re: antennas.

I rarely have an opportunity to steer someone to Radio Shack, but those guys ought to know.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:49 AM on January 31, 2014

Best answer: I posted earlier, I live in San Francisco and have the same problem. For what it's worth, I just went out this morning and bought a passive (not-power) digital antenna for $20. After autoprogramming I get three channels: ABC, Livewell and Livewell in standard def. Needless to say, I will be returning the antenna this afternoon.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:47 PM on January 31, 2014

Response by poster: I ended up going to Best Buy and speaking with a dude who said I needed at minimum an $80 antenna to get channels in my neck of the woods. I bought it and hooked it up, gave it a scan, and . . . nothing. Took it right back, and the guy I returned it to said my town is the worst in the county for receiving channels off an antenna. Sigh.

On the bright side, I did discover PBS's Xbox app this weekend, and have very contentedly watched several NOVA and Nature programs on it. Definitely recommend that app to anyone who is network-free and would like to watch PBS programs (looks like they have it for ROKU, too).
posted by imalaowai at 9:10 PM on February 7, 2014

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