Fixing Things with Spit

IMG_4499_blogifiedThat, in case you are interested, is a picture of my TV, a venerable old Vizio 37″ model purchased somewhere in the desert wilds of Las Vegas back in November of 2007. It’s the only TV in the house and has served me (and now my wife and offspring) quite well.

Yesterday afternoon, my wife summoned me to the living room. The TV wouldn’t turn on.

It had turned on just that morning, so I thought maybe something was bollixed up with the signal from the remote. I use a Harmony Remote (it, too, is venerable and dates back to the days of the first iPhone) that sometimes gives my wife fits. I figured she’d hit the wrong button, but it turns out, yeah, the remote couldn’t turn the TV on.

I pressed the power button on the TV itself and it sprang to life. Problem solved.

Except, a few minutes later, she summoned me once again — the volume buttons weren’t working.

Time to put on my deerstalker and apply a little deductive reasoning.

I determined that the remote could control everything else in our entertainment set-up (Apple TV, cable box, etc.), just not the TV. Which led me to think that the problem was the TV, not the remote. Just to be sure, I dug up the original Vizio remote and tried it. It, too, could not control the TV.

Yeah, the problem was the TV. Damn.

I went to dig up the original manual, just to see if it had any troubleshooting suggestions.1 Nothing more helpful than recommending fresh batteries for the remote.

And then something weird happened. In a moment of frustration, I tried the remote again…and this time it worked!

I had done nothing different from five minutes earlier — same remote, same batteries. I tried power on and off, volume up and down… Yep, everything worked fine.

I shrugged and attributed it to the gods of modern electronics and went about my day.

But you know what happened next, right?

You betcha — once again, I heard the call of my wife. The TV was once again not responding to the remote. Nothing I did could get it to work.

The manual also referred to “environmental conditions,” but there was nothing blocking the signal and nothing had changed in the two or three hours since the morning, when the TV had worked just fine.

I decided to contact Vizio, on the off-chance they had any suggestions.

Via live chat, a very nice tech support guy walked me through the simple process of power cycling the TV. Unfortunately, it didn’t solve the problem. Apologetically, he informed me that my only option was service, and the TV was, of course, out of warranty.

The options for service were around $150. Cheaper than a new TV, sure, but also a hassle. I checked The Wirecutter, scoped out their best TV for $500, and ordered the TV for delivery in two days. Problem solved.

But then…

I don’t know what inspired me to do this. Maybe it was the mention of “environmental conditions” in the manual. Maybe it was divine intervention. I don’t know. But the next time I walked past the TV, I licked my thumb…and swiped it across the nearly-undetectable round bump of the TV’s infrared sensor.

I tried the Harmony Remote.

It worked.

And it kept working.

All night.

I canceled the new TV.



  1. BTW, I don’t keep paper manuals lying around. For one thing, there’s no room to store them in a tiny New York apartment. For another, it’s just easier to download PDFs of them and keep them on my computer.

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