LCD TVs Causing Problems For Set-Top Remote Controls

September 23, 2009 – Service providers find they’re facing a potentially serious customer service problem stemming from the impact of LCD TVs with LED backlights on the functioning of infrared remote controls used with set-top boxes.

While the installed base of LCD TVs with LED backlights is just three percent, according to analyst firm DisplaySearch, the TVs are already producing a disproportionate amount of calls to cable, satellite and telco TV providers. DisplayResearch predicts penetration of this new generation of TV sets will reach 40 percent by 2013.

According to dozens of users, several MSO techs and one remote control vendor, the LED backlights in some LCD TVs produce enough electrical noise to interfere with set-top remote controls. The problems range from remotes that are consistently sluggish to ones that won’t work at all – or suddenly start working 15 minutes after the TV has been on.

Those problems increase customer-support costs for multichannel operators because they’re fielding more and more calls as the installed base of LED-LCD TVs grows. Worse, although the problems are increasingly common, many CSRs and techs still don’t know about them, or they do but still have to spend hours – and truck rolls – fixing them because there’s no single solution that works across most, let alone all, TV models.

LCD TVs that use older CCFL backlight technology also are causing problems with remote controls.

“Our Samsung 850 and our Time Warner cable box would not function together,” one user wrote in an online forum. “I had Time Warner come out and they hooked up 3 different cable boxes and 4 different remotes and they all failed to work the remote. The big break through came when the cable and remote would work on my old Sony tube TV. I then happened to turn on the Samsung and the remote stopped working. Turning off the Samsung, the cable box worked.”

Another user wrote: “I have the same problem with the same TV except I have comcast. I thought it was our cable box so comcast sent two people out and I had 2 new cable boxes and 3 new remotes and it still wouldn’t work.”

The problem has reached the point that some multichannel operators are alerting their techs about specific TV models that have known conflicts with STBs. For example, some LCD TVs automatically adjust their contrast and brightness according to the room’s ambient light. The brighter the picture, the more interference produced.

“Yesterday we got a memo from our supervisor regarding this problem,” a Comcast technician posted in an online forum. “After 2 hours of troubleshooting I left the customer with a functioning DVR/Remote and a much dimmer picture.”

In some cases, the interference affects only the STB, rather than other remote-controlled devices in the same cabinet, such as Blu-ray players and stereos. That makes customers believe that the STB and its remote are faulty, tying up a customer service agent for hours at a time.

“The U-Verse tech worked for about 2 hours as well as made numerous phone calls to 2nd tier tech support,” wrote one Samsung TV owner.