The lantern goes dark

We’ve got no television signal.

We moved into our current flat about four years ago. The block was served by NTL (now Virgin Media), and we are not allowed to install satellite dishes, or I would have gone with Sky. I didn’t want to purchase a cable service… I’m happy with BT for the phone line with ADSL, especially since we live within metres of the local exchange, and I know that various colleagues have had issues with VPN over cable.

Here’s the problem: there’s no standard aerial connection into the flat. There is an existing NTL socket on the wall, with FM and TV outputs labelled on the bottom. 

A friend who lived up the road said that I could buy a cable-to-coaxial connector / converter, attach it to the TV output from the NTL socket, just plug the TV into that, and I’d get the standard 5 terrestrial channels. He was right. It’s an analogue signal, so we’ve not had Freeview or anything, but we don’t watch TV a huge amount, so it has been enough.

Unfortunately, as of last Thursday, the signal went dead. Nothing on the TV. Just a blue screen (i.e. no signal being received). It comes through the VCR, so I tried retuning that, retuning the set, connecting the cable directly to the TV instead and retuning, dismantling the outlet to check that nothing had come loose… nothing.

I arrived at one of several conclusions:

  • Problems with our equipment? The TV and VCR are 5+ years old – but that shouldn’t make a difference. DVDs still work fine.
  • Someone else in the block has had cable attached or fiddled with, and the communal router (which I assume exists) has been reset such that we no longer get a signal.
  • Virgin have cynically withdrawn our ability to get a free terrestrial analogue signal through their network in an attempt to get us to sign up.

I phoned Virgin Media TV support, and explained the problem – I’m not a customer, but wondered whether anything changed on the network recently to prevent me from getting a signal from this socket? They wanted my customer number. I explained, again, that I’m not a customer. Oh, in that case, perhaps I would like to speak to the sales department?

Not really. I see from the Virgin Media website that their “M” package is offered for free… so long as I take Virgin Phone, which I emphatically do not want. I also assume that they will want me on a minimum 12 month contract, and we don’t expect to be there for that long.

So what are my options?

  • Find out why we don’t have a coax socket to the communal aerial for the block. Apparently some of our neighbours do have connections to that aerial (but most of them take cable anyway). I can’t see a coax connection anywhere. Pretty sure that’s why I ended up connecting to the cable socket in the first place. The cynic in me suspects that NTL removed it when they plumbed in cable for the previous occupants. Don’t know where to start in trying to find out about this one.
  • Buy an indoor aerial. I figure that this will suck. We live opposite an airport and near to various defence research sites, so reception in our area is notoriously poor.
  • Sign up for the known-to-be-awful Virgin Media service, if it is possible to get it without the phone, and take a hit when we move.

Any other thoughts from my helpful readers?

In the meantime, we’ve been watching DVDs, and I’ve been using the Mac to see what is available online. Streaming BBC News 24 helps, but it gets a bit same-y. Ultimately, we’d like something we can watch on the TV, and not huddled over a laptop. I never did get around to building the Linux-based Media Server I’ve always wanted to own.

Oh yeah, and to add the domestic woes, we’ve had no hot water for three weeks, thanks to a boiler problem. Hopefully that will be fixed on Friday. Oh, and I broke the kitchen extractor fan and need to replace that.  Fun fun fun.

22 thoughts on “The lantern goes dark”

  1. Does Netflix operate over there? Or do you have a Netflix-like service? We don’t have any sort of cable (although we do an analog signal), but I enjoy getting cable shows we like to watch over Netflix instead. I like watching the shows on DVD because then I can watch them all at once instead of spread out week to week.

    This weekend we were at a friend’s cottage who had cable and at one point Alex just turned off the TV and said, “there’s nothing on.” Even with 200 channels to choose from there’s nothing we want to watch.

  2. @naquada: if I could be confident that would work, I might give it a go. I think boosters boost the interference, too. We basically have terrible reception for most things so I’m not sure an aerial indoors is going to work… might pop to Maplin and see what they have.

    @heidi: we have DVD rental services here, yes, although I don’t belong to any. My friends have written a lot about problems with various services. The issue is more things like news and so on, and some topical programming, which just aren’t available on DVD! 🙂

  3. Might want to get yourself a Location Free Player from Sony or a slingbox and hook it up at a family members place (either to terrestrial tv via old video to take the analogue input and convert to outputs, or to cable).

    Then just get a MAC to TV output cable and you are good to go !

  4. BT Vision, perhaps?

    No idea how good it is though.

    Who manages the TV signal in your block? Everyone I speak to, including us, seems to be managed by “Community Vision”. Perhaps they can take a look or, if it’s not their patch, put a proposal to the management company to change provider 🙂

  5. I’m aware that this may place me in the ‘unhelpful readers’ category, but go TV free! I haven’t had one in five years and haven’t looked back. You’ll get so much more done.

  6. I was impressed with the fact that Roo didn’t have a TV, but he went and got one….

    I suppose I shouldn’t need to pay a licence fee since I no longer get any signal.

    I will have to talk to the mgmt company, and look into internal aerial options, I guess.

  7. Get a portable aerial such as those supplied with a Hauppauge WinTV USB card (think little bendy car antenna)… I’ve got 55 channels from one of those things with a freeview box in the past…

  8. Unfortunately you’ll still have to pay a license fee as long as you own a TV. The fee isn’t for watching the TV, or even for receiving the signal, it’s for owning a TV. I know this for certain, because I have a number of friends who have TVs but do not ever watch English TV – they have satellite systems which get Polish TV, and that’s it, so we wrote to the UK TV Licensing people to explain why they would not be paying the license. They explicitly stated that simply having a device in the house capable of reception means that you have to pay. Incidentally, this also means that if you have a computer with TV card you have to pay – it *may* mean that even just a computer with internet access is enough that you need to pay, although this is under debate.

    Having said that, I also would suggest trying an indoor antenna and booster with a sensitive freeview box. The nice thing about freeview (DVB-T) is that as it’s a digital signal the picture is either there (and good quality) or it isn’t, so you don’t have to suffer snowy pictures and bad interference. Try getting a set from Argos, so you can return it if the signal isn’t strong enough (although I will be surprised if this is the case).

    Good luck with it!


  9. Yeah.. Andrew F. is right. You missed the obvious TV-free option.

    To clarify, I only got bought a TV to have a decent screen for the Wii (for tennis etc) and Mac Mini (for DVDs etc). We don’t actually watch any broadcast TV on it.

    In fact, it’s not plugged in, and although we thought about it, we don’t have a TV license. It took a little convincing of the TV licensing people that we bought a TV (in fact, they wrote to us because they automagically knew we’d bought one) but don’t watch TV on it. Having threatened to come round and check, they seem happy enough again now.

  10. Simon is correct about needing a license even if you only watch satellite TV. He’s wrong about needing one if you have a television but don’t watch TV though.

    According to this FAQ, if you only use a TV to watch videos, DVDs, or as a monitor for my games console, you need to inform them and be prepared for a visit.

  11. Oh, oh, I know this one!

    I bought a set-top box a few weeks ago. A neighbour assured me that the signal we were getting was in fact digital. I decided that it couldn’t hurt to buy a cheap box and confirm whether this was true – being pretty sure that it wasn’t.

    When I paid at the till in Tesco (!) I had to fill in a form with my name and address, since it was a legal obligation on the store to report whenever someone bought a piece of equipment that could receive a TV signal.

    It didn’t work (as suspected – in fact I’m sure I tried when we first moved in, but I have the memory of a goldfish) so I took it back.

    No progress on this one yet, partly because I’m working all week, but currently we essentially remain tele-less, so the Roo / Andrew camp is “winning” 🙂

  12. A license to watch television? This is at least as bad as having to show ID in order to buy food. What will you Brits think of next… loo tax?

  13. I’m using BBCs iPlayer beta. Lots of nice legal tele to watch and comes down fairly quick. Not really as good as any rss enabled torrent player (azereus, democracy), and, plus ideally a chipped xbox for playing the files, but a whole lot more legal.

    Also, in all the small print I’ve read through, I didn’t see anything about owning a tv license to use the service.

  14. For be-Mac’d Andy, the iPlayer is not an option, due to it’s IE/WMP DRM requirements. Also, it’s horrible – nasty interface, unreliable service, ridiculous DRM.
    Without wishing to sound like Colonel Angry from the home counties – it should require a license fee as the license fee paid for all the programmes, and then I should be allowed to do what I like with them like I can with a VHS tape, not have it automagically deleted after 7 days. Bah humbug I say.

    On a more constructive note, a USB DVB-T dongle and aerial can be picked up for as little as a tenner on amazon these days, so if you want to see what your digital reception is like it won’t cost much to find out.

  15. In response to your Q: about the withdrawal of this, rather than the later Qs/ points.

    Virgin (ntl/TW) used to use the unused space on their (mainly digital, by then) network to rebroadcast >5 (more like 10, including Sky ONE, a long, long ago) channels, allowing non digitally enabled areas to receive at least a semblance of multi channel telly.

    What may have happened is that they’ve switched off all the analogue customers in your area, and so they don’t need to bother with that any more. You also used to be able to split the signal and whack it into your FM tuner, and get very, very low noise/ high quality FM broadcasts of major networks (albeit on odd frequencies (R1 was on 101FM for me))



  16. Thanks to everyone for the suggestions.

    George, that’s brilliantly useful information, and explains what may be going on.

    I’m really not convinced that the indoor aerial option is going to work, but I will probably give it a go at some point soon.

Leave a Reply