How to scan (or rescan) channels on your TV.
So, you’re trying to watch free over-the-air TV, but you can’t find any channels. That is perfectly normal. You just need to run a quick channel scan (or rescan) and you’re good to go.
Why do I have to search for channels?
Digital TV (ATSC 1.0) has served as the standard for free TV broadcasting since the 1990s. And like any technology from 20 years ago, it’s a bit quirky. You’d expect a TV to know what local stations are available, like a radio, but that’s not the case. Instead, your television maintains a list of available stations. Strange huh?
Do you know how many old televisions (and radios) had to tune the stations by hand? Well, when you search for channels on a TV, it’s basically doing that process for you. The TV slowly cycles through all possible TV frequencies, listing each available channel along the way. Then when you go to watch TV later, you’ll just be flipping through that list. Naturally, that list needs to be updated from time to time, and you need to start the scanning process all over again.
When should I search for channels?
You should scan for channels whenever there is a change in local broadcast frequencies. That means you have to rescan every time you move, every time you buy a new TV or antenna, and every time a local TV station switches to a different broadcast frequency.
In the past, this roughly translated to “if the TV isn’t working, check for channels.” But right now, the United States is going through a . Due to an FCC mandate, broadcasters are constantly switching to 4K ready ATSC 3.0 compatible frequencies that do not interfere with cellular frequencies. As a result, all televisions will slowly lose track of local channels. Also, completely new channels could show up in your area and your TV won’t know they’re there.
The solution? Check for new channels every month, or whenever you notice a local broadcast is missing. It is an easy process and worth doing for the sake of free OTA TV.
How to scan (or rescan) channels
Channel scanning (or rescanning) is primarily an automated process. All you have to do is kick start that process with a few simple steps. And while these steps are different for every TV, the process is pretty similar on every TV out there.
Make sure your TV is connected to a .
Press the “Menu” button on your remote. If you don’t have a remote, your TV should have a built-in “Menu” button.
Find and select the “Channel Search” option on your TV menu. This option is sometimes labeled “Rescan,” “Tune,” or “Auto Tune.”
If you cannot find the “Channel Search” option, look in the “Settings”, “Tools”, “Channels” or “Options” menu on your TV. On some TVs, you need to press the “Input” button and go to “Antenna.”
Once your TV starts scanning for channels, find something to do. Channel search may take more than 10 minutes.
When the search is complete, your TV will show how many channels are available or return you to a broadcast.
Still missing some channels? Try running another scan or use to check what channels are available in your area. You may also need to move the antenna to get better reception.
If you’re having trouble finding the “Channel Search” option on your TV, it’s time to check the manual. You can usually find a manual by searching the web for the make and model of your TV along with the word “manual.”
Why can’t my TV automatically search for channels?
Admittedly, this is a clumsy and somewhat annoying process. If radios don’t need to do tedious rescans, why can’t TVs automatically search for channels?
Well, they do, sort of. Scanning (or rescanning) is an automated process; you’re just forcing your TV to go into that process. The reason your TV doesn’t automatically scan for new channels without your permission is that, well, that would be unpleasant and interfere with TV viewing.
Remember, we are dealing with 20 year old technology. There’s nothing wrong; it just has a few quirks. One of those quirks is that while a TV is scanning, it cannot be used to watch TV. If your TV was routinely scanning for new channels without your permission, you’d have to deal with random 10-minute bouts of silence from time to time. It could even happen while you’re watching a big soap opera or a soccer game.
If you’re wondering why your radio doesn’t need to auto scan, it’s because it’s easy to tune a radio on the go. A good radio signal is filled with a mix of highs and lows (music), while a bad signal is filled with monotonous static or silence. So, most radios have a built-in tuning circuit that tunes radio frequencies. When you press “next” on your radio, it simply runs a few frequencies through the tuning circuit and locks in with what has a mix of loud and quiet parts.
Don’t worry; Channel scan will be gone soon
As we mentioned earlier, the FCC is transitioning to the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard. It’s a fascinating change worth looking into. In the next decade, ATSC 3.0 will allow us to watch 4K TV broadcasts on virtually any device, including phones, tablets, and cars.
Naturally, channel scanning would be a hassle on a handheld or in a car. As you move across town (or even around your house), frequencies will change in quality and availability. So, the FCC on ATSC 3.0. Eventually, you’ll forget that you ever had to sit for 10 minutes in front of your TV while scanning for channels, and this guide will disappear into the ether.