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A bad cable installation destroyed my $2,000 TV and maybe almost killed me

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I never knew it could go this wrong

July will mark my five-year anniversary of working at The Verge, and in that time I've never broken or lost anything loaned to our company for review purposes. But today I'm sitting here sick to my stomach about the non-functional Vizio 65-inch 4K TV sitting in my living room. It's the new P-Series, valued at $2,000 if you were to buy it in a store, and our review is coming very soon. Today I was at our Manhattan office covering Google I/O when one of my roommates texted me right in the middle of the keynote, saying that the TV wouldn't power on. We'd decided to switch to satellite over Cablevision / Optimum for awhile, and the problem crept up after the outgoing box had been unplugged from the TV.

It sounded familiar, and that scared me.

Back in March, I moved into a two-story Brooklyn apartment that my cousins had just purchased. We called Optimum to set up a brand new installation for cable and internet — like you do. They came and put in some serious work, leaving behind a fresh install with brand new wiring. Everything seemed completely normal: internet speeds weren't FiOS exactly, but they were good. And the cable reception was fine. But then one day a couple weeks later I needed to unhook the HDMI port running from the cable box to my aging 42-inch 720p Panasonic plasma television. Sparks flew, I got shocked, and the HDMI cord came out looking like this:

Welch's burned HDMI cable

Once I got over the surprise of the harshest shock I'd felt in years, I noticed that both my TV and Cablevision's Samsung box were done for. They showed no signs of life, no matter how many times I unplugged them or switched power strips. It was like attempting CPR for technology. I think the only reason I was so determined was because of the sadness that came with tossing out my beloved plasma that I'd brought around with me for years. Eight years, by my count. And eventually I came to the conclusion — with the internet's help — that Cablevision's install was to blame; there was live voltage traveling through the coaxial cable, which then went through the cable box, up the HDMI cord, and fried my TV.

My old Panasonic plasma was the first casualty. Here it is just before I carted it off to recycling.

My old Panasonic plasma was the first casualty. Here it is just before I carted it off to recycling.

Seeing as it's 2016, I took the 2016 customer service approach and tore into the company on Twitter. You can click the below tweet to see the full exchange.

Eventually I went the proper route and arranged to have a technician come by and take another look. He redid some of the wiring and said that the coax connection was properly grounded for sure this time. We got charged something like a $60 service fee, which is terrible, but unsurprising from a cable company.

Fast forward to today.

As the satellite technicians tried to finish their own install, they did some troubleshooting to try and figure out why the TV had suddenly died. They noticed a few staples had made their way into part of the coaxial cable (the wiring was secured to the walls with a staple gun), which might've ruined the grounding and allowed electricity to start traveling through. Maybe, anyway. I'm not an electrician, to be very clear, so I can't pretend to know a lot about this kind of thing. I'm just a guy who doesn't want his apartment (where a newborn baby is living upstairs) to unexpectedly get lit up in flames because of a faulty cable setup. That looks like some serious voltage — enough to seriously injure someone or worse. It seems very bad that one poorly placed staple could lead to such dire consequences. Surely that kind of power shouldn't be flowing through this cable to begin with. Maybe there's something else at play, like a hellacious ground loop happening somewhere. I'll be looking into every possibility, including the house's wiring.

It's a plain old coaxial cable that's doing this, remember. Touch a metal surface, and get ready for the fireworks. Back when it was the HDMI cable, I felt a jolt when the sparks flew — and the technician working today also felt a shock. Now I don't want some hardworking Cablevision tech to get fired over this; every day, those same people are doing spot-on work and are equally as horrified when things go this wrong. It's just been a very direct and expensive lesson that you should always check. So many of us inherently trust the cable person to have done everything right without so much as a quick inspection. Maybe you wouldn't know what to look for without having your property blown up, but it can't hurt.

I'd hope maybe Cablevision will be prompt in fixing what's clearly a dangerous mess. Vizio's expensive HDR set was barely a month out of the box. So I'm sorry that your property got destroyed for no good reason, Vizio. Stuff breaks, but it sucks having it happen on my watch and when it's tied to my career. My spotless record is ruined. Two TVs are broken, and at present, I still risk being shocked to death by a coaxial cable. As for my old one, it was getting near time to replace. But that was solely because of its 720p resolution. It still looked great and worked reliably, so Optimum definitely sent it to a premature end. But more important than these gadgets are the people living under this roof who could've been zapped without so much as a warning.