I bought mine new in 2002,great unit,no problems,great picture,still going strong. Only problem now is the original remote RMT-V402 broke down years ago,can't access the audio functions and a whole host of other features.
If you don't have this specific remote the unit is basically useless,you can still record and playback but in mono.
Universal remotes won't work,I just found a RMT-V402 on EBAY,will be glad to access all the functions I can't with univ. remotes.
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You should have no trouble getting a universal remote to work the basic functions: power, tape motion, etc. But you may have problems with advanced functions such as programming or accessing any special features the model may have. Often only the original remote has all the buttons needed. Universal remotes don't usually give complete control. If you're just looking to play tapes, you should be good with any basic universal remote that.
Two things to check here. Lets verify the basic functioning of the unit. Have you tried playing back a pre-recorded tape? If so, please post the results here. I suspect that a pre-recorded tape will fail as well. If so, I'll post instructions on how to resolve the problem.
I would be inclined to say that there are only two likely problems that you may be encountering. Either you are getting a bad signal feed, or the connectors on the cable are getting old and need replaced. The connection to the cable can break down over time, especially if they have been connected and reconnected several times. I cannot rule out problems caused by the transition to DTV, but that doesnt seem likely if there are only a few channels affected. As far as "selective failure" of the VCR's built-in tuner, I would say that that is also a very unlikely source for the problem If the tuning components inside the tuner had gone out, I would expect to see a problem on all channels watched through the system. If you are having this problem on all channels of the sony, then the tuner could surely be the problem, but if you haven't used it much that would indicate a problem at manufacturing, however since at least one of the machines is working fine on some channels and not on all of them, I would suspect the connections or the signal from your cable company. Contact them first ands see if they are having signal issues, if not try replacing your connectors.