I turn on the SD box via the remote, and the crazy thing turns on, then it switches itself to a low 700 channel, then switches to 999, and finally settles on 1
I'm assuming you have the most recent type of remote, called the 5 button remote. Its classified as a 5 button because of the top 5 device buttons labeled VCR/DVD/AUD/TV/CBL arched along the top.
Keep an eye on what buttons light up when you press power. You should (periodically) press the CBL button on the remote to ensure its set to cable mode which will usually operate your tv (if its been programmed properly) as well.
If you press PWR button on remote, the CBL button should blink once, then the TV button should blink once (order may be reversed - doesn't matter). This is sending the "turn on" signal first to the box, a very slight delay, then a "turn on" to your tv. You should be able to change channels/volume/etc as normal from here.
After pressing the PWR button, you should really only see the 2 buttons flash/light up, if your seeing any more flashing lights, then you have a problem with your remote.