Few of us are actually headed to New Orleans this year to watch Super Bowl XLVII on February 3. But the next best thing to being there is watching it on a big-screen HDTV. An if you're in the market for a new set, you'll need to make sure it can deliver all the excitement of the Big Game itself.
Of course, getting the right TV isn't as simple as just finding the lowest price. Sporting events like the Super Bowl can really bring out the best—and worst—in an HDTV by pushing it to its performance limits, revealing flaws that might go unnoticed when you're watching less-demanding content.
So here are a few things to consider when you're looking for a new TV for the Super Bowl:
Go bigger. A big game deserve a big screen, especially if you'll be watching it with a crowd. The good news is that price drops have been greatest on larger screen sizes, and our TV Ratings (available to subscribers) have more sets with screens sizes 55 to 70 inches. And based on what we saw at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, even larger sets—80 inches and bigger—are on their way.
Consider a 3D set. No, once again the Super Bowl isn't being broadcast in 3D. Maybe next year's game will be. But an even better reason to consider a 3D set is that many are among the best LCD and plasma sets we've tested with regular high-def fare. So it may make sense to consider a 3D model even if you don't expect to use its 3D feature immediately—especially since prices are already dropping.
Get 1080p resolution. Unlike smaller sets, a TV with a big screen will benefit from "full-HD" 1080p resolution. You'll not only be able to see the difference in fine details—say, the textures in players' uniforms or individual blades of grass—you'll also avoid the "screen-door effect" that comes when you sit close to a TV, especially a very big TV.
The good news is 1080p resolution is now the norm in most larger-sized HDTVs, and you don't have to pay much of a premium to get it. New 4K "Ultra HD" TVs, which have four times the number of pixels as current 1080p sets, are on the way, but we think they'll be prohibitively expensive for the remainder of the year, and we don't expect to see 4K broadcasts for a while.
Go wide when it comes to viewing angles. While plasma TVs offer virtually unlimited viewing angles, the picture quality of many LCD sets starts to suffer if you move off-angle—something to consider if you'll have the gang over to watch the game. We include a viewing-angle score in our TV Ratings to help you decide.
Don't blur the action. Some LCD TVs can blur during fast-moving scenes, such as those in many sports. Sets with 120Hz or 240Hz technologies, which speed up the TV's frame rate, can help. Motion blur typically isn't an issue with plasma TVs.
Get the LED out. We've found that full-array LED backlights with local dimming can help black-level performance in LCD TVs, often with minimal halo effects. Edge LEDs, though, are far more common. While some offer a level of local dimming, the main benefits of edge LED backlights are slimmer designs and higher energy efficiency, so you can go green even if you're rooting for a team sporting a different color.
Get connected. More TVs can now directly access extra content from the Web, and a growing number are smart TVs that have full Web browsers and apps markets. While these sets generally including streaming movies and TV shows—from services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu—sports fans can also use Web access and even dedicated apps to get updated scores or track fantasy sports teams. Just don't pay too much more money for an Internet TV, as you can often get the same services via a Web-connected Blu-ray player, game system, or standalone set-top box, which now start at about $50.
Don't skimp on the sound. Sadly, a TV's sound can be as thin as its profile. Ideally, TV sound should be clear enough to hear an quarterback's audible, but also forceful enough to convey the impact of a bone-jarring tackle and the roar of the crowd. A limited number of TVs in our Ratings have very good sound, but consider adding a sound bar or HTIB system to provide sound that can do justice to the TV's picture.
Armed with this info, you should be prepared to choose the right TV for the Super Bowl and beyond. If you're considering a new big-screen TV for the Big Game, let us know what size and features are important to you, and whether you bought the set as part of a Super Bowl promotion.
—James K. Willcox