Few of us are actually headed to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey this year to watch Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2. But the next best thing to being there is watching it on a big-screen HDTV. And 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:
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 have more sets with screens sizes 55 to 80 inches. And based on what we saw at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, even larger sets—90 inches and bigger—are on their way.
No, the Super Bowl isn't being broadcast in 3D. But many of the top TVs we've tested have 3D capability. So it may make sense to consider a 3D model even if you don't care about 3D feature, especially since you're not paying much more for this feature.
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.
Do your homework before you shop: Check our TV buying guide and Ratings.
Although there's still not a lot of content, you may want to consider an Ultra HD (UHD) TV, which have higher-resolution screens capable of more detail than even 1080p sets. While you'll still pay a bit of a premium for one of these TVs, we expect prices on UHD TVs to fall about 40 percent this year. If you buy a UHD TV right now, howver, you're likely buying a leftover 2013 model, which may lack two new key features that will be included in 2014 UHD sets: HDMI 2.0 inputs, which can accept 60 frames-per-second video, and compatibility with the new, more efficient HEVC (H.265) video format that will be used in a lot of upcoming 4K content. Before buying a 2013 UHD TV, check with the manufacturer to see if it can be upgraded to support these features.
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.
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.
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 streaming media player, Web-connected Blu-ray player, or game system. Prices start as low as $35 for a small settop box.
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 soundbar speaker 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. Sadly, there' snothing we can do to help your favorite team win.
—James K. Willcox