If you’re a sports fan in the market for goods or services that fuel your favorite obsession, you don’t have to look far these days. Most banks offer debit cards decorated with your favorite team’s logo. There are even match-making apps designed specifically to help you hook up with local fans who share your tastes. And, of course, most satellite and cable providers offer at least one dedicated package aimed directly at sports lovers. But if it’s a new TV you’re in the market for, and game day performance is at the top of your priority list, it isn’t as if you can walk into your local big box store and say, “I’d like the sports model, please.”
This doesn’t mean that some TVs aren’t better for sports viewing than other models, though. It just means you’ll need to keep a few things in mind and make a few key decisions when shopping. Here are a few features worth putting on your “sports” TV shopping checklist:
4K or Not 4K?
It’s probably the biggest question facing TV shoppers right now, but the decision about whether to settle for High Definition or make the leap to an Ultra High Definition (or 4K) screen is a little more complicated for the dedicated sports lover than for the more general-interest consumer. UHD sports broadcasts aren’t expected to be a regular occurrence anytime soon, given how expensive it would be for organizations like the NFL, NBA, and MLB to upgrade all of their existing cameras. So, for the time being, don’t expect much more than one-off soccer matches or golf tournaments to be recorded (much less broadcast) in UHD.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean you should skip the UHD aisle altogether. Most UHD TVs boast sophisticated processing that upconverts standard HD to near-UHD quality. You may not see more detail in the image, but you may notice fewer pixels and an overall improvement in picture quality, depending on how close you sit to your TV or how big your screen is. Which brings us to our next point:
The biggest regret that most new TV buyers have is that they didn’t purchase a larger screen. This is true of all shoppers, but mostly of sports enthusiasts. When deciding what screen size is right for you, keep in mind the relationship between screen size, resolution, and seating distance. If your favorite seat is eight feet away from where you plan to put your new TV and you have your heart set on a 65-inch screen, it may be worth it to spring for the UHD set. If you sit more like 10 feet away, even a 75-inch screen won’t be big enough to appreciate the extra resolution over a standard 1080p HD set. Your best bet, if you’re not the type to pull out your slide rule and calculate seating distances based on viewing angles, is to measure the distance from your seat to where your new TV is going, then stand that distance away from the TVs you peruse when shopping.
Size Isn’t Everything, Though
But while you’re eyeing those TVs, don’t just focus on screen real estate. You’ll also want to keep an eye on picture quality. Granted, it’s difficult to gauge things like brightness and contrast on a well-lit showroom floor, and most TV manufacturers’ published specs aren’t helpful in that regard. But if you’re shopping for an LCD TV (of the LED variety or otherwise), make sure you get one with at least a 120Hz refresh rate. Some manufacturers may fudge the actual refresh rate with misleading terminology like “Scenes per Second” or “something-something Motion Rate,” so be sure to ask about the actual refresh rate, before all of the processing tricks are tacked on to make motion appear smoother. Also, beware of picture settings specifically labeled “Sports.” Some of these may look fine, but most of them distort colors—especially greens. Your best bet, if you really want to feel like you’re witnessing the action in person, is to buy a TV with accurate color reproduction, which many modern sets deliver in “Movie” mode. If you need a little extra brightness for day games, you can always temporarily switch over to “Dynamic” or “Vivid” mode.
Don’t Forget About the Apps
Many smart TVs can deliver an enhanced sports-watching experience, but not all of them in exactly the same ways. If you’re into golf, for example, Samsung has an exclusive partnership that gives you access to enhanced tournament info and a neat second-screen experience. If baseball is more your passion, MLB.TV is available via select LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony smart TVs. Unfortunately, there aren’t any dedicated smart TV apps for NFL fans, and the official mobile app doesn’t support the sort of screen mirroring available on Philips, Sony, and soon Sharp TVs.
The bottom line: There are a number of streaming and enhanced-viewing apps available to sports fans via today’s smart TV platforms; which one is best is based on which type of sports you’re into, so shop wisely. EH
Dennis Burger is editor in chief of HDLiving.com. He also contributes regularly to The Wirecutter, Home Theater Review, and Residential Systems.