On February 5, 2017, the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will meet in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. If you’re a football fanatic, there’s no more important day than Super Bowl Sunday, when many fans host parties to watch the game and cheer for their team.
Of course, to properly host a Super Bowl party, you need a big-ass TV. But it must also be very bright to compete with lots of ambient light—guests will be coming and going, so you’re not going to hold the party in the dark, are you? And it needs to look good at a wide range of viewing angles, since there will be many people in the room, and they can’t all be centered on the screen.
OLED TVs have the widest viewing angle, but they are less bright—and more expensive—than most LCD TVs of similar size. Among LCD TVs, those with IPS (in-plane switching) panels have wider viewing angles than those with VA (vertically aligned) panels, but the black level of VA-based TVs is generally better than IPS-based sets. Therefore, theoretically, the best TVs for watching the Super Bowl and other content in a well-lit room with a large group of people are IPS-based LCD TVs with high brightness.
Not as Simple as That
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, some companies—such as Sony and LeEco—do not reveal whether they use IPS or VA panels in their LCD TVs. But some do: Hisense, Samsung, TCL, and Vizio all use VA (the Vizio P55 and M60 use IPS), while LG uses IPS for the most part.
Of course, you’re not buying a new TV just for the big game. Throughout the year, you’ll want to watch other content, such as movies and TV shows, sometimes in a darker environment with fewer people. Plus, uniformity and depth of black are important for all other types of content, which argues for an OLED TV or an LCD TV with a FALD (full array with local dimming) backlight.
Another concern, especially for sports, is motion blur. Fast movement in the image on LCD and OLED TVs can be quite blurry because of the way they display each frame. One way to combat this is with frame interpolation, in which the TV’s processor synthesizes new frames between the actual frames in the input signal. This requires a set with a refresh rate of at least 120 Hz, and it effectively reduces motion blur, but it also introduces an artifact called the soap-opera effect (SOE), which makes the image look like it was shot on video like a soap opera.
SOE is more pronounced on movies at 24 frames per second and less so on video-originated content, like sports. Plus, the fast action in many sports—including football—greatly benefits from sharper motion detail, so I generally recommend enabling frame interpolation when watching sports. I also recommend enabling backlight scanning or flashing, which further improves motion detail. In fact, keep this setting enabled even when you disable frame interpolation, since it will improve motion detail without SOE.
Then there’s the issue of upscaling. The Super Bowl will be broadcast on Fox at 720p, while most TVs available today are 4K/UHD, so the quality of the set’s upscaler is critical. This is also important with other broadcast and streaming content as well as Blu-ray and DVD (assuming you still play DVDs). Of course, there’s a growing amount of 4K/UHD streaming content, and UHD Blu-ray offers the best UHD picture quality of any current medium. But there will be lots of lower-resolution content for a long time, so upscaling is very important.
I recommend getting as large a screen as you can afford—at least 65″ if possible. Most people get a screen that’s too small for their viewing distance, so don’t be afraid to go long—er, large!
One thing I would definitely avoid is a curved screen. Aside from my general dislike for them, curved screens make it more difficult to enjoy the image from far off axis.
Rtings to the Rescue
Rtings.com is a well-respected TV-review site that’s very thorough in its review process, with lots of measurements and carefully considered ratings for many performance characteristics. The site publishes lists of the best TVs for various applications, including sports; click here for that list. The list can be modified with additional performance ratings, so I added peak brightness, viewing angle, motion blur, and refresh rate, and I limited the list to 2016 models. I also added LCD Type (IPS or VA); even if a manufacturer doesn’t reveal the type of LCD panel it uses, Rtings.com does
As you’ll see if you look at the same list, peak brightness and viewing angle are almost mutually exclusive—sets that scored high in one usually scored low in the other. Interestingly, the LG OLED TVs scored better in peak brightness than the Samsung VA-based LCD TVs scored in viewing angle. Thus, OLEDs would make a good choice for a Super Bowl party—and virtually all other types of content.
All the TVs I chose to include in my list here have a refresh rate of 120 Hz, and they scored very high for motion blur (presumably with frame interpolation enabled) and 720p upscaling. In addition, they are all 4K/UHD with high dynamic-range (HDR) capabilities. HDR is not important for watching the Super Bowl, but it’s increasingly important for 4K/UHD content.
Based on the Rtings.com list, here are my picks for the best TVs for hosting a Super Bowl party—and that will serve you well with other types of content in different environments throughout the year. I’ve included the models that received the highest scores for sports overall and relatively high scores for both peak brightness and viewing angle. (Anything above 7.5 Is considered excellent, and anything between 6.0 and 7.5 is considered good.)
The hyperlink in each TV’s name takes you to the Amazon page to buy it.
1. LG B6 (OLED)
65″ = $2997
55″ = $1898
Peak Brightness: 7.2
Viewing Angle: 8.1
The LG B6 is my current go-to recommendation for OLED on a relative budget. Granted, it’s much more expensive than many similarly sized LCD TVs, but the picture quality is second to none. For UHD Blu-ray and streaming content, it supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range.
2. LG E6 (OLED)
65″ = $3997
55″ = $2497
Peak Brightness: 6.7
Viewing Angle: 7.9
Only substantive difference between the B6 and E6 is that the E6 offers 3D capabilities, while the B6 has no 3D. Is 3D worth the extra $600 to $1000 over the B6? If you think so, go for it; otherwise, save the money and get a B6.
3. Sony X750D (IPS full-array LCD, no local dimming)
65″ = $1298
Peak Brightness: 6.8
Viewing Angle: 7.7
The X750D only comes in one size—65″—and it ranks very high in both peak brightness and viewing angle. However, its blacks aren’t very deep, so it will be less satisfying in a dark room, and edgelighting degrades screen uniformity. It supports HDR10 high dynamic range but does not exhibit a wide color gamut.
4. Sony X850D (IPS edgelit LCD; 85″ model is VA)
85″ = $6998
75″ = $2498
65″ = $1398
55″ = $998
Peak Brightness: 6.8
Viewing Angle: 6.7
Now we’re talking, sizewise! Peak brightness and viewing angle are not in the excellent range, but they are both good and about equal, making this a good candidate for a Super Bowl party. But the blacks aren’t as deep as you’d want in a darkened room. The 85″ model uses a VA panel, which means its blacks are deeper, while the others use IPS. Also, edgelighting degrades screen uniformity. It supports HDR10 high dynamic range and exhibits a wide color gamut, but its performance in this regard is only average according to Rtings.com.
5. LG UH8500 (IPS edgelit LCD)
75″ = $3297
65″ = $1697
60″ = $1497
55″ = $1097
Peak Brightness: 6.8
Viewing Angle: 6.2
This is in the middle of LG’s Super UHD lineup, which includes support for HDR10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range as well as a wide color gamut thanks to its use of quantum dots. It scored reasonably well for both peak brightness and viewing angle, but like most IPS-based LCD TVs, its blacks aren’t very deep, making it less attractive for dark-room viewing, and edgelighting hurts screen uniformity.
6. LG UH7700 (IPS edgelit LCD)
65″ = $1297
55″ = $897
Peak Brightness: 6.7
Viewing Angle: 6.2
The only significant difference between this TV and the UH8500 is that the UH8500 offers 3D capabilities, while the UH7700 does not. If you think 3D is worth an extra $400 (for the 65″ model), go for it; otherwise, save some money with the UH7700.
7. LG UH9500 (IPS edgelit LCD)
86″ = $7997
65″ = $2497
Peak Brightness: 6.4
Viewing Angle: 6.4
This is the flagship of LG’s 2016 Super UHD lineup, and it scored reasonably well for both peak brightness and viewing angle. However, like most IPS-based LCD TVs, its blacks aren’t very deep, making it less attractive for dark-room viewing, and edgelighting hurts screen uniformity.
If you’re looking for a set that reproduces HDR content well, I would pick this one over the other two Super UHD models, because the UH9500 employs a true 10-bit panel, while the other two lines use 8-bit panels with dithering to achieve HDR. Granted, it’s much more expensive than the step-down UH8500, and one could argue that the visible difference between 10-bit and 8-bit with dithering is not worth the price delta, but I would be inclined to spend the extra money to get a true 10-bit panel.
8. Sony Z9D (FALD LCD)
100″ = $60,000
75″ = $8998
65″ = $5498
The Sony Z9D has not yet been reviewed by Rtings.com, but from what I’ve seen of it, this set is a serious powerhouse. It can achieve much greater brightness than any other TV in this list, and the blacks are way deeper than any of them except the OLEDs, all thanks to Sony’s Master Backlight Drive technology. It also supports Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG high dynamic range with wide color gamut. I don’t know what type of LCD panel it uses, and I don’t know how good it looks from far off axis. Also, it’s very expensive, even more than the 65″ LG E6 OLED. But it is undoubtedly the best LCD TV on the market today.
According to conventional wisdom, Black Friday is the best time to buy a TV—and many other products—with deep discounts offered by many retailers. But in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, the deals are often even better, especially since new models typically start shipping in the Spring. So make your Super Bowl party an event to remember with a new big-screen TV. Your guests will thank—and envy—you!