Consumer Reports: Top Picks for a Big Game HDTV

Panasonic-Viera-TC-P65VT2If you're not headed to Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6, then the next best thing is watching it on a big-screen HDTV. So 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.

Getting the right TV isn't as simple as just finding the right 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 with less-demanding types of content.

So here are a few things to consider when you're looking for a new TV for the Super Bowl:[Scroll down to see the list of six top HDTV picks.]

Go bigger.
A big game deserves 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 52 to 65 inches. And 70-inch sets are on their way.

Consider a 3D set.
No, Super Bowl XLV isn't being broadcast in 3D, but next year's game might be. An even better reason, though, is that many 3D sets are among the best LCD and plasma sets we've tested. 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, such as the textures in players' uniforms and individual blades of grass, you'll also avoid the "screen door effect" that comes when you sit close to a TV. The good news is that it's nearly impossible to get a 720p set in these screen sizes.

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.

Avoid LCD motion blur.
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 more common. While some offer a level of local dimming, the main benefits of edge LED backlights are slimmer designs and higher energy efficiency, not improvements in picture quality.

[Story & list of Super Bowl TV Picks continues below]

More From Consumer Reports:
· Plasma TV Ratings & Reviews
· 5 Hottest HDTV Features
· 3D TV Buying Guide

Get connected.
More TVs can now directly access extra content from the Web, including streaming movies and TV shows from services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu. But sports fans can also use Web access to get updated scores or track fantasy sports teams. Just don't pay too much more for an Internet TV -- you can often get the same services via a Web-connected Blu-ray player, game system, or standalone set-top box.

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 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. But to make things even simpler, we've compiled a Top 5 list of sure-fire Super Bowl TV winners, plus an extra budget selection. They're not the only sets to consider, of course -- check with our complete TV Ratings for other suitable models that meet your specific needs and budget.

CR Picks: Sure-Fire Super Bowl TV Winners

1. Panasonic Viera TC-P65VT25, $4,300.
If you can afford it, this 65-inch 1080p Panasonic plasma TV -- CR's top-rated 3D model -- delivers excellent HD picture quality and lots of features, including the company's Viera Cast online service. This Wi-Fi-ready model also includes Skype (via an optional camera), so you can make free, taunting video calls to your friends who backed the losing team.

2. Samsung LN60C630, $2,000.
This 60-inch 1080p LCD TV from Samsung -- the biggest LCD screen size in our current Ratings-- offers a very large screen size, excellent picture quality, and 120Hz technology at a fairly low price for a major brand. Drawbacks include no Internet services and an only average viewing angle.

3. LG Infinia 60PK950, $2,000.
This sharp-looking 60-inch 1080p plasma TV from LG is among the best big-screen sets we've tested, with excellent picture quality across the board. It's also loaded with features, including LG's NetCast online service and built-in Wi-Fi (via an included adapter).

4. Vizio XVT553SV TruLED, $1,700.
This 55-inch 1080p LCD TV from Vizio, one of the few new sets we've seen with a full-array LED backlight, delivers excellent picture quality, a wider-than-average viewing angle for an LCD, and a lot of features (240Hz technology, the VIA online service, a Bluetooth remote with slide-out QWERTY keyboard) for a fairly low price. Like the first three, this model's sound was only good, so consider pairing these sets with a sound bar.

5. Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800, $1,900.
This sleekly styled 52-inch 1080p LCD TV from Sony delivers excellent overall picture quality, and it's one of only a handful of TVs in our Ratings that offers very good sound quality. It's also loaded with features, including an edge LED backlight, 240Hz technology, built-in Wi-Fi, and access to online content.

Budget pick:Sanyo DP55360, $1,300.
If you're not willing or able to splurge, it's comforting to know you can still get a satisfying TV for the game without spending a fortune. This 55-inch Sanyo offers very good overall picture quality, plus features such as an edge LED backlight, 240Hz technology, and access to online content, at a fairly low price. Sound quality is only fair, though, so considering pairing it with an external sound system. A less expensive 52-inch sibling (DP52440, $1,000) provides better picture quality and slightly better sound, though no online content.

-James K. Willcox


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