Super Bowl HDTV tweaking tips

Your HDTV can make the big game come to life--if you've configured it properly

Super Bowl Sunday is one of the best reasons to own an HDTV. There's nothing like watching the big game on a large, high-definition screen in the company of family and friends. To make sure you get the most out of your set, we asked several vendors to share their best tips for optimal viewing, and here's what they told us.

Choose Between Plasma and LCD

If you have to choose between watching the game on a plasma TV or an LCD TV, keep the usual plasma versus LCD technology differences (as they apply to sports) in mind. Generally plasma is less prone to producing artifacts in fast-moving action, although today's LCDs use frame-interpolation technology to help minimize any problems (which may or may not do the trick on live sports for reasons we'll get to later). Plasmas are best for a large crowd, too, since they offer the best field of vision--they look good from the side. But plasmas can't match LCD sets in brightness, so if you're watching in a very bright room, LCD is the way to go.

Consider Using Rabbit Ears

Even if you normally receive everything through a cable or satellite TV service, you might actually get the best picture from an over-the-air signal--assuming that you can get one at all. The reason is that over-the-air signals are the purest ones available: Cable and satellite companies compress and decompress their video feeds, which inevitably degrades the quality (although it's not always notable).

Pump Up the Brightness of Your HDTV in Bright Rooms

On the West Coast, the Super Bowl starts in the afternoon when it's still light, and if you're throwing (or attending) a Super Bowl party, the room will likely be well lit no matter where you are. The brighter the ambient lighting, the brighter you want the screen image to be for it to hold its own visually. If your set has a sports preset, or any other preset intended for daytime viewing, use it. Otherwise, you can manually adjust the brightness and contrast settings; if your LCD TV has a backlight setting, or your plasma TV has a cell light setting, turn it up. But don't go overboard--you don't want the image to be so bright that all detail disappears.

Conversely, if you are watching in low-light conditions, don't make the set too bright: You'll see more detail, especially in shadows, if you use a preset intended for movies, for example. In general, opt for a room with less light rather than more. You never want to watch a TV with direct sunlight shining on it.

Adjust the Color Saturation and Temperature

During the Super Bowl (and other sporting events), it's not uncommon to see close-up face shots of players, coaches, and spectators, so you want skin tones to look as natural as possible. Keep your settings too washed out, and the results will look as if the cast of Twilight joined the team; too colorful, and people will appear sunburned. Fiddle with the saturation and color-temperature controls to obtain a natural look. You can compare the skin tones on the TV to that of your arm as a rough guideline.

Panasonic training manager Gregg Lee says that in the past he's observed a bluish cast to Fox sports broadcasts from Cowboy Stadium, so if you need to adjust the color temperature, go for a warmer look.

For more color-tweaking tips, read "Set Up Your HDTV for Watching Sports."

Experiment With Motion-Smoothing Technology

We've heard mixed advice on motion-smoothing technologies, which typically generate additional frames on LCD TVs. Some vendors recommend keeping the feature on to try to minimize motion artifacts--Samsung, for example, suggests turning on the Auto Motion Plus control on its 120Hz and 240Hz sets. But others point out that these technologies were designed primarily to deal with TV broadcasts of movies, so they may not help much with live video.

The Fox network sends HD content in 720p at 60Hz (720 lines, progressively scanned), and its cameras are likely producing content in that format. Using the over-the-air signal with a 720p set means that you'll be using the native image resolution, which is always the best option. If that's the setup you have, you might want to turn off the motion-smoothing feature on your LCD, since it would be adding frames needlessly--your set is already receiving the best-available video.

Most cable and satellite broadcasters convert the 720p signal to 1080i (the output format that the majority of them use). How good the image will look will depend largely on your set's scaling technology, so if you're going to experiment with your TV's bells and whistles, try them out before the big game starts. The same goes for sharpness: Turning it up may help the picture look crisp--but if you take it to the extreme, you'll introduce noise and other visual artifacts.

What About Audio?

The HD broadcast of the Super Bowl includes 5.1 surround sound, so use your home-theater audio if you can--and if you're using your HDTV set's audio, try turning on any simulated surround-sound feature. Some sets have audio presets that might help. LG's presets, for example, adjust audio as well as video; for sports, it adds a little reverb. If you don't have audio presets, try turning up the treble and lowering the bass, which might assist in enhancing the atmospheric crowd noise.

Make the Seating Arrangements

All TVs look best when viewed straight on. But LCDs in particular can start to pale when viewed from an angle, whether from the side or from the top or bottom. Side views tend to suffer the most, however, so if you're watching with a crowd, it's better to seat some people on the floor in front of the couch, to make a couple of rows rather than stringing everybody out in a semicircle around the set.

Finally, if your set is positioned relatively high on a wall and has a swivel mount or forward tilting feature, use it to try to put the set on the same plane as the folks watching.

Have your own TV tweaks? Feel free to post them in the comments!

This story, "Super Bowl HDTV tweaking tips" was originally published by PCWorld.

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