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Super Bowl 2020: Check these TV settings before the big game starts

From the right settings to 4K streaming, a few tweaks can help you enjoy the Chiefs versus 49ers in style.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Are you and your TV ready for the Super Bowl this Sunday, Feb. 2? If you're not among the lucky fans who get to watch the game in person at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, you'll probably be among the 100 million-plus people watching it on a TV, whether streaming or via cable. And you're in for a treat because, for the first time ever, you can stream the game in 4K HDR, for improved image quality on those big 4K TVs.

Many people use the Super Bowl as an excuse for buying a new TV, but most of you will be sticking with your existing model. In either case you'll want to make sure your TV is ready for the game, especially if you're hosting an epic party. Here's how.

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Go big

Football is a complicated visual experience, with lots of wide-angle views where big swaths of the field are visible at once, often studded with all-too-tiny players. More so than most TV programs, it's best suited to larger screens. You'll get a better experience watching on as large a TV as you have available, especially for a party.

If your TV is smaller, you can get a similar effect by sitting closer. High-def and 4K images often look great even from close distances, so it might be worthwhile to move your seat closer to the TV for the game. That is, if doing so won't obscure the screen for your friends.

Check the setup: HDMI, high-def, 4K and Wi-Fi

The first thing you want to do is make sure the TV is set up correctly. If you have a high-definition cable or satellite box, make sure it's connected via HDMI. You'll also want to make sure you're tuned to the high-def version of the broadcast -- available on Fox. Most cable and satellite providers in the US carry both HD and standard-definition channels, and HD will look much better.

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If you're streaming on busy Super Bowl Sunday, your internet connection is crucial.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

This year the Super Bowl is also available to stream live online from more places than ever. If you're streaming the game, you'll want to have plenty of bandwidth. Make sure other devices in your house  beyond your TV -- like the kids streaming 4K Netflix upstairs -- aren't using the Wi-Fi at the same time. You can also try moving stuff around, going with a wired Ethernet connection or, if all else fails, upgrading your internet speed. For more, check out how to improve TV streaming.

Read more: The best Wi-Fi routers in 2020

Those tips go quadruple for the 4K version of the game, available via the Fox Sports app for free. They recommend an internet speed of 25Mbps, which isn't chump change. If you're not sure how fast your connection is, download a speed-test app for your smart TV or media streamer and test it, preferably during a busy evening. Super Bowl Sunday will be a busy one on the internet and depending on your provider you might experience drop-outs or buffering. It pays to have a backup plan in the worst-case scenario, for example hooking up an antenna to watch Fox's over-the-air broadcast.

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A soundbar is a smart move to improve the game's audio beyond your TV's crappy speakers.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sound matters

You should definitely get your audio set up correctly too. If you're using the TV speakers for audio, set your box or device to output stereo as opposed to 5.1 surround sound (Dolby Digital). But hopefully you're using an external audio system or soundbar, which can not only deliver real or simulated surround sound -- perfect for that Miami crowd noise -- but also much better dialogue.

Read more: Best soundbar deals for the big game

Maybe you're the kind of person who prefers to listen to the crowd and turn down the announcers. If that's the case, try playing around with the sound controls. Many TVs and external sound systems have a multiband equalizer that lets you decrease certain frequencies independently of others, quieting those sounds you don't want to hear. If your equipment doesn't have an equalizer, try experimenting with a sound mode or even the basic bass and treble controls.

And if you happen to be listening to the surround-sound broadcast on a surround system, you can turn down the center channel to minimize the dialogue from the announcers. Conversely, if you'd rather hear them over the crowd, turn down the other speakers (left, right and surround) and turn up the center.

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If the most accurate picture mode isn't bright enough, try a couple of user adjustments.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: Bright ideas

At CNET, we calibrate the picture settings of every TV we review to get the best picture quality. If you happen to own one of the TVs we've reviewed, you can actually try our calibrated settings yourself. Search our picture settings forum for your TV to find out if we, or another reader, has posted settings for it.

Our calibrations happen in a dark room, but with a kickoff time of 3:30 p.m. PT, West Coast watchers will get the beginning of the game during the day -- and that often calls for a brighter picture. If the picture seems too dim, try increasing the backlight control, which boosts the power of the illumination (typically LEDs) behind the LCD screen. If you have an OLED TV, try increasing OLED Light instead. Also, be sure to disable any room lighting sensors, automatic brightness controls or energy saver controls.

Depending on your TV, you might also have a picture mode designed for a bright room. Look for something like "Brighter" or "Calibrated bright" to get a brightness boost without the terrible color of a Vivid or Dynamic mode. If your TV doesn't have a mode like that you should choose the Movie or Cinema mode and again, if it seems too dark, bump up the brightness as described above.

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Accurate color is worth celebrating.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not easy being green

During our calibrations we attempt to get the most accurate color possible. For football, the most common color you'll see is the green of the field, and if it's not accurate, it's pretty easy to see. The human eye is sensitive to green, and you can usually tell if it looks too brownish or dull, or too yellowish or vibrant. 

If you don't have access to our picture settings, one of the best ways to assure accurate colors, including green, is to engage the Movie or Cinema preset. Yes, it sounds counterintuitive, but Movie usually provides a more accurate color green than Sports or other picture modes. Those are often punched-up and oversaturated-looking, with greens that are much more intense than in real life. If you like the punchy look, on the other hand, maybe you'll prefer one of those modes to a more accurate one.

On some TVs, Movie settings will look too dark, even if you turn up the backlight all the way. If that's the case, choose a different picture mode and look for a control called "color space" or something similar. There, you'll want to choose the "HD" or "Auto" or "Rec 709" setting, not the "Native" setting. You may also be able to get the grass looking more natural by decreasing the color control. For more advice, check out how to set up a TV by eye.

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Our advice with the soap opera effect and football: it pays to experiment beforehand.

David Katzmaier/CNET

If you have a TV equipped with smoothing or dejudder (aka the soap opera effect), you may want to do some experimenting with those settings as well. Look for a setting called Auto Motion Plus on Samsung, TruMotion on LG, Smooth Motion Effect on Vizio and MotionFlow on Sony TVs. Football can sometimes benefit from the blur-reduction effects of those settings, but on the other hand, you may notice artifacts, for example trails behind fast-moving objects like a ball during a quick pass or goal kick. If you notice these effects, try turning the setting off completely.

Final step: Kick back and enjoy

If you won't be making the trek to Miami or buying a new TV, at least you now have some ideas for getting your TV into game-time shape. Now feel free to redecorate your home theater in 49ers or Chiefs glory, invite your buddies over and scream at the screen.

Originally published last year. Updated for Super Bowl 2020.