How to get your TV ready for the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is coming up soon. Chances are you'll be watching it on a TV, possibly along with a bunch of other people. Here's how to get the most out of your display.

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
4 min read
Jonathan Bachman/AP/Corbis

The country is set to go officially crazy for Super Bowl 50 on February 7.

If you're not among the 75,000-odd lucky fans who get to watch the game in person at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, you'll probably be among the 110 million-plus people watching it on a TV.

Here's how to make that TV look its best for the biggest game of the year.

Go for the big play

Football is presented primarily in a press box view, with a lot of the field visible at once, 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. Or maybe even a projector.

If your TV is smaller, you can get a similar effect by sitting closer. High-def TVs and 4K TVs usually look great even from very 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.

Connect on the HDMI pass for 1080i yards

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.

Geoffrey Morrison

CBS (the parent company of CNET) is handling the broadcast, which will be in 1080i resolution. Generally you'll get the best results if you set your box to output 1080i resolution, not 720p. (Unfortunately, there's no 4K broadcast of the game.)

You'll also want to make sure you're tuned to the high-def versions of the broadcast. Most cable and satellite providers in the US carry both HD and standard-definition channels, and provided you have a compatible TV, HD will look much better.

For more details, check out how to set up an HDTV.

Call the audible

You should also get your audio set up correctly. If you're using the TV speakers for audio, set your box to output stereo as opposed to 5.1 surround sound (Dolby Digital).

But hopefully you're using an external audio system or sound bar, which can not only deliver real or simulated surround sound (perfect for that great crowd noise) but also much better dialogue.

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 CBS' 5.1-channel 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.

Toss a bright spiral

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.

Of course, our calibrations happen in a dark room, and your room might be brighter, especially if you're on the west coast where kickoff is scheduled for 3:30pm. 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 a plasma or OLED TV, try increasing Contrast or Cell Light or OLED Light control instead. Also, be sure to disable any room lighting sensors, automatic brightness controls, or energy saver controls.

© Wavebreakmedia LTD/Wavebreak Media Ltd./Corbis

Get a green gridiron

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. The human eye is very sensitive to green, and you can usually tell if grass looks too brownish or dull, or too yellowish or vibrant. When you're watching football, you want as natural and accurate a color green as possible.

One of the best ways to assure accurate colors, including green, is to engage the Movie or Cinema preset (or THX, if your TV has it). 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, unfortunately, Movie will look too dark, even if you turn up the Backlight or Contrast all the way. If that's the case, choose a brighter 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.

Don't muff that extra point!

So, if you've decided you won't be making the trek to Santa Clara or buying a new TV, at least you now have some ideas for getting your TV and home theater into prime shape for kickoff. Now feel free to redecorate your man cave in Panther blue or Bronco orange theme, invite your buddies over, and scream at the screen, knowing it looks its best.