Boston - When the players line up for the Super Bowl kickoff in February, fans will want to catch every detail, down to the seams on the football or each individual blade of grass in the turf at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
For a cultural spectacle of this magnitude, only a high-definition television will do. But that doesn't mean you have to spend like a millionaire. Here are some tips on how to find an excellent Super Bowl HDTV without ending up dissatisfied or broke.
If you were to browse through an electronic store like Best Buy or Circuit City, you'd notice that HDTVs with 1080p resolution are touted as having the absolute best picture quality. The "1080" refers to the number of horizontal lines of pixels, while the "p" represents "progressive scan," meaning the TV will render an image line by line, creating a smooth final picture.
Simply put, TVs with 1080p resolution have more pixels to work with, and thus are able to create very detailed images. Retailers are quick to point out how many more pixels 1080p sets have when compared with 720p televisions, falsely implying the 720p is inadequate.
But here's the catch: Super Bowl XLII is going to be broadcast by the Fox Network--and its high-definition coverage isn't being broadcast in 1080p. It's being broadcast in 720p. In fact, none of the broadcast television channels provide a 1080p signal because it's too difficult and expensive for them to do so.
This means that if you're buying an HDTV specifically to enjoy the Super Bowl, the extra pixels (and extra cost) for a 1080p simply isn't worth it unless you're going really big. For TVs measuring over 50 inches, those extra pixels are useful because the picture is so large you need more coverage to make the picture look good. On anything smaller, though, they're a waste.
When it comes to deciding between liquid crystal displays (LCDs), plasma or digital light processing (DLP) screens, there's less to differentiate them than in years past.
The crucial specifications for sports fans are contrast ratio, refresh rate and viewing angle. They determine a television's ability to draw distinct edges, handle scenes with lots of motion and accommodate large groups of viewers spread throughout a room.
LCDs used to be significantly behind plasma on these measures, but that's changed.
Today, LCD and plasma TVs are fairly comparable in those areas. DLP televisions, which reflect light off of tiny mirrors to produce a large, high-definition image cheaply, are a decent alternative if you don't mind a thicker body. They do, however, suffer from a shallow viewing angle, which can make watching the TV from anywhere other than directly in front somewhat of a challenge.
If your Super Bowl dream TV is a gigantic, titanic, jealousy-inspiring behemoth, then you'll need to look at plasma and DLP TVs. Right now, LCDs tend to max out at around 46 inches, and are far more expensive than the others. Mitsubishi offers a 65-inch screen that could be the best bang for your buck. There's a gorgeous 58-inch Panasonic too, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
Prices become far more reasonable in the 42- to 50-inch size range. And while a 1080p Sharp LCD measuring 42 inches could run you only $1,300, heading down to 720p resolution will save you a few hundred more dollars.
If you've been looking for an excuse to pick up a new HDTV, there won't be a better one than Super Bowl XLII. It's exactly the kind of event that can be enhanced by high-definition and would serve as a great introduction into the realm of HDTV. The first step, though, is getting the facts straight and finding the right TV at the right size and the right price.
Michael Patrick Brady is editor of DigitalAdvisor.com, a site dedicated to making shopping online for consumer electronics as easy as possible. It operates product commentaries and answers questions on a range of consumer electronics, including digital cameras, camcorders and high-definition televisions.