In order to pick the right TV for their needs, consumers should probably have a general idea of the basics of the three different display technologies available in the market today, as well as understand how their viewing habits and the lighting conditions of the room that TV is placed in will affect image quality. In order to get as close as possible to that desirable “cinematic experience” at home, consumers should also settle on how big a TV they actually need and how close to it they’ll be sitting before making a purchase. Having made a decision on that, consumers can save a lot of money by choosing between a 4K TV and an 8K TV model.
With most general criteria covered, the next step is to focus on specific use cases for that new TV – and what features to look for in each use case’s context. Everyone is buying a new TV with the intention of watching a bit of everything, yes, but most consumers have one or two particular uses in mind that they’d like the specific model they choose to excel at.
In the next weeks and months, for instance – leading up to the FIFA World Cup 2022 football championship that’s happening in November and December – a lot of people will be looking for televisions capable of delivering a high-quality picture in sports viewing. Most modern TVs can achieve that these days through certain techniques, but not all models are equally good at applying those. Let’s check every point on that list.
Top TVs for sports viewing are all about motion handling, but also about detail
What sets apart sports from typical TV shows, movies and video games is – for the most part – the handling of motion. Televisions displaying a football, basketball, tennis, hockey, what-have-you match must be able to follow the action as quickly as possible and present it as smoothly as possible at the same time. This is not as easy as it sounds: almost every consumer has at some point or another sat in front of a television to watch a match, only to notice the juddery motion of players, the ball getting too blurry to easily follow or a general stutter of the whole picture when e.g. a camera is trying to follow a team counterattacking across a playfield.
Modern televisions have gotten better at resolving these issues over the years. Still, some do a better job than others. The type of screen used, the speed at which it displays new content (refresh rate), the real-time processing applied to every frame of the movement depicted and several other factors all play their part. So a new TV will have to be able to successfully suppress motion blur, judder and stutter (not the same thing) at the very least in order to offer a quality viewing experience with sports. Advanced TVs can do a lot nowadays – like creating additional frames on the fly, inserting black frames between actual frames etc. – in order to make sports viewing truly enjoyable.
Properly handled motion is one part of the equation. The other is detail: it used to be that when TVs were trying to “smooth out” motion they were sacrificing visual information (what videophiles call “motion resolution”) in order to achieve it. Quality televisions with powerful processing subsystems can balance that nowadays, but a lot depends on the software algorithms driving those subsystems. That combination of hardware and software is the reason why some TVs do a much better job in retaining picture clarity while improving motion smoothness than others.
There’s also the important matter of upscaling to consider, as a lot of sports content around the world is still captured and broadcasted in 1080p resolution: some TVs, again, will do a better job at taking this material to 4K resolution (or even 8K resolution) than others. Last but not least: screen brightness and rich colors. Most fans prefer a vibrant, even overly saturated picture in sports matches, as it’s easier to make out what’s happening in fast-paced situations that way. Quite a few factors to take into account, no?
More things to consider when buying a new TV for sports viewing
Apart from smooth motion and preservation of as much detail as possible when things move really fast, there are additional criteria one should keep in mind when shopping around for a very good sports TV. For instance, company: many people like to watch matches with friends and, for that to work, the television in question would have to offer wide viewing angles – otherwise people sitting off-center or even far to the sides will be looking at a dimmer picture with washed-out or inaccurate colors. For loners, of course, that’s not an issue, but still … something to consider.
As with everything else watched on a TV, sports are also affected by screen reflections – but, unlike movies, watching matches in the dark is not something many people do either alone or with company. So it makes sense to pick a TV that at least tries to minimize reflections from light sources around the room it’s placed. It will have to be either that or some tight light control for those occasions when a football match is heading for a late-night penalty shoot-out!
Sports fans who appreciate or even demand a high-quality picture overall should pay attention to a TV screen’s grey uniformity, which is related to what is known as the “dirt screen effect” (DSE). Ideally, when displaying a single color – like white, gray or black – across the entirety of its screen, a TV should offer a picture that’s as uniform as possible, with as little variation in hues of that specific color as possible. Almost all TVs suffer from the “dirt screen effect” to some small degree, but many of them – especially cheap ones – decidedly more so because of the low manufacturing quality of their panels. Sports fans will find that DSE is not a major issue in most sports, but in those where a big part of the screen is covered with the same color – e.g. ice white in hockey, for instance – it can be distracting.
Last but not least: consumers who plan to watch a lot of sports on their brand new TV should make sure that all or most of the sports channels and subscription services they need to have access to are offered as apps for the operating system of the model they’ve selected. Everybody is into cord-cutting these days and even if many consumers still use cable boxes or service provider decoders to watch their favorite sports, some future-proofing is never a bad idea, is it?
Finishing off with a couple of answers to obvious questions that can also work as purchasing advice. One: what type of display tech works best for sports content? It depends on each consumer’s preference, really. OLED TVs/QD-OLED TVs generally offer smoother motion than LED/LCD TVs (because of their much faster screens and self-lit pixels), while LED/LCD TVs can get much brighter, which is helpful in sports viewing because of the more vivid palette expressing stadiums, playfields, uniforms etc. compared to e.g. a cinematic palette. There are compromises to be made either way.
Two: is there a point in getting an 8K TV for sports, hoping that the extra pixels in resolution will make matches more enjoyable? No. As a matter of fact, feeding an 8K TV a 1080p signal (or a highly-compressed 4K one for that matter) will actually make the upscaling process – filling up the screen with 33 million pixels, most of which will be created by the TV itself – considerably more difficult. This can, and probably will, introduce artifacts in the displayed picture, also making buttery-smooth motion unattainable at times. Unless the TV in question is an 85-inch model, there is no point: for the time being, 4K is more than OK for sports.
This article is included in our ten-part 2022 TV Buying Guide. Here is a list of them in full:
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which display tech to go for?
There may be only three available options but it’s still complicated. Here’s some help.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Pick a spot and a time of day, you say?
Taking viewing habits and lighting conditions into account can help avoid an expensive mistake. Here’s how.
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: How big, how far?
Viewing distance and ideal screen size go hand in hand, here’s how they should be matched for maximum effect
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Stay at 4K or go 8K?
The extra millions of pixels may or may not be worth the extra money, here’s how to decide
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, sports fans
Not all TVs can display sports content in the same clear, smooth manner – here’s what makes all the difference
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, movie fans
What the experts call “a cinematic picture” is defined in specific ways, here’s the full rundown
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Here’s what to look for, gamers
All TVs can display video games just fine, but gaming TVs do modern titles justice by offering these specific features
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: Which Smart TV platform to choose?
Four main options and a number of differences between them, here’s what’s worth keeping in mind
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: All the extras that matter
Modern televisions feature various supplementary functions these days, here are the most helpful ones
Choose the Perfect TV 2022: So, you just got it! Now what?
A few things to do right away, a couple of things to consider doing at some point down the line