When the big game is on — or any game for that matter — sports fans will want a TV equipped to handle the fast action in maximum detail. The basics are still important (TV size & Buying Guide) but sports fans should pay special attention to these factors:
- Capturing Fast Action
- Response Time
- Input Lag
- Refresh Rate
- Studder & Judder
- Motion Rate
- OLED vs QLED vs LED-LCD
- Bright Rooms
- Wide Viewing Anlges
- Reflections & Glare
- Dirty Screen Effect
- The best TV for watching sports is one of Samsung’s 4K QLED TV’s with 120Hz Refresh Rate and HDMI 2.1. They’ve got the brightest screens, best performance in light-filled rooms, very good viewing angles, and provide the most value.
- If you’ve got a dark room and have a substantial budget, splurge for an OLED but skip the 8K and ignore 240Hz+ anything. The pixels can achieve absolute black which is visually stunning.
- If affordability is a priority, you’ll want a 4K LED-LCD TV and settle for 60Hz refresh rate if need be.
Capturing Fast Action
The most important TV features to consider for watching the fast action in sports are Response Time and Refresh Rate, which control the TV’s ability to capture diving catches and slam dunks without any motion blur.
Although motion blur creates a cinematic look that more naturally replicates the human gaze, the goal of watching sports isn’t to be artistic. It’s to capture every. single. little. detail.
Response Time measures how fast a TV pixel can change colors. Quicker response times result in finer detail while longer response times create motion blur. The best TVs have response times from 0.2ms to 4 ms: avoid anything over 10ms.
It’s worth noting that OLED TVs typically have the fastest response times. Each pixel is individually powered and can turn on and off completely. More on OLEDs later.
Often confused with Response Time, Input Lag should only be of concern to gamers. It refers to how quickly your TV can react to inputs, for example, when you press a button in a video game to throw a pass or shoot a gun- the less input lag the better.
In fact, when online gaming, a TV with less Input Lag offers a distinct competitive advantage. But for watching sports, input lag doesn’t matter.
Refresh Rate is measured in Hertz (Hz) and refers to the number of images your TV can display each second. The most common actual refresh rates are 60Hz and 120Hz- you can ignore everything else.
60Hz vs. 120Hz vs. 240Hz+
- 60Hz- good enough for most people
- 120Hz – the best option
- 240Hz – gimmicky and not worth it
- 480Hz – doesn’t really exist
Here’s the thing: most TV shows and movies are recorded at 24fps or 30fps (frames per second) so you’d technically only need a 24Hz or 30Hz TV to display all those frames. Your TV uses two methods to convert the fewer frames input (24/30fps) into higher frames output (60Hz/120Hz/etc) on the display: interpolation and black frame insertion.
- Interpolation adds new frames between existing frames by generating an average of every two frames and inserting it between them. The result is much smoother but sometimes too smooth (soap opera effect) and subject to distortions (artifacting).
- Black Frame Insertion uses a similar method but instead inserts black frames, tricking your eyes into creating the average between 2 frames rather than doing it with software.
120Hz TVs have a distinct advantage over their 60Hz counterparts: divisibility. The number 120 is evenly divisible by 24 (five times) and 30 (four times) which improves Movies (24fps) and TV shows (30fps). The screen can simply show each frame 4 or 5 times to make 24fps or 30fps video appear perfectly on a 120Hz TV.
Stutter & Judder
Two common problems with TVs are stutter and judder, similar but different motion imperfections that make video look unnatural.
Stutter occurs when displaying fast-moving objects and there aren’t enough frames per second to smoothly capture the movement, causing the action to jump — or stutter — at a predictable rate.
Judder is uneven stuttering caused by artificial frame rates. When 60Hz TVs try to display 24fps content, they must create 2.5X the number of frames. This is done by showing the same frame 3 times in a row, then 2 times in a row, and repeating. For obvious reasons, this can make the motion look like a stumbling drunk.
Although most TVs can change their output to match the source input (ex: 120Hz TV can display in 120/60/30/24Hz), some sources may inherently deliver 24/30fps content in 60fps, making Judder impossible to avoid with a 60Hz TV.
Motion Rate & Effective Refresh Rate
Be careful: manufacturers try to “cheat” on the numbers by using terms like “effective refresh rate” and “motion rate” instead of actual “refresh rate”- these are not the same. These marketing names describe software technology the company uses to mimic refresh rate, but it’s little more than a gimmick and should be ignored.
Are 120Hz TVs worth it?
The advantage of a 120Hz TV is most obvious when watching 120fps content, but that content is rare- found mostly in video games. Even 4K Blu-Ray discs are 60fps or below and the number of films with high frame rates is meager at best.
Console gamers playing Xbox and Playstation will definitely find buying a 120Hz TV worth the extra investment, but for everyone else (even sports fans), 60Hz should suffice. Only upgrade to 120Hz if you want to future proof your setup for many years ahead (and can afford to).
QLED vs. OLED vs. LED-LCD
When watching sports you want bright, vivid colors which is achieved by picking the TV with the best display technology for your needs:
- OLED has the darkest darks
- QLED has the brightest brights
- LED-LCD is the most affordable
Simply put, OLED TVs are better than QLED and LED-LCD screens for watching sports. Each pixel of an OLED TV lights up independently, whereas QLED and LED-LCD TV pixels are powered by groups of lights, giving an OLED two key advantages:
- Quick Response Times
- Absolute blacks
Dark Rooms vs Bright Rooms
When you’re in a dark room, or can make a room dark with blackout shades or curtains, an OLED TV is best. The pixels of the screen can turn off individually, making for perfect black colors. The result is a brilliant picture; dark cinematic scenes make you feel like you’re there.
For bright rooms, QLED TVs are the best option. Although OLED’s darks are deeper, QLED’s brights are brighter, allowing them to shine through sunlight. Sports should be bright and punchy, so we prefer them over OLEDs for the majority of rooms with direct sunlight.
Wide Viewing Angles
Whether it’s March Madness, The World Series, NFL Super Bowl, or just a regular season game, many people enjoy watching sports with a group of people. If that sounds like you, make sure you find a TV with good viewing angles.
The best screen technology for wide TV viewing angles is OLED, with QLED screens a close 2nd and LED-LCD under-performing. The LED-LCD screens with IPS displays are the best of their bunch.
TV viewing angle is a subjective calculation, measuring the angle at which the picture starts to noticeably degrade:
- 0 degrees is standing directly in front of the TV
- 90 degrees is standing directly next to the TV
- Everything between is “viewing angle”
- The widest angle you can expect to enjoy is 70 degrees
It’s better to refer to reviews from sites like RTINGS than the manufacturer’s own specifications, which are little more than marketing tools.
Reflections & Glare
Whether it’s from a bright room with direct sunlight or the placement of your own lamps and lights, reflections and glare can be massive irritations.
Brighter is better
The best way to prevent TV reflections and glare is to get a TV that outcompetes other light sources. TV brightness is measured in nits — the more, the brighter — and Samsung’s QLED TVs get the brightest.
Anti-Glare TV Screens
There are three types of TV screen finishes:
- Glossy Screens
- Semi-Glossy Screens
- Matte Screens
Although matte screens do a better job at absorbing and defusing light, and thus preventing reflections and glare, they’ve fallen out of favor. Big name manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, and LG opt for glossy screens, thinking the benefits of gloss (high contrast) outweigh the advantages of matte (which can appear washed out). They do.
The amount of gloss depends on the brand, usually marketed using some type of proprietary “Anti-Gloss” moniker. The claims and performance don’t always align, so make sure to read reviews if you have an especially bright room (like a kitchen or patio) or TV glare is your pet peeve.
Dirty Screen Effect
One of the most noticeable problems when watching sports on a TV is “Dirty Screen Effect” (DSE) which occurs when a TV has trouble making a solid color look consistent. Because sports are often played on fields or courts with large swaths of area that are uniform in color, the distortion can be noticeable and annoying.
DSE is caused more often by LED-LCD TVs rather than OLED TVs. It’s especially obvious in grey or white scenes, for example in the snow, where the inconsistency in color makes the screen look dirty, thus getting its name.
The absolute best TV for watching sports is one of Samsung’s 4K QLED TV’s with 120Hz Refresh Rate and HDMI 2.1. They’ve got the brightest screens, best performance in light-filled rooms, very good viewing angles, and provide the most value.
If you’re embracing the “go big or go home” mentality, splurge for OLED but skip the 8K and ignore 240Hz+ anything.
If affordability is a priority, you’ll want a 4K LED-LCD TV and settle for 60Hz refresh rate if need be.