Our weekly list of HDTV deals should have you covered for deals on upgrades, and this week is a good time to buy for more reasons than just the appearance of a massive TV event. New models are on their way as we speak, and prices often drop sharply as stores try to clear out the stuff left over from last year. Our advice, as always, is to go as big as your space will allow, don't rule out projectors and double-check the return policy so you can swap it if there are any picture-quality issues or other problems. One additional wrinkle this year, is that it's the last time you'll be able to buy one of Panasonic's acclaimed plasma HDTVs. They're being phased out of production, and while Samsung and LG will apparently carry on the tech, if you've been eyeing a top-of-the-line ZT, it's time to buy. Why pick plasma? Despite years of LCD advances in technology, it's better at maintaining full resolution during the fast-motion sequences common in sports, and still brings impressive black levels to show colors and detail that might otherwise be lost. The 60-inch ZT can be purchased at Best Buy for about $2,500 at the moment, although price and availability can vary at this time of year.
Another question that's going to be important is whether or not it's time to go 4K. Given the slew of impressive Ultra HD TVs we saw at CES earlier this month, those interested in a high-res display should probably hold off for a bit. 2014's TVs arrive with specs for HDMI, HDCP (necessary for content protection encoded on Blu-ray, which could see a 4K update soon) and HEVC (needed to decode the high-res streams from sources like Netflix) finalized and ready to go. While some sets like those from Sony and Samsung are receiving updates to make them ready for Ultra HD content, you'd probably be better off comparing them as merely a high-end HDTV, since actually watching video delivered at a resolution higher than the current 1080p isn't assured for all. They'll deliver excellent upscaling of 720p or 1080p HD video, but you'll pay a hefty price for those extra pixels that may not be used to their full potential right away -- or at all.
The signal/stream/second screen
In 2014, we'd hope that an HD signal goes without saying, whether you're watching the game at home or elsewhere. Still, one can never be too sure, so checking ahead of time and packing calibration discs like Disney's World of Wonder or Spears & Munsil 2nd Edition right next to the wings and beer is a good move. Friends don't let friends watch the game on uncalibrated displays, and taking out a few minutes before kickoff can make all the difference. Fox's presentation for the game should be top-notch, with more than 50 cameras including a record 14 robotically controlled units, six 4K cameras used for the "super zoom" instant replays and eight high-speed cameras. If you tire of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's call, a well-known trick to eliminate commentary is to pull the center channel from your surround sound system (you do have one, right?), which is usually the only one with the broadcaster's voices, leaving only stadium sounds from the other speakers.
Last year, CBS augmented its broadcast with a web-based stream offering a viewer's choice of camera angles, while Fox is following up on that with a presentation (in English or Spanish) on the web for computers (also available on NFL.com, along with a feed of commercials if that's your thing) and on iPads through the Fox Sports Go app. Fox is proudly trumpeting that this is the Super Bowl's first time being streamed through an app, but the lack of support for other platforms is disappointing. Unlike some of the previous games, this stream is available for all regardless of cable TV subscription, but it's not coming on phones -- unless you have Verizon's mobile service. A tablet-ready program is also rolling out for Microsoft's Surface as well as Android and iOS with animated lineup info, social media feeds and more; just check the NFL's mobile site for links to apps. Last but not least, the Xbox One's NFL app has an achievement just for opening it during the game.
For those attending the game, our first advice is to bundle up, but other than that, you'll have to watch the game on the actual field, since the NFL and Fox are reportedly blocking streams over stadium WiFi and cellular stations. We're not sure if that will apply to alternate sources like Slingbox, but it's something to be aware of if you'd like to have in-hand access to replays. Other stadiums have rolled out access to video like the Red Zone Channel, but even with a state-of-the-art stadium in New Jersey, it appears officials are worried about the network being overwhelmed -- Verizon's multicast tech could fix that problem, but it doesn't seem ready for game time this year. Fans will want to keep the NFL app handy though, with push notifications for everything from seating to timing for a special "360-HD photo" in the stadium.
The pre-game game and the payback
Madden celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and has kept its exclusive NFL license, so our choices are limited. If you've shelled out for a next-gen box already, it appears that the rush to make launch has resulted in a game that's not a gigantic leap over previous versions in terms of graphics and presentation, but reviews note that there are some well-received gameplay tweaks on Xbox One and PS4. Another option is the free-to-play mobile version for iOS and Android, which should allow you to get a few snaps in during pregame ceremonies. In honor of the New York/New Jersey-hosted Super Bowl, we figure the loser should be offered a choice -- spend halftime outside exposed to the elements just like the players, or rock the winner's choice of avatar on Twitter/Facebook for the duration of the game.
Obviously, we wouldn't be shocked to find that your favorite wares weren't listed here, so be our guest and shout out your recommendations in comments below!
See just how far we've come: