Surveys show that about 20 percent of HDTV owners don't watch the big game and other programs in true high definition due to improper setup. Our step-by-step checklist will help you ensure that your HDTV is ready for Super Bowl viewing with the best, sharpest picture.
Ensuring your HDTV source
There are three possible ways to see the game in high definition: via cable, via satellite or over the air with an antenna.
For cable or satellite, you need to make sure you have the right equipment and settings to see the game in glorious high definition. First, make 100 percent sure your cable or satellite box is a high-definition model. If you don't specify an HD model, sometimes cable and satellite providers will rent you a standard def box. Most HD boxes have either the letters “HD” or the words “high definition” on their front panel. If it doesn’t, it's probably a standard def model and you'll need to get a replacement before the game.
You also need a high-definition wire to connect between the box and your HDTV. The best and least expensive one is called HDMI. It carries both the picture and sound over a single cable. Most installs need at least a two meter (6 ft.6 inches) or three meter (9 ft. 9 inches) cable. HDMI cables do not tolerate sharp bends well, so make sure the cable is long enough. Retail stores usually charge $25 to over $100 for an HDMI cable, but there are cheaper ones if you look. Amazon and other online retailers also sell them for under $10, and often with free shipping.
Cable and satellite companies still simulcast the standard definition and high definition versions of the same programming on different channels, so be sure to confirm that you are getting the HD signal. Once you've tuned in to the CBS HD channel and confirmed reception, make sure to set the box’s resolution to your HDTV's resolution. If you have a 1080p HDTV, set the box’s output to 1080i (in this case, the TV automatically converts the “i,” for interlaced, into “p,” for progressive — don't worry about the definitions). If you have a 720p HDTV, set the box’s output to 720p.
You should also make sure the set top box's aspect ratio is set to 16x9 mode, and not 4x3. If this is not set correctly you will see a smaller, cropped image.
As for receiving the game over the air, you will need an antenna and you'll also have to find out if your local CBS station’s transmitter is within roughly 25 miles from your home. The good news is, there HDTV over-the-air tuner is built-in to all HDTVs. The bad news is, you need to have a line of sight to the transmitter tower. If there's a building, hill or mountain between you and the tower, you probably won’t be able to get reliable over the air reception. Check with antennaweb.org for more information about what size and type of antenna you need, as well as the direction you need to point it for each network. Because of all that is involved, the vast majority of viewers choose cable or satellite instead.
Adjusting the TV
First confirm the HDMI cable is connected from the set top box to an HDMI input on your TV. This should be the only connection between your cable box and your TV. Once you've selected that input and can see the cable programming in (hopefully) glorious high definition, it's time to open your TV's settings.
Your HDTV will have settings for aspect ratio, generally with a setting labeled Full. Select that. If your set has a sub-control called Dot-by-Dot, Native or Just Scan, then select one of those. (Panasonic TVs have a sub-menu that lists Size One or Size Two. Choose Size Two.) All these modes allow the HDTV to place the entire image on the screen without cropping it. This control gives the viewer everything the director sees at the highest resolution. Your HDTV will now match the broadcast HD signal pixel for pixel. On some HDTVs, this control may be grayed out if the set’s picture mode is set to Vivid or Sports — you'll have to change it to Standard, Movie or Custom.
Yes, I did just say you should not use the Sports preset picture mode to watch the Super Bowl, and you should also avoid anything that says Game, or Vivid or Dynamic. It sounds counter intuitive, but these presets are generally made to produce the brightest image on the showroom floor, not the best picture in a home. Use modes such as Movie or Custom as the best starting point for user control optimization. If your set does not have those modes, simply choose Standard.
Many LED and LCD TVs that have 120Hz, 240Hz or 480Hz refresh allow users to reduce blurry motion by engaging these circuits during sports programs. Different set makers call them different names such as Motion Plus or Motion Flow, etc. This mode must be in the “On” position to get crisper motion. Consult your TV's menu for this control, or look at the owner’s manual. Plasma TVs have full motion resolution without these circuits, so no motion adjustment is necessary on a plasma.
If you want to maximize your settings before the game, make sure you follow our guide to settings here. Ideally, you would even use a test disc like the Disney WOW: World of Wonder on Blu-ray disc to optimize your picture settings. Since you may not have time to grab that before the game, try out the new THX app for iOS devices here. It's free.
By spending a few minutes going over this super-simple list, you can be assured that you, your friends and your family are viewing the Super Bowl and all other future programs with the best high-def image your HDTV is capable of producing. Now you’ll really be ready for some football.
Have a question for the HD Guru? Send an email.
More from HD Guru: