Super Bowl 4K TV tune-up: how to get the best-looking picture for the big game

KC Chiefs and SF 49ers helmets on football field
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Steve Cukrov)

On this Sunday, February 11, 2024, sports fans everywhere will be tuning in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers on their TV. It’s going to be a great game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, and watching it will be a lot more fun if you’re viewing on one of the best TVs, and the bigger the screen the better.

Super Bowl LVIII will be broadcast on the CBS network, and you’ll be able to watch it for free by using one of the best indoor TV antennas, but only in regular HD picture quality. You’ll also be able to stream it on Paramount Plus (also in regular HD), or in 4K format on Fubo, YouTube TV, DirecTV, DirecTV Stream, and possibly on cable systems that support 4K (check with your provider).

No matter how you end up watching the Super Bowl, it will be important to optimize your TV’s picture to get the best experience. Most people don’t bother adjusting the picture settings on their TV, instead preferring to leave it in the default mode it was set to when they first took it out of the box. But over the past few years, TV makers have started to implement power-saving “Eco” settings in default picture presets, and these can result in your TV not looking as bright as it should when viewing with room lights on – the way most people watch sports. To get your TV looking its best for the Super Bowl, or for watching any kind of sport, it’s a good idea to make custom adjustments to its picture settings, and that’s something I’ll cover in detail below.

Picture adjustments: say no to Sports mode 

Virtually all TVs have a preset picture mode labeled Sports. You’d think that the Sports mode would be the best choice for watching football, but it’s actually the worst one. That’s because selecting the Sports mode on a TV results in a white balance that throws off color accuracy: colors will instead appear unnaturally rich and very much unlike what you’d see if you were sitting in Allegiant Stadium.

If you want to make sure you're getting a realistic depiction of the red with gold trim of the Chiefs’ uniforms, or the gold with red trim of the 49ers’ helmets, a better bet will be to select your TV’s Movie picture mode. That might sound counterintuitive, but Movie or Cinema picture modes on TVs typically have the most accurate white balance, and selecting them will result in colors looking more natural.

One downside to a Movie picture mode is that it can make pictures look dimmer – certainly dimmer than what you get from the blazingly bright Sports mode. The answer here isn’t to switch to a different picture mode. Instead, if you’re using an LED-backlit or a mini-LED-backlit TV, you can adjust the set’s Backlight control to boost the picture’s overall brightness. OLED TVs will have a similar adjustment – OLED Pixel Brightness in the case of LG’s TVs.

Some TVs, such as the TCL QM8-Series model I recently reviewed, offer similar types of adjustments to Backlight – TV Brightness in the TCL’s case. But note that these adjustments are different than the set’s basic Brightness control. That specific setting is actually used to adjust the TV’s black level, which affects the depth of shadows in pictures. If you were to boost Brightness to a higher than normal level in an effort to make the picture look, well, brighter, it would instead make it appear pale and washed out. Bottom line: Be careful!

While we’re on the topic of washed-out-looking pictures, many LED-backlit and some mini-LED backlit TVs have poor off-axis picture uniformity, which basically means that contrast and color saturation will fade when viewing at extreme off-center seats. This won't be an issue when you’re sitting on your couch in front of the TV. But if you have a room full of people – as you very well might when hosting a Super Bowl viewing party – those sitting at a far-off corner of the room might see a bad-looking picture. If that ends up being the case, encourage your friends to squeeze in closer together in front of the TV.

Bose Smart Soundbar 600 on TV stand with remote control

The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 is one of this year's top Super Bowl soundbar deals (Image credit: Future)

Audio adjustments: use a soundbar 

Most TVs have relatively weak built-in speakers. Not all of them, mind you, and we have a guide to the best TVs for sound that will tell you which brands and models are the exception to that norm. When you have a room full of football fans loudly reacting to the on-screen action, however, any shortcoming in the TV’s sound output capability will be readily apparent. 

You can turn the volume up, of course, but on many TVs that won’t have an effect beyond a certain point. A better option is to add one of the best soundbars to your system, such as the Bose Smart Soundbar 600 that we selected as one of our top Super Bowl soundbar deals. You don’t have to spend lots of money on a soundbar – for example, the Sony HT-S2000 that we also listed in our soundbar deals roundup can be had for under $300. But the Super Bowl is a case where even a modest soundbar addition can go a long way, and you’ll love the impact it will have on your TV viewing experience long after the game is over.

Need a bigger and better TV to watch the Super Bowl with? Check out our list of the best Super Bowl TV deals.

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Al Griffin
Senior Editor Home Entertainment, US

Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine. 

When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.