by Grant Clauser – Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
It’s football party time, and we know a lot of you are planning to invite the neighborhood over for wings and other finger food so you can show off, I mean, share, your home theater system. If this is your first big-screen party, here are a few tips to make sure your system is working at its peak so your guests come away suitably impressed (and hoping for more invites when March Madness rolls around).
1. Do get a big TV. I’ve almost never heard someone complain that their TV is too big, but I’ve frequently heard people complain that they should have splurged for a bigger one. There are several ways to calculate the proper size of a TV, but my favorite is the THX calculation. I like this one because it’s based on the ideal field of view rather than an abstract notion of the eyes’ ability to perceive resolution. Here are two good reasons you want a big TV for your game day party: 1) a big screen will mean your guests won’t have to crowd around close to the TV to see what’s going on, so there will be room for you to walk by with the guacamole bowl; 2) great deals on TVs are happening now. Outside of the November/December holiday season, this is the best time to buy because manufactures are preparing to release their new lines in a month or two and want to get rid of existing inventory.
2. Don’t put your TV into Sports Mode. Just because it’s called Sports mode doesn’t mean it’s the best setting for watching football, or anything really. Sports mode does different things in different TVs, such as engage motion interpolation (AKA 120Hz, 240Hz etc. processing), boost image brightness and other things that may do more harm than good to your TV’s picture. The picture specifications from the broadcaster don’t change from movie to sitcom to sports depending on the content, so neither should your TV’s settings. Sports mode does different things in different TVs, but the main reason it exists at all is so the manufacturer can claim to have 18 million picture settings (and 99 percent of them useless). With most TVs, the movie or cinema (it’s called something different by every manufacturer) will be produce the best picture, but a full professional calibration is the only insurance that your display is set to show its full potential. If that’s more than you want to put into your TV, then use one of several available TV setup discs that include basic video test patterns.
Check out this football fan’s awesome home theater.
3. Do know your room’s limits. I’m not talking about that fire code maximum occupancy thing (though that’s important). What I mean is you need to know how many people can comfortably and adequately enjoy the view of your display. Some TVs, notably LCD flat panel TVs and rear projection DLP TVs, have limited viewing angles. That means that people who sit too far off center will get a reduced picture experience than those sitting closer to the sweet spot. If you have a plasma TV, this isn’t really a problem, but many LCD TVs, especially if it’s more than two years old and not from a manufacturer’s top line, will have this problem. You don’t have to know the TV’s specified viewing angle. You can simply test it out yourself by moving to the left or right and noting the point where the picture drops off. That’s the widest part you should place any extra seats for guests.
4. Do pay attention to your audio system. Just because it’s football, doesn’t mean you don’t need to hear it on a good sound system. All that important commentary will be coming from your center channel, so you want to make sure it’s working properly. The half-time show will feature mostly music, which will sound a lot better on your properly balanced and tuned surround sound system than from your TVs tiny speakers.
5. Do adjust for lighting. Because you’ll likely have your room lights higher than if you were watching a movie with the family, a slightly brighter picture setting can be helpful. Many TVs have day and night modes sub for this purpose.
6. Do have your tablet or smart phone handy for checking scores, stats and chatting with others (over Twitter, Facebook or whatever) to make the game more communal. There are tons of sports apps, including the official NFL app, that will give you more info than what’s on the TV screen alone.
7. Do cheat a little on your surround-sound system and give the side and rear surrounds a boost. CBS does an above-average job mixing their live sports broadcasts for surround, but you can give your party even more of a “there” feel by piping up the crowd noise that comes in through the surround channels (just not so loud that your guests can’t hear the main action).
Can you guess what football hero owns this home theater?
8. Do create a music playlist to have playing over your whole-house music system during the seemingly endless pre-game coverage. Have fun with it, maybe throw on some artists and bands from the San Francisco and Baltimore areas. That will give you a good excuse to transition from the Grateful Dead to Huey Lewis and the News on the same track list.
9. Do have more than one controller/remote in the room. If something significant happens, you want a remote handy so you can quickly pause and replay. If you have your cable box/DVR app (and know how to use it) that works as a second remote.
10. Do use a lighting control system with a dimmer. If your room lights can be dimmed, then you can adjust them to the perfect illumination level for both TV viewing and socializing. A plain on/off switch will force you to have the room lights on at full blast which will degrade the TV’s picture and probably annoy anyone forced to sit near the lamps. Of course, you don’t want the room in total darkness, because then someone’s bound to knock over a drink.
What former NFL player calls this his man cave?
11. Do not convert it to 3D. I know, your new TV has a 2D-to-3D conversion feature, and you really want to show it off, but please, the Super Bowl isn’t being broadcast in 3D, so post production conversion in your TV can do nothing good. Plus, you probably don’t have enough 3D glasses to go around anyway. If you want to play with 3D then have a movie party the next weekend, and show your friends The Amazing Spiderman or something like that.
12. Do check everything out the day (or a couple of days) before. If you have a complex, professionally-installed system, the time to make sure it’s all working properly is not 4PM Sunday afternoon. Your A/V installer probably wants to stay home and watch the game too, not come over to your house to reboot your cable box.