Which TVs are best for watching sports?

Rafael Nadal, arguably the greatest tennis player of all time, just won his 14th French Open title. At the iconic Wimbledon Championships starting on Monday, June 27, he aims to write another chapter in the history books with his third Grand Slam of 2022. While you can technically watch tennis, and any other sports, on any TV, there are some specific features to consider if you want the best possible viewing experience.

TVs for sports vs. TVs for movies

Home theater TVs have their own set of high-end requirements, such as deep black levels, high contrast ratios and local dimming, that enable a near-cinematic experience. Sporting events, on the other hand, rarely take place in the dark, and are exponentially more enjoyable with a large group of family or friends.

The problem is, many fantastic home theater TVs have poor viewing angles. Plus, a decent number of them have inconsistency issues that aren’t noticeable in movies but are easy to spot when an entire tennis court or soccer field is on the screen.

The biggest differentiating factor between the two, especially where group viewing is concerned, is the type of panel technology a TV uses. Two subtypes of LCD panels, called in-plane switching and vertical alignment panels, offer markedly different performance. IPS technology is especially suitable for sports, while VA technology needs some extra features to look good when viewed at an angle.

How do LCD TVs work?

LCD TVs consist of a backlight, a layer of liquid crystal matrix, a set of color filters and sometimes additional layers, depending on the TV’s design and price point. That liquid crystal matrix doesn’t actually contain crystals that are made of liquid. That’s actually just a clever name. Instead, the liquid crystal layer consists of a material that either blocks light or lets it through, depending on the electrical signal it receives from the microchip controllers inside the TV.

The vast majority of today’s TVs use VA technology. VA panels tend to have high contrast ratios, relatively deep black levels and remarkably narrow viewing angles. In other words, VA panels are great for a cinematic experience with stunning landscapes and otherworldly CGI images when viewed head-on. However, the image degrades quickly for anyone viewing it from an angle. VA panels also aren’t exactly praised for their color accuracy and consistency from edge-to-edge, although that does differ from model to model (and even between individual panels, in some cases).

The liquid crystal material in IPS panels essentially rotates in a different direction than VA liquid crystal to let light through. The end result is a significantly wider viewing angle for IPS panels and usually more consistent and accurate colors across the screen. The tradeoff is that IPS panels tend to make blacks look gray.

What about OLED TVs?

While they still use light-emitting diode technology, OLED TVs operate differently from LCD TVs. OLED panels can dim and turn off each pixel individually instead of a standalone matrix of liquid crystal blocking the light. This results in remarkably wide viewing angles in addition to the incredibly accurate and consistent color.

OLED TVs perform better than LCDs almost across the board, except for brightness. Since sporting events and group gatherings often happen during the day or in well-lit rooms, OLEDs don’t dominate the sports-watching scene the way they lead in terms of a home theater experience. They’re also quite expensive compared to LCD TVs.

So which kind of TV is best for sports?

If you like to watch sports with friends, an IPS panel TV is basically a must-have. OLED panels come in second, but their cost turns off many consumers. VA panel TVs are generally poor for group viewing, although some premium models have special wide-angle layers that somewhat mitigate the problems with VA panels (usually at the cost of contrast).

A note on refresh rate and motion interpolation

Most broadcast content is limited to a top end of 60 frames per second. That dovetails perfectly with the 60-hertz refresh rate of many TVs. Many newer models offer 120-hertz refresh rates, but there aren’t many 120-hertz sources.

You’ve probably heard of the soap opera effect, which occurs when a TV produces unnaturally smooth content. These days, it usually happens when a TV’s motion interpolation feature is enabled. Different brands have different names for it, but it’s always the same thing. In motion interpolation, the processor inside the TV essentially calculates imaginary frames in between the frames it’s given, which simulates frame rates of 120 fps or better, even when a program is only broadcast at 60 fps.

You almost always want motion interpolation off when watching movies. Otherwise, it significantly messes with the experience, making things look unreal and distracting viewers from the film itself. By contrast, motion interpolation has simply fantastic results when watching sports. The fluidity from a simulated 120-hertz (or greater) live sporting broadcast is something to behold. That’s especially true with sports like tennis, where the small ball and fast pace are difficult to track.

Best TVs for watching sports with friends

Samsung QN85A

Samsung QN85A

This high-end option combines IPS technology with QLED filtration, an impressively bright backlight and excellent motion handling, making it the best option by far for a large group of sports fans.

Sold by Amazon

LG C2 OLED

LG C2 OLED

If you can afford the high cost, this refined OLED model is perfect for any type of content imaginable, thanks in part to its superior brightness compared to other OLEDs.

Sold by Amazon

LG UP8000

LG UP8000

If you’re on a tight budget, you can’t do better than this high-performing but low-cost IPS TV.

Sold by Amazon

Samsung QN90B

Samsung QN90B

This option is ideal for sports, movies and TV at any time of day, due to its advanced Mini LED backlight, premium local dimming algorithm and special wide viewing angle layer.

Sold by Amazon

LG Nano 90

LG Nano 90

For the most immersive viewing experience possible, this premium option is equipped with an IPS panel and comes in sizes up to a whopping 75 inches. However, you should avoid the 86-inch version because it uses a VA panel.

Sold by Amazon

Sony X80K

Sony X80K

It sports a midrange price yet high-end performance, especially when it comes to action-packed tennis matches and basketball games.

Sold by Amazon

Samsung Q80A

Samsung Q80A

While it’s actually last year’s model, its wide viewing angle layer allows it to perform notably better for large groups, and it’s less costly than its successor.

Sold by Amazon

LG C1 OLED

LG C1 OLED

The only reason to avoid this remarkably good-looking TV is if you want to watch the game in broad daylight, as it’s slightly behind the newer model in terms of brightness.

Sold by Amazon

LG QNED90UPA

LG QNED90UPA

As long as you can afford it, this is one of the best large-format IPS panel TVs money can buy.

Sold by Amazon

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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