World Cup 2014: The Best TVs to watch it on
Four technologies and five televisions in under 90 minutes
In the latest of our World Cup guides, we look at a range of football friendly TVs that will allow you to see the action, at its very best, in terms of picture quality.
Whilst the majority of review TV samples we’ve received this year have been Ultra HD compatible, the Samsung UE55H6400 is resolutely 1080p, only, but is certainly none the worse for it. The maximum resolution you’ll be seeing this World Cup is 1080i, anyhow, so it’s not like you’re missing out, in the short term at least.
It may not be particularly avant garde in terms of the design, either. There’s no curved screen or fancy base stand and, in fact, its near identical in appearance to last year’s equivalent but it’s a good looking TV, nonetheless, and has all the connectivity options you could wish for. Those include 4 HDMI ports, 3 USB, wired and wireless LAN. You can scroll through the menus using a conventional remote control or with the redesigned smart controller for a more refined experience. The new controller works really well and offers voice, gesture and touch controls.
Don’t be fooled by the nomenclature, the Movie picture mode is the one to go for, irrespective of what you’re watching, and it will give the players’ strips and grass of the pitches a more realistic look than the others. In fact, we were able to extract accuracy of world class status from the H6400 which teamed up with superior video processing and excellent native contrast to produce superb images.
The H6400 is not curved, nor 4K but it will do you right for the 2014 World CupSamsung’s Motion Plus processing is also worth checking out when it comes to sporting action as it manages to minimise blur whilst not producing distracting issues with the picture. We’d recommend using the ‘Clear’ preset for the most natural looking frame interpolation, just remember to switch it off when watching anything else – particularly your movies.
Priced at around the £1,500 mark, the Samsung H6400 is the most affordable TV on our list and offers big-screen footie at a relatively bargain price.
This is Panasonic’s first 4k TV launched since the company entered its post-plasma era. You could have been certain that had we been producing this guide last year, then Panasonic plasma would probably have had at least have occupied 40% of it but it’s doubtful one of their LED TVs would have made it. So it’s testament to the advances they’ve made, these last 12 months, that the 50AX802 makes it on to the list.
As we said above, there’s next to no benefit in having a 4K TV for the 2014 World Cup but then again, looking a little further forwards, you may wish to ensure you’re future-proofed for the next tournament, by which time we expect there will be at least some broadcast Ultra HD action. It’s a little like selecting Luke Shaw ahead of Ashley Cole – not much (if any) net benefit in the short-term but the dividends should be reaped later down the line. We did say ‘a little’!
In terms of producing the most accurate greens for the pitches, the AX802 is going to take some beating. In fact, so accurate were the greens, it will almost like being there. The scaling of signals carrying a 1920 x 1080 resolution is also so good that you’ll be losing next to nothing in the translation up to a 3840 x 2160 pixel count and, at times, the AX802 might allow you to discern some details you wouldn’t have been able to spot with a Full HD set.
Probably the biggest leap for this Panasonic LED TV, over older generations, is in its native contrast performance, however. The AX802 can ‘do’ black and a clever and accurate dimming system will be of real benefit in adding atmosphere to floodlit games. As with the Samsung above, engaging the fame interpolation processing, at its lowest setting, will help the action appear that bit smoother without introducing any ‘nasties’; Panasonic calls it IFC in the menus.
All in all, the Panasonic AX802 gives cause to be optimistic for the company’s TV division, going forwards, and it’s always good to see a class act return to form.
Panasonic returns to form with the AX802Sony W829
This isn’t Sony’s flagship Full HD TV for 2014. It costs about £400 less than the top-tier W955 model but is the better bet, if picture quality is your prime concern. In fact, we made special mention of the W829’s suitability for sports watching in our review, singling out the superb screen uniformity as cause to convince football lovers they could sit back and enjoy a game without the twin spectres of a dirty screen effect or panel banding looking to spoil things.
Motionflow processing was also of benefit to fast moving action, when set to Clear, so that’s something to consider when watching events unfold in Brazil, but it wasn’t just with sports where the 50W829B looked great. Across the board, the deep blacks helped the Sony deliver images superb detail and great native contrast.
The Sony W829 doesn't feature the new Wedge design of the top-end TVs but it still packs in decent speaker system that will help bring the crowds to life. Sony has even put in a special ‘Football Mode’ in to some of their TVs this summer which attempts to enhance the stadium noise whilst minimising the volume of the commentary and it works reasonably well, so if you’re getting tired of the endless clichés, you could always switch it on.
The 50-inch W829 carries a retail price of less than £900 and we think that makes it something of a snip for a TV with this level of style, features and performance. Again, it’s not Ultra HD but it has everything you need for the here and now so well worth a demo!
When it comes to flying the flag for OLED technology, LG is almost the sole standard bearer going in to this year’s World Cup. It looks like they’ve pulled a tactical masterstroke with their production techniques and have managed to outflank the opposition in producing a viable product for the domestic market. The 55-inch LG EA980 might not be cheap - expect to pay around £4k, even if it isn’t of 4k resolution, but if you want the best, you have to be prepared to pay for it.
Build quality is simply sumptuous and whether you like the idea of a curved screen, or not, there’s no denying that this TV looks absolutely beautiful in the flesh. As it was, viewing of real world content wasn’t really impacted with the ‘Bend it like Beckham’ approach, and we were left to marvel at the almost infinite contrast ratios and mega-accurate colours.
LG’s Magic Motion remote control is our man of the match Smart TV controller, too, and it offers up a superb combination of motion, voice and gesture control the others are finding hard to live with. The EA890 might not sport LG’s latest Smart+ (webOS) features but then it’s no journeyman player in the department, either, and it’s blessed with most of the catchup and streaming services you’ll need for this year’s tournament.
Maybe you'd like to bend it like LG?In action, the EA890 is an absolutely glorious performer. When put through its sporting paces in our review, our veteran commentator, Steve Withers noted: “…the picture just took our breath away. From the colours of the shirts, to the dynamic range within the image, to the level of detail in the crowds, the EA980 simply didn't put a foot wrong.”
So if you want to stand out from the crowd this World Cup, the choice is OLED.
Samsung F8500 Plasma
Samsung haven’t produced any new plasma TVs for 2014 but if you shop around, you may still be able to get your hands on this beauty. We dubbed it a ‘plasma for all seasons’ for its ability to stand up to brighter viewing conditions than most of the technology are able to. It features a ‘grand stand’, too, with a lovely curve and a very stylish finish. Connectivity options are generous, as well, with the requisite 4 HDMI ports present.
Again, it’s with the Movie picture mode where you’ll will see the most accurate representation of grasses and shirts but it’s probably with the silky-smooth motion handling where this TV distinguishes itself from those above. It really is buttery smooth so, no matter who is playing, this TV will have no problems in keeping up.
This being a plasma TV, it boasts superb native contrast performance, too, which helps with just about every aspect of picture quality, and this being a flagship Samsung TV, it is blessed with just about every Smart TV convenience imaginable. It has both the ITV Player and BBC iPlayer so, if you miss anything, you can always catch-up and it also boasts the BBC Sport app for more in-depth coverage.
The end of plasma TVs as a going concern is almost upon us but if you’re prime interest is in sheer picture quality, at an affordable price and you’re not really convinced by this Ultra HD thing, then you could do yourself a favour by picking up one of the very last great plasma TVs available.
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