Now that the World Series has come to a close and baseball is taking its seasonal hiatus, eyes across the nation turn to basketball. For NCAA fans, the season begins in about 10 days, but for NBA fans, the ball drops October 30, 2012.
Although football has historically gotten more fans out of their seats to buy new TVs than any other singular sport, we’re beginning to see an end to that trend. No matter; we don’t see why anyone should wait around for the Super Bowl for an excuse to buy cool new home theater gear. In fact, it makes more sense to gear up right now, since this is arguably the best time to purchase a TV. Besides, buying now allows lets you get everything set up and dialed in for all of the winter and spring sports action.
Here, then, is our trend-bucking guide to gearing up for the basketball season. From special sports programming packages to the best TV’s to watch them on, we’ve got you covered.
Sports programming packages
(Editor’s note: We’ve opted to cover satellite providers only, since cable providers and their offerings vary greatly according to market and usually involve limitations on available HD programming. Check with your local cable provider for details)
If you’ve really got a basketball jones, or, if you live out of your team’s market, national TV games won’t be enough to provide you with your fix. So let’s take a look at the options for DirecTV and Dish Network customers who have a hankering for more hoops.
Both providers offer both NBA League Pass and ESPN Full Court. NBA League Pass is simple: You get every out-of-market game, any time, any place, and on any device (phones, tablets, laptops, whatever). Full Court, on the other hand, offers an enhanced selection of college games, but not all of them. Buying this package will net you about 30 games per week, still a significant step up from standard coverage.
While Direct TV offers League Pass and Full Court for $180 and $110 respectively, Dish Network offers the pair for $100 and $80. Both providers also offer payment plans. DirecTV’s plan for League Pass is broken up into six installments of $30, while its plan for Full Court will cost you $27.50 a month for four months. Compare that to Dish Network, which offers League pass for $24.75 a month for four months, and Full Court for $19.75 a month for four months. Why the discrepancy in price?
DirecTV does offer a few proprietary features. For instance, ScoreGuide for League Pass keeps you abreast of developments in other games via a live, on-screen ticker, while DoublePlay lets you cycle between two games at the same time. For Full Court users, GameSearch auto-locates any blacked out games so you can watch them where they’re being broadcast. In contrast, Dish Network offers both services stock, with no extra frills.
The best TVs for sports
Most folks considering a new TV for catching their favorite games tend to be focused on size and high-definition resolution. Naturally, we want the biggest 1080p screen we can get; but there are other critical considerations you should take into account before making a purchase decision.
Sports broadcasts generally involve a lot of fast motion (with the exception of golf, maybe), and some TVs display all that quick movement far better and more naturally than others. Also, where and when you watch sports makes a difference because some TVs work better than others, depending on lightning conditions. Below, we compare and contrast plasma TVs with LCD TVs, discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both, and link to our top picks in each category.
Plasma TVs are, by leaps and bounds, our top pick for both sports and movie watching thanks to their naturally smooth motion, superior color accuracy, deeper black levels and eye-popping contrast . The only real drawback to a plasma TV is the tough time it will have battling back against bright ambient or direct sunlight. We should also mention that even though plasma TV’s have gotten much thinner and lighter over the past few years, LED-backlit LCD TV’s are lighter and thinner still. Check out our list of the best plasma TVs.
LED-lit LCD televisions are the thinnest, lightest and brightest TV’s available on the market. If the room you watch like to watch your sports in gets bombarded with sunlight, or if you’ve outfitted every light fixture in that room with 100-watt bulbs that you refuse to turn off, then an LED TV is going to be your best bet. The drawback to these types of TVs is that they tend to blur a little when displaying fast-moving content. Manufacturers have come up with motion-smoothing technologies, but be forewarned: these processors will make your game look like a little like a soap opera. Some folks get used to it and love this processing when watching sports. Others (ourselves included) can’t stand the effect. Here’s our list of the best LED TV’s.
Amp up your audio
What’s the point in having an awesomely-huge TV if the audio you get from it sounds like it’s coming from a transistor radio? The truth is, killer sound can make even a modestly-sized TV seem bigger, and an already large TV just that much more impressive. Of course, we’d love to see full-on 7.1 surround systems in everyone’s sports space, but for those short on space (or patience) there are plenty of compact, user-friendly options that will still significantly transform your game-watching experience. Here’s a rundown of the different types available and our top picks from each category:
A sound bar is the simplest, least-invasive sound solution available today. Designed to fit just under or above your TV, a sound bar usually requires just one connection to your TV, cable box or satellite receiver and – boom – you’ve got sound your TV couldn’t dream of putting out. Many sound bars even come with wireless subwoofers for added impact, and Bluetooth wireless adapters, useful for streaming tunes during half-time shows. Check out this list of our favorite sound bars.
Home theater in a box
As the name suggests, a home theater in a box (HTIB) includes all the components you need, from speakers to an amp, in one box. These systems have suffered some ridicule at the hand of many audio reviewers (ourselves included), but recently we’ve seen the quality of these all-in-wonder systems improve significantly. Just unwrap, make a few color-coded connections, and get ready to get your jam on. Here’s our list of some of the best single-box home theater solutions.
A game-night obligation you can’t weasel your way out of is every hoops fan’s nightmare, but if you have to be somewhere where a television isn’t, there is a solution.
Slingbox broke ground years ago with a set-top box that lets you watch your home television on any Internet-enabled mobile or computing device, and now Belkin@TV has followed suit. If you don’t have League Pass or Full court, products like these are key additions to your basketball fan survival kit. If your favorite NBA or college game isn’t on TV wherever you happen to be, just whip out your tablet, phone or laptop, load up your Slingbox or Belkin@TV app, and voila: hoops in the palm(s) of your hand(s). Just don’t blame us for the sideways stares you’ll get if you watching during a wedding reception.
Belkin@TV has two options for this slice of B-ball nirvana, the 500 and the 300, which retail for $300 and $180 respectively; Slingbox’s two new models – the 500 and the 350, also retail for $300 and $180.