The 10 best TVs for World Cup watching
Traditionally, during British summertime, we switch off our TVs en masse and partake in more outdoor pursuits instead. We'd all rather be having barbecues, playing swingball, or queuing in the rain outside Wimbledon for tickets to court 14. However, this is World Cup year, and that means sitting in front of the goggle box and savouring the talents of footballing superstars such as Messi, Kaka, and Emile Heskey.
So, that TV buying decision you've been putting off for a while is creeping up on you like a cartoon villain, and we're here to help. No matter the size or budget, we've tried and tested hundreds of screens in order to find the very best for everyone, and the one thing they all have in common is that they'll give you a World Cup experience you won't forget.
26ins and below
Best on a budget: Samsung LE26B450 (£300)
Available for £300 or less, this Samsung pint-sized LCD screen comes with three HDMI sockets and the company's tried and trusted DNIe+ picture processing, ensuring that despite its diminutive stature, its image quality is living room friendly.
It's only HD ready, with a 1366 x 768 resolution, but is compatible with a 1080p24 signal, even if it can't display Full HD pictures natively. And its built-in Wide Colour Enhancer 2 technology adds extra vibrancy and zing to the colourscape, most notably on greens - essential for footy action.
There's only an SD Freeview tuner on board, so the LE26B450 can't display HD World Cup broadcasts without a separate set-top-box. But the standard-def picture quality, including sharpness and motion stability, is so impressive, you probably won't need to invest in an external source anyway.
Audio isn't a strong point, with the down-firing 5W stereo speakers being perfunctory at best. However, this is a cracking little TV for the price and will certainly make the World Cup look fantastic, whether it's in the bed or living room.
Premium choice: LG 22LU5000 (£400)
Not only is LG's screen more expensive than Samsung's above, but it has a considerably smaller screen size. At only 22 inches, you would think that the LU5000 is definitely bedroom bound, however, it has a few surprises up its sleeve, and more bells and whistles than the Brazilian support.
For starters, its 1080p. Yep, a 1920 x 1080 resolution on a 22-inch screen. To be honest, the extra pixels (over HD ready panels) probably don't make a great deal of difference with video content, but if you want to double it up as a computer monitor, the count matters. And, it comes with a VGA port alongside two HDMIs and a set of component inputs, so even caters for those with older computers.
It's the picture quality that really matters though, and the LU5000 has a bonus in this area too. It features LG's proprietary picture optimisation wizard. The screen runs you through some easy to understand calibration demos and options, to make sure that the images are specifically tuned for your ambient surroundings. In short, technically at least, you get the best picture no matter where it's placed.
Naturally, like with the Samsung, being a small screen, this LG doesn't exactly have the meatiest audio performance, but at least dialogue and, therefore, commentary is clean and precise. And the in-built Freeview tuner gives just enough respect to video to give a cracking TV experience. Oh, and it looks nice too.
Best on a budget: Toshiba 32RV635 (£400)
A 32-inch screen is, essentially, the ideal size for a small living room, and this Toshiba TV is an absolute snip for £400. Not only is it a Full HD panel, and therefore capable of playing 1080p24 Blu-ray content through one of its four HDMI ports, but it features the company's proprietary Resolution+ picture processing.
Resolution+ is an in-built upscaling technology, the like of which is usually found in DVD players or Blu-ray decks. It takes a standard definition picture source, cleans and improves it, finding extra details and sharpening edges, and displays the end product at 1920 x 1080 pixels. Essentially, SD pictures get a welcome make-over in the set itself. It certainly gives a massive helping hand to Freeview footy broadcasts, which can otherwise suffer all manner of strange image artefacts.
The RV635 is also a deft performer with HD content, and is ripe for exploitation using a V+HD, Sky+ HD, Freeview HD or Freesat set-top-box. Its sonic talents are less spectacular and merely do an average job, but, for the price, there's few 32-inch screens out there that can match its appeal.
Premium choice: JVC Xiview LT-32WX50 (£2500)
Coming without an in-built tuner, the 32WX50 is not actually a TV as such, but then, it's not even on sale in conventional stores or online. Instead, it's been designed specifically for the lucrative custom installation market, something JVC is adopting for all of its screen business from now on.
Firstly, that means that you can only order one through a dedicated home cinema installer. And, secondly, that it may cost you even more than the, cough, two-and-a-half grand price ticket.
Admittedly, it's debatable whether it's worth such a lofty price point, but JVC certainly gets the basics right. A detachable speaker bar provides excellent stereo performance, especially for its size and thickness, and an edge-lit LED backlight affords the 32WX50 superb black levels.
The backlight also allows the screen to be a mere 7mm thick (25mm at its thickest point). It's a move that cries out for wall-mounting.
Of course, with no tuner, it'll need to be fed a diet of STB-flavoured pictures, but, with genuinely high-class, high-end processing going on under the hood, the display will certainly give those with expensive tastes a great view of the World Cup.
Best on a budget: Sony Bravia KDL-37EX503 (£720)
It'd be a strange World Cup TV round-up without a Sony, especially as the Japanese manufacturer is the official consumer electronics brand of the 2010 tournament, and thankfully, this set is an absolute shoo-in for this category.
To begin with, it has a Freeview HD TV tuner, allowing you to watch the BBC and ITV's coverage in glorious high definition for free. Of course, that's only if you're in a compatible area, and have a signal strength strong enough to maintain a decent service, but it's a highly welcome feature. And, even if you're not currently fed HD broadcasts, at least it doubles as a normal Freeview TV regardless.
Then there's its net capabilities, and Sony's excellent soon-to-launch World Cup video-on-demand service, which let you watch highlights of every tournament since England's victorious campaign in 1966 through its online hook-up. A multitude of other documentaries and footy-focused features are available too, and VOD is only one cannon in its net-based arsenal.
But, ultimately, the reason for this LCD TV's inclusion in our round-up is its absolutely stonking picture and audio prowess. The Full HD 37EX503 has Sony's legendary performance, but for a bargain basement price. Impressive? You betcha.
Premium choice: Loewe Connect 37 Media Full HD+ 100 DR+ (£3000)
We've got to be honest, you won't be buying the ridiculously long-named Connect 37 Media Full HD+ DR+ for its picture quality. There are many better screens out there for video playback, HD or otherwise, and they cost far less than the three-grand price ticket slapped on Loewe's TV.
Nor would you buy it to fill a house with cacophonous stereo audio, booming soundtrack or classical jazz alike. It has capable audio performance, but not anything outstanding.
Nope, the main reason you would buy this specific telly is its looks. Its design. Its aesthetics. If you're a footballer and most of your furniture is designed by Philippe Starck, this is the screen for you. That's not to say it doesn't have several reasons to turn it on, it's just that it looks very, very nice when it's switched off. It is, in modern parlance, "well fit".
Its Connect name is also a clue as to the set's other main feature, a wealth of internet connectivity features, including media streaming abilities and access to internet radio. And there's an in-built 250GB hard drive to record, pause and rewind TV from the press of a button. Essentially, with the Connect 37, you need never miss a match. Although, maybe a credit card repayment or two.
Best on a budget: Samsung UE40B7020 (£900)
Taken from Samsung's 2009 range, this 40in LED TV is essentially the same as the 40B7000 bar the colour of the exterior bezel. The nuts and bolts are identical, so its an amazing bargain at £900. Indeed, shop around and, because the company has now introduced its summer 2010 tellies, you may even pick one up for less.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the B7020's major selling point is its picture performance. The edge-mounted LED backlight, when combined with proprietary filtering technologies, provides some of the deepest black levels seen outside of a Welsh coal mine. And it sports a colourfield so vibrant and bursting with life that you might want to wear sunglasses.
The company's 100Hz MotionPlus picture processing genuinely aids the fast-pan nature of football coverage (as long as you switch it to the lowest setting) and there's a real mastery with high definition detail that gives Blu-ray content an almost 3D feel.
Unfortunately, as it is from last year's range, the 7020 only sports an SD Freeview tuner, and the company's Internet@TV connectivity is limited here, but for pure TV and football watching, there are few better 40in screens on the market. And none for the price.
Premium choice: Samsung UE40C8000 (£2,000)
It may seem odd to have two Samsung 40in LED TVs in this category, but they are genuinely here on merit. And it would be more scandalous to not include the C8000, especially as it is one of the first 3DTVs to hit the streets.
Unfortunately, that's largely irrelevant for enjoying the World Cup as the UK isn't showing the tournament in 3D. It's being filmed with 3D cameras, and will even be broadcast in other countries, such as Japan, in three-dimensions, but we're staggering someway behind in this country when it comes to adoption of the new tech.
However, this screen will come into its own after the last penalty has been blasted over the bar. There are plans to release highlights packages in 3D on Blu-ray, and, obviously, they'll work with the C8000.
For now though, this is one amazing telly anyway. And, with full Internet@TV compatibility, including access to LoveFilm's movie rental service on demand, it has a feature list as long as Peter Crouch's arms.
Picture quality is also superb, and Samsung has performed minor miracles getting such superb audio out of an extremely thin footprint. In all, the 3D is merely the icing on the cake. For this, £2k seems cheap.
46ins and above
Best on a budget: LG 50PK790 (£880)
With so many LCD and LED TVs dominating the smaller screen sizes, it only seems fit that the monster category should contain two plasmas. The technology is held in high regard by movie fans and AV-holics alike, and for good reason. For motion and colour accuracy, other techs are still playing catch up.
This LG plasma TV offers an amazing big screen experience for an extremely competitive price point. It has no need for fancy refresh rate-based boasts as it doesn't have any problems with motion blur or juddering, and its green colour presentation is, quite simply, stunning. It's almost as if it was designed with the World Cup in mind.
And, with an in-built Freeview HD TV tuner, it probably was.
There are caveats to such as attractive price tag, though. LG's NetCast online service isn't, perhaps, as fleshed out as other company's offerings. And its DLNA functionality is fairly limited - even though it does stream MP3s, JPEGs, and DivX HD/MKV files. But these niggles disappear when Aaron Lennon's haring up the wing in full, smooth motion, and its Bluetooth connectivity is a gimmick we're particularly fond of.
For getting your mates 'round to watch a match, this 50incher does the job superbly and is an absolutely steal.
Premium choice: Panasonic TX-P54Z1 (£4,300)
There is no better TV to watch football on than Panasonic's flagship screen, fact! The Z1 features all of the company's highest-end processing and technologies (apart from 3D), but also has one unique aspect that justifies the lofty pricing: Wireless Full HD.
Coming with a separate media box, into which you plug all of your external sources, it can transmit full high-definition 1080p24 signals across a room and onto the screen with absolutely no lag or stuttering whatsoever. You can even have all of your content devices in a different room entirely (the signal can penetrate thin-ish walls).
Admittedly, for this to work, the screen needs to have a receiver add-on bolted to the bottom, which looks like an ugly carbuncle when wall-mounted, but at least it gives a level of freedom seldom seen.
Of course, this amounts to little for the actual viewing experience, but we can safely say that the Z1 excels in this area too.
As a plasma it, like the LG, has no problem with fast motion and green colour rendering. However, Panasonic's picture processing makes even standard definition pictures look full of detail and life. Of course, it looks better with HD action pumping through its veins, but at least you won't have to worry about adding a set-top-box under the telly, leaving you free to throw your rattle at the wall after yet another penalty shoot-out.
If you enjoyed this article, then head over to our World Cup Week homepage where you'll find a collection of features getting ready for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa.