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Here's why you can't watch Super Bowl 2021 in 4K Ultra HD

Can you watch Super Bowl in 4K HDR in 2021?
(Image credit: NFL)

Good morning and welcome to Super Bowl Sunday! After 256 regular season games and 10 NFL playoff matches it all comes down to Buccaneers vs Chiefs at 6.30pm ET tomorrow. We've already explained how to watch the Super Bowl without cable, but you might also be wondering if you can watch the Super Bowl in 4K? Or rather, Tom Brady vs Patrick Mahomes in 4K. The answer might surprise you.

Three main networks rotate Super Bowl coverage each season. Last year, Fox called the play and streamed Super Bowl LIV in sharp 4K resolution, marking a first for the history of the event. This year, CBS is doing the honors and will offer a free Super Bowl live stream via its CBS Sports website and app.

But CBS has now confirmed it won't make today's Super Bowl available in either 4K UHD or HDR. That's disappointing news, especially for those who had their eye on one of the best Super Bowl 2021 TV deals. CBS says the downgrade is due to "production limitations caused by the covid-19 pandemic". 

Frustrated? We feel you. On a brighter note CBS will air the Super Bowl in HD today (Full HD 1080p, to be precise). The company says it plans to "focus on ensuring that streams are reliable and low-latency" for this year’s Super Bowl, as well as showcasing “dramatically new camera angles”.

CBS has no experience broadcasting NFL games in 4K UHD, let alone the finale of the American football season. So, perhaps this should come as no surprise. Even Fox, which was reliably screening Thursday Night Football in 4K for most of last season, had to stop due to complications caused by the pandemic.

As you can imagine, broadcasting a global event such as the Super Bowl is no picnic. As the VP of video platforms at Fox put it, preparing one of the most streamed events in the world requires 'year-long engineering work'. 

So, Super Bowl 2021 might not be the most technically advanced Super Bowl but fingers crossed will be glitch-free. And having struggled though enough glitches in 2020, the fact that it's on at all could be seen as a victory.

Should I still buy a 4K TV for Super Bowl 2021? 

How to watch Super Bowl 2021 in 4K HDR

(Image credit: Future)

So, should you pull the tigger on that new 4K TV if you can't watch Super Bowl 2021 in 4K HDR? A TV is for life, not just for the Super Bowl.

Regardless, the Super Bowl remains a great excuse to buy a new 4K TV – and not only because retailers are offering crazy-low prices on big screens for the big game (see: 70-inch on a 4K HDR LED TV for $448 at Walmart). 

For one thing, most 4K TVs have the capability to upscale a HD video feed to 4K. In fact, Fox uses the same trick – they produce games in 1080p HDR and then upscale them to 4K for home delivery. So even though you can't watch Super Bowl 2021 in 4K HDR, the latest 4K TVs can enhance the picture to 'near 4K' quality which is more or less what we had last year anyway.

What's more, Fox aims to resume 4K UHD broadcasts next season. They may not be in native 4K, but based on the NFL's previous 4K broadcasts, they'll look stunning. The feeds include HDR (High Dynamic Range) so the colors and textures should look awesome on a top tier 4K HDR TV from Sony, Samsung, LG or the like.

Looking further ahead, next-generation digital TV technology ATSC 3.0 is set to revolutionize how sports such as NFL, MLB and NBA are broadcast. ATSC 3.0 enables up to 4K quality over the air, along with immersive Dolby Atmos 3D sound.

Add to that the weight of 4K content available to stream through services such as Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV and there are plenty of reasons to pull the trigger on a new 4K TV. They're more affordable than ever before, too, going by this year's best Super Bowl 2021 TV deals.

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