Looking to upgrade? Your 2016 Buying Guide for Watching the Olympics at Home

by Matt Severaid, Director, Integrated Product Marketing, THX Ltd.

Rio 2016 will be the most recorded Olympics in history with more ways to watch than ever before, like 4K and VR. Will this increase viewership?

I was born in Europe and I grew up with the notion that the entire world loved and idolized the likes of Pelé, Diego Maradona and their sport of “Soccer.” The fact that the FIFA World Cup tops the list of sporting events with the highest average number of viewers is no surprise to me. What was a surprise was learning that Tour De France is second on this list — yes, you’re accurate in your deduction that no one in my family was a cyclist. Rounding out the list of top three sporting events are the 2012 Summer Olympic Games held in London.

This year, the Rio Olympic Games are certainly receiving their share of attention and stand a solid chance at surpassing the average viewership figures of the London Games. From the expected promiscuity of the athletes to the questionable health of Rio’s beaches, to the more relevant qualifying performances of first-time American Olympic athletes, there is no shortage of news to set expectations of what’s to come.

For those of us who won’t attend the games, the audio-video equipment recommendations that follow will ensure that even though you’re over 5,000 miles away, you’ll have the best viewing experience possible.

Access to the Events

There are many articles discussing the various ways you can access the competitions from the 2016 Games. More importantly, for those who recently purchased a 4K UltraHD television, 83 hours from this year’s games will be broadcast in 4K to cable subscribers (though it’s important to note that the 4K feed will be delayed by 24 hours). Learn more about the various restrictions and your options for accessing HD and 4K UltraHD content from the games here.

If you have a 4K UltraHD TV then definitely take advantage of the higher resolution feed…that is if you have the patience to wait the additional 24 hours. If you’re thinking of purchasing a new 4K UltraHD TV within the next few days, then 4K Olympics are a fantastic way to enjoy the benefits of your new purchase.

Video Gear

If you live in Europe, my recommendation is that you pick up a Panasonic AX902 set, or check out a list of other recommended models from www.AVForums.com. Unfortunately this model is not available on this side of the Atlantic.

If you live in the US, I consider David Katzmaier from CNET a very good critical TV editor/reviewer, and for this year, I share his opinion that the 2016 Vizio P-series presents the best value in a 4K UltraHD TV (and it should soon support HDR via a firmware update). You can read all of David’s recommendations here.

Photo: http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Product.do?sku=V11H585020

The other option is to commit to the ultimate viewing experience and watch the Olympics on a 10-foot-wide projection screen. The Epson 5030UB projector has been around for a couple of years, but it’s still an industry favorite, and with only a $2,000 price tag, it’s a great value. This model is only 1080p but there are only a few true 4K UltraHD projectors on the market and they’re all currently significantly more expensive. I’d recommend saving that purchase for the 2020 Tokyo Games. If you opt for a projector, make certain that you also opt for a high quality projection screen. They’re worth the investment and established brands like Stewart and Screen Research, among others, offer several high quality options depending on your viewing environment and desired configuration.

Audio

Parts of the 2016 Games will be encoded in the immersive sound format Dolby Atmos! I am super excited, but also uncertain as to what I should expect from this experience. Will the additional audio “objects”, and their placement, be captured in real-time at the venue, or will they be added into the mix by a sound designer at a later time? This would help explain the 24-hour broadcast delay for the 4K UltraHD Atmos version.

Nonetheless, the enhanced audio mix has the potential to completely change the experience…including a risk for some terrible creative decisions that could spoil it. I am expecting lots of added crowd noise behind and overhead in an attempt to create the impression that I am actually there, versus adding sounds of splashing water to convince me that I am swimming alongside Mr. Ryan Lochte. Let’s save that effect for the VR version of the Rio Games, which, by the way, is available on the Samsung Gear VR platform.

Photo: http://www.onkyousa.com/Products/model.php?m=HT-S9700THX&class=Systems

My recommendation for a good-quality, high-value 7.1 Home Theater System is the Onkyo HT-S9700THX. The included receiver decodes Dolby Atmos and by adding two pairs of the Onkyo SKH-410 Atmos speaker modules, or better yet, some direct firing in-ceiling speakers, you can turn this system into the full impact 7.1.4 Atmos configuration…all for less than $2,000 in gear.

If a full 7.1 or 5.1 system is too invasive for your taste, a good stereo (2 channel) audio system will suffice for most of the Olympic content. I am personally a huge fan of the KEF LS50 studio monitors (speakers). They’re small (bookshelf size) so they fit nicely next to your TV. They don’t require huge amounts of power, come in several stylish colors, and sound great all the way down to about 80 hertz. Power them with the Onkyo A-9010 stereo amplifier, running digital output from your TV into the amp, and you’ll have an impressive little system.

Photo: http://www.klipsch.com/products/reference-subwoofers

For those of us who want to experience the full impact of a dropped deadlift or the dramatic thud that solidifies a perfect high bar dismount, a good quality subwoofer is a must. The Klipsch Reference series are a solid bet as they deliver plenty of power with good low-end frequency extension (deep bass).

Photo: http://www.logitech.com/en-gb/product/speaker-system-z623?crid=47

If you’re looking for something at a much lower price point, consider a set of PC speakers. They’re inexpensive, relatively small, and will outperform any built-in TV speakers. Klipsch Pro-Media or the Logitech Z623 2.1 Multimedia speaker systems are two great options. Both have two powered satellite speakers that would sit on each side of the TV and a powered subwoofer. If you’re leaning towards a soundbar, the value offered by the Vizio soundbar and subwoofer combo is tough to beat.

Have your own recommendations? Hit us up in the comments below.

Go Team USA!