Cover Story

Inviting your buddies over for the big game without high-def? Don’t expect a high turnout.

By Beth Teitell
Globe Staff / January 15, 2011

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When Brian Owens gets invited to a Super Bowl party, his first question is about the quality of the TV. Brazen? Yes. But, as Owens, 27, an IT recruiter from South Boston, explains, “If your TV is not up to par, you should warn people. It’s the equivalent of not serving food.’’

With the penetration of high-definition TVs in US households at 56 percent, according to Nielsen, and prices dropping to the point where many can afford them, a new faux pas has emerged: hosting — or trying to host — a playoff party or Super Bowl bash with a less than first-rate television.

As Daniel Cisneros, 35, an analyst with the Bank of America, put it: “Dude, if you don’t have the proper TV, why should I go to your place?’’

That’s what was running through his mind last year when a buddy with an old-fashioned projection TV — don’t get Cisneros started on the faded colors — invited him to a Super Bowl party. Cisneros, who has a high-definition set and surround sound, and is considering upgrading to 3-D, was polite about it, but he watched elsewhere.

Perhaps real-estate agent Jackson Hayes, 32, said it best, as he took in a few games in high-def at Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar & Grill last Sunday. “You can’t go back [to regular TV],’’ he said. “It’s like you’re watching through mud.’’

But the host hoping for a crowd to watch the Pats-Jets playoff game tomorrow needs to offer more than just high-definition. The TV needs to be so large that the players look almost life size. Like portion sizes (and Americans themselves), television screens have ballooned. And when it’s time for the big game, only the biggest TVs will do.

“If you’re going to have a Super Bowl party it has to be 50-inches plus,’’ said Nick Wasson, 26, an anesthesia resident at Beth Israel, as he hung out with a friend at Jerry Remy’s. “I hate to be like that, but I’ve got a 65-inch TV.’’

In 2004, the average television measured 27 inches and the vast majority were standard definition. Today’s average TV is 36 inches, according to Paul Gagnon, director of North American TV research at DisplaySearch, a California-based market-research firm. “Even people who bought a flat-panel set in 2006 or 2007 are starting to look at replacing it with a 40-inch or larger set.’’

With the Patriots in the playoffs, and the Super Bowl coming up Feb. 6, the pressure is on to have just the right set. Or else.

Dondrea May, a sales manager at Best Buy in Framingham, sees that strain firsthand, when customers reveal the pressure they’re under from friends or even their teenage kids. Those shopping for a new game day set are more anxious than customers looking for ovens before Thanksgiving, he said.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, my oven’s down, can you cook this for me and bring it over?’ ’’ May said. “But you can’t invite your party over to someone else’s house, and nobody wants to watch the Super Bowl on a terrible, small TV.’’

Some customers shopping for new sets suffer from full-blown TV shame, he added.

“A lot of times with men, the peer pressure gets to them. When you’re rocking a 27-inch tube TV, people will make fun of you.’’ Other times the shame is secondhand. The TV owner doesn’t care about his or her small, socially unacceptable set, but the kids do. “Some of them say I don’t want to replace it but my family is making me.’’

Why is the game-day viewing experience so important? Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society, said football in general, and especially the Super Bowl, lets people of different economic, social, and racial groups bond and gives them a common sense of identity.

“It creates something that is ‘us’ rather than ‘we’ and ‘them,’ ’’ he said.

Even so, Rosanne J. Thomas, president of Protocol Advisors Inc., in Boston, says those turning down invitations based on TV pixel counts should ask themselves a question: “What’s more important to you, the game or the friendship?’’

“Super Bowl games come and go,’’ she said, “but relationships [should be lasting]. I think you’d be more concerned about that on Monday morning.’’

Well, maybe.

“You have to question your friendship [with someone without a high-definition TV],’’ said Hayes, the real estate agent watching sports at Jerry Remy’s. “We’re all sports people. We’re not 22 and just out of college. You should have a decent TV to watch sports on.’’

If there’s good news for those without high-def, it’s that prices are coming down. A 40-inch flat panel TV that cost about $3,200 in 2005, went for about $1,300 in 2007, and is less than $700 today, according to Gagnon. “You can get a 50-inch flat panel TV for roughly the same price as you paid for a 32-inch model in 2006.’’

How does it feel to be the guy with the bad TV? Terrible, said Bryan Douglass, associate editor in charge of sports for, an online magazine aimed at men.

“We talked about having parties all the time, but every time I’d look at the TV and say ‘I can’t do it, it’s too embarrassing.’ ’’

His wife got him a new TV for Christmas, he said, which means that now he can open his home — and show off his big screen.

Ridiculous, maybe, but who can blame him? Listen to Jon Moulton, 50, an attorney from North Reading, a seemingly nice guy and reasonable fellow who turned down an invitation a couple of years ago for definition-related reasons.

“You’d think the company should outweigh the quality of the TV,’’ Moulton said, “but it doesn’t. We’re guys.’’

Beth Teitell can be reached at