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Join Date: Nov 2000
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I would definitely suggest you look at the Samsung F8500. I have the 60" Sharp Elite and was planning to get the 70" Elite for our new place. Unfortunately, as you know, Sharp stopped production and had numerous issues with the last production run.
After countless trips to Magnolia, attending the VE shootout and the Panasonic show where the ZT60 was unveiled and seeing a calibrated VT60, ZT60 and F8500 sitting next to each other, I wound up getting the F8500.
I can tell you that the 8500 comes much closer to the PQ characteristics of the Elite than the Panasonics. They are much brighter and are able to retain that brightness much better than the VT or ZT due to a better controlled ABL.
The ABL (automatic brightness limiter) is a characteristic of all plasmas and is responsible for the numerous comments that plasma whites look "gray", "dirty" or "dim". LEDs don't have this characteristic and, as a result, retain brilliant whites when large expanses of bright imagery begin to fill up a screen. A typical plasma takes that same scene and throttles back on that brightness since its power supply can't deal with the requirements of such a bright scene.
Enter the F8500. Through a combination of engineering features involving the pixel/cell structure and power supply, the Samsung has far better control of its ABL and is far less aggressive in its behavior. The result is that bright scenes are throttled back much less than in the Panasonics and thus look more natural. Whites appear whiter. This gives the image a look that is more akin to your Elite. Owning both I can attest to that. You'll see this in any lighting environment, from bright room lighting to dark.
The plus over the Elite is a far better viewing angle and better color in the cyan area. The 8500 actually has better 'measured' color in general than the Elite and conforms better to Rec709, but I've never had an issue with my Elite's color. If you happen to have a scene with cyan in the picture (not that common), you will see the difference.
The only downside of the F8500 relative to the Elite or ZT, is a slight hit in black levels. To put this in perspective, the F8500's black levels would have been considered the best in the plasma world just last year. It's only the new ZT/VT that have a slight edge this year. However as I saw at the shootout and have experienced at home, you won't see the black level difference 95% of the time. In the real world though, watching a movie like the Dark Night, you'll see blacks on the 8500 that I can only describe as 'inky'. On fades to black you'll see a bit of a difference favoring the Panasonics and a very slight advantage in shadow detail.
Overall, IMO, the 8500's imagery is far more 'LED-like' than the Panasonic and this makes for a far easier transition from the Elite.