Before reading any further I want to mention that these observations are ones made with factory sets and prior to any professional calibration. As others have pointed out, the professional reviews are reviews outlining performance both before and after professional calibration. I would expect the results of my comparisons would change quite post professional calibration. I just wanted to post my "Joe consumer" impressions between these two sets out of box. There is nothing at all scientific that led me to these observations so keep that in mind as you read my impressions.
Hooked up a new PN60E7000 so I could do a direct comparison between it and the p60ST50 I have had for about 2 weeks. I had the Sammy hooked up via HDMI and ST50 hooked up via component cables so I could compare DTV viewing simultaneously.
Initial impressions using CNET's E8000 settings and CNET's ST50 settings:
Black levels look noticeably darker on the ST50 compared to the E7000. This had a really big impact on almost all material I viewed. Colors pop more and there seems to be more depth to the image on the ST50. I think the ST50's superior black level performance is single biggest image quality factor out of all the items I will bring up. My daughter commented on the E7000's letterbox bars and how they seemed dark grey in comparison. With the two running side by side you can definitely see why everyone is so concerned about black level performance and can easily see the positive impact better black levels have over the overall image quality.
It might be my perception but the black levels on the E7000 seemed brighter to me than on the D7000 last year. This goes against everything I have been reading about this years Samsung models and it might be a perception issue since I am now used to the really nice black levels of the ST50.
Brightness: The ST50 clearly gets brighter than the E7000 but in a controlled lighting environment like my basement this is really a non-issue as the E7000 gets plenty bright. It may be more of a consideration in a brightly lit room but even then, I don't think the E7000 would have an issue.
Glare: Both TVs fared really well. No problems with either related to excessive screen glare.
Sharpness: Hands down, the E7000 get sharper. With the E7000's sharpness at 20, it is sharper than the ST50's sharpness set at 100. This can be a pro or a con depending on your viewing preference but I like the ability to go sharper on the E7000.
Motion: I had been complaining about the ST50s motion handling but when I compared the two they are very similar. I think overall cinema smooth provides a slightly smoother more movie like image but it is an almost imperceptible difference between the two. I do like the ability to turn on motion smoothing on the ST50 but this is something I rarely use.
Input lag: The E7000 has very bad input lag in any mode other than Game mode where the Panasonic set performs good in both Custom mode (with all processing off) and Game mode. This is a benefit as you can tweak the image in Custom mode on the St50 whereas, game mode for both sets is rather locked down concerning changing the image settings.
Concerning gaming visuals, I have to give a big nod in favor of the ST50 and I think it all goes back to how deep and controlled its black levels are. This has a major impact on the depth and overall appeal of games. Games like Dead Space look much better on the St50 simply due to its black level performance.
3d (Did not test this at all, not a big fan of 3d and never use it)
Buzzing: The ST50 is by no means buzz free. It's buzz is the standard plasma buzz that increases as the screen gets brighter. Nothing I, or anyone else who has owned a plasma set is not use to. The E7000 I received, unfortunately has an audible buzz from the minute you turn it on regardless of content that is, or isn't being displayed on the screen. it is very directional and affects the central viewing position the worst. This might be a deal breaker for me. I had the same problem with two D7000 sets I returned last year. It is a very high pitched constant buzz.
Image Noise: I feel the Samsung set handles compression noise and motion artifacts better than the ST50. It is not as large a leap this year as it was between say, last years D7000 and ST30 but it definitely edges out the St50 in terms of cleaning up motion artifacts.....
Overall: For normal TV viewing or Sat broadcasts, the E7000 has a very clean, natural picture and gets very sharp for a plasma set. (For anyone who is use to LCD TVs and wanting to take the plasma leap, this is a great set since it can get closer to the sharpness that LCDs offer if that is your thing) The colors are warm and saturated and appear to be pretty accurate. it handles motion very well but I think I am going to stick with the ST50 because it has much deeper black levels and that alone pays pretty large dividends when watching almost any content on the set. The ST50 has very nice colors as well that are punchier, a much cleaner image compared to last years models and overall presents the better image across all media I tested. If gaming is a big part of your viewing, I would recommend the ST50 over the E7000.
Both are really awesome TVs and depending on what you are looking for I don't think you will go wrong with either set. For me, the black level performance makes all the difference in the world. I now have a complete understanding why everyone on these forums is so crazy about black levels. In this area alone, the ST50 is just way better than the E7000 and this alone has the single biggest impact over what you see on screen.
Now if Samsung could get their black levels to Panasonic 2012 levels and Panasonic could offer a slightly cleaner image and have sharpness control as good as Samsung we would have the perfect set. As it stands, both have their issues but both are really great TVs. I'm sticking with the ST50 is simply a personal preference. It is pretty cool to have the ability to check them both out in house. side-by-side, viewing the same content.
edit: I really did not go into Blu ray content. Both offer an extremely clean image with uncompressed HD content. Due to the better contrast ratio on the ST50 it just makes everything pop off the screen better. Sweeny Todd is a great blu ray to compare black levels and it looked ABSOLUTELY AMAZING on the ST50 but still really good on the E7000.
Sound. Being that I never use the built in speakers I am a little bias and both sound crappy. But if you will be, the ST50 has better low end but sounds rather tinny in the upper end, the E7000 sounds somewhat muted/muffled but for tvs this thin I don't know how we can really ask for too much more. Tiny speakers put out tiny sound.
Fade to black issue on E7000 presented itself. Screen turns completely off when there is very little or no light output in the signal. Easily resolved by bumping brightness up to 46 from 45 which has no noticeable impact on picture quality.
Buzzing on E7000. Hard for me to gauge if this will be a big problem as I have not gone through the motions of mounting it on the wall. It does not appear it will be a huge problem.