Welcome to the AVS Plasma Gaming Club(TM)
You've made the perfect choice for going with a plasma for your gaming needs. Contrary to what people say about gaming on a plasma TV, I'm one happy owner!
Before making your choice, here are some considerations you might ponder.
1) What are your general gaming habit? Are you into twitch FPS mainly or is your gaming diet diverse? Are you into western games exclusively or are there some Japanese RPGS you enjoy? Answers to such questions are important as while a low-ABL plasma may suit majority of western games just fine, it might prove to be insufficient to cartoony games such as Nintendo games. If you're more of a competitive player, lower input lag may be more important to you.
2) What's your main gaming resolution? Are you into retro just as you are into current? Today's HDTVs are extremely nasty with upscaling, so you may want to think about it for a bit. Josh128 for example loves his retro games and the Samsung F4500's sub-720p resolution is perfect for him, but may not be perfect for someone who would like to play some 1080p PC games.
3) Is your display of choice going to be more utility-oriented (meaning serving gameplay is your utmost priority) or are you willing to take a small risk for eye-candy as well? Contrast ratio is extremely important for games too.
With that said, think about which of the four factors you're going to prioritize.
a) Input lag : Perhaps the most important factor for a gaming display. Many HDTVs are going to disappoint you with sluggish response especially if you're coming from an LCD monitor. I consider it very important because it impacts gameplay directly. GTA Vice City wasn't that fun on my Panasonic plasma until I started disabling v-sync, FXAA and triple buffering. If you're into FPSs, the maximum you may tolerate may be 2 frames or lower. (32ms) Unfortunately, very few plasmas fall under this number, and DEFINITELY no LG plasmas. (I had one. Got stuck with 53ms of input lag. It was not pretty)
b) Motion performance : You can generally figure a plasma's motion performance by looking at its motion performance numbers, but here are general figures.
Panasonic S60, VT60, ZT60, Samsung F8500 = 700 lines
Panasonic ST60, LG plasmas = 800 lines
I went from an LG plasma to the Panasonic S60 and I was definitely disappointed with the S60's motion performance. Plasmas also have phosphor trailing which can further hinder motion clarity and my S60 had loads more than the LG I had.
Nowdays, you really don't have a choice with plasmas unless you get one of those professional models. But I've seen some people who came from LCDs disappointed, so take that into considerations. Plasmas also suffer from 30 FPS judders which greatly impact console games. Some higher end plasmas offer motion interpolation to mitigrate such judders but it has side-effects too. (Input lag increases tremendously for example)
c) Light output/ABL = Plasmas are typically not as bright as LCDs giving a false inpression that plasmas are no good with games. That's not true. Plasmas can actually get away with less luminance because they have superior black level. I'd consider my Panasonic S60 as somewhere between my Trinitron CRT monitor and the Dell IPS LCD monitor, and it can still handle many games fine. Of course, there are also games that practically demand a bit more brightness than what my S60 can muster. Japanese games are one example, but GTA is one western game series that need a bit more than the S60 IMO. So, if your gaming diet is diverse, you may want to save yourself from a disappointment by going with a dim plasma. The LG plasmas are the dimmest, and with its harsh ABL, I was actually clamoring for my previous Sony LCD instead. I finally settled with the Panasonic S60 because it had better ABL than the previous LG, but it could still be better. Going with the F8500 will solve your ABL issues mostly, but ask yourself the question "Do you require the luminance of the F8500?" Because sometimes you can get away with less.
d) Black level = I'd actually put this above color. The games truly fly with superior black level. Compared with the LCD monitor you have, you get to feel more ambience and atmosphere, it's really unreal. Seeing as you get to put up with plasma quirks, you deserve great black level no LCD display can ever give you, and that's why again, going with an LG plasma is not a good idea if contrast ratio is what you're after. Sure you can improve that LG with a black level improving tweak, but it still won't beat any of the Samsung plasmas let alone a Panasonic.
My general recommendations
1) Samsung F5300 (just avoid the 60 inch one, it's a pentile) = Decent black level, decent price, decent motion performance, decent light output/ABL, good calibration options. A good plasma with no real weaknesses.
2) Samsung H5000 = Black level as good as if not better than the much more expensive F8500, 25% superior ABL/brightness than the Panasonic S60, great price. It's pentile though so that's one knock against the product. I'm considering buying one though.
3) Panasonic plasmas = If you can still find one, the U50,UT50,S60 are all great gaming plasmas as they have low input lag and spectacular contras ratio, but they aren't really brightness monsters.
Only get the LG if you think its 800 lines of motion performance is worth buying. Even at its typical low price, the LG is a poor buy for gamers. You asked about the PC mode on Samsung plasmas. Trust me, even the PC mode on ANY Samsung plasmas will blow away every LG plasmas in PQ. The only real downer for engaging PC mode is inability to engage Black Optimizer.