Well thanks to Crownman I went down to the Magnolia store at BB to see the Panny today. The Magnolia display, though far from ideal, was FAR better than the 6th Ave Electronics display that was bathed in outdoor light. I began to see an inkling of what this beauty is capable of. Unfortunately the Panny was hooked up to the BB demo loop and many parts of it were fairly pixellated. I learned (no surprise) that the majority of this BB loop comes from D*....so that's why I saw the same compression and bitrate flaws that I used to see at home before I dropped D* in favor of FIOS!
However, with the better parts of the loop, the display looked wonderful. Colors were virtually as good as the 60" Pioneer at the other side of the Magnolia display and the size was quite impressive. Although it didn't look as big as I thought in the store, you just know this thing will look huge when you get it home. The store is planning a BR hookup by the weekend as they await the Panny stand.
I know you guys will think I'm nuts, but to my eyes the display looked best in the "Vivid" mode. Although I was initially disappointed by the black levels, the blacks really shaped up when I either went with the black level set to 'high' or the black level set to 'low' but with the brightness dropped to about -5. I really found that by doing this the picture attained a much greater depth and the blacks were pretty much on par with the 60" Pioneer....which is quite good. I know there was a bit of black crush with these settings, but I didn't spend too much time trying to attain the ideal compromise. What I found interesting and I'd like to hear from owners, is that I saw no evidence of 'clay face' with the picture set to 'vivid'. I did see a bit of an increase in chroma noise in solid areas of color, but I didn't play with the controls to see if I could dial this out.
I would love to see this unit with the BR player as the source. What really made me look forward to that was the fact that I saw the 58" Panny here with a BR feed and the picture was stunning. I have never been really wowed by the 58" Panny, but with this high quality source my perspective of this set totally changed. You begin to realize how bad the BB demo loop is when you see a high quality source in the same store. You just can't overemphasize the importance of good source material.
I found myself far more impressed with the 65" Panasonic than I was of the 50" Pioneer FHD1 on another wall in the same Magnolia. Although the Pioneer picture looked very very nice, the tremendous difference in size simply couldn't be overlooked. The 65" is just so much more cinematic. I also found with the settings I described above, I was able to achieve better black levels than the Pioneer FHD1 and therefore more 'pop' and depth to the picture. Keep in mind that the Pioneer was being fed the BR Pioneer demo loop via a Pioneer BR player and the Panny the pretty poor BB/D* loop.
I have no doubt that when fed the same quality source, the Panny will be simply jaw-dropping and enveloping. Congrats to all of your lucky owners!