Two of us went into Magnolia expecting to each walk out with a ZT65. Afterall, Panny plasmas have always outclassed Sammy, but we weren't blown away. We then went separately to different Magnolia's we each happened by in our travels and then together back to the same Magnolia. We found pluses and minuses to Panny and Sammy. Yes, it's not the ideal place to truly see what the TV's can do (although we did play with the settings). I would love to get comments from you professionals who don't have a bias for or against any of the brands (D-Nice, Mark - your input on the below would be greatly valued):
1. I do not doubt that the ZT/VT is better in a dark room, but how do they compare to the 8500 and each other in "real world" viewing conditions? The rest of us non-professionals only occasionally barricade ourselves in a dark room with our favorite Blu-ray. Thus, how do they perform/compare with non-1080p HD cable/satellite, on-demand (Netflix, iTunes, AOD, etc.), sports (most always with some light), during the morning, day, evening and night with a light or two (and often an iPad or two on)? Where does Sammy's daylight advantage intersect with Panny's darker room advantage?
2. Each experience at the different Magnolias was different, but the most accurate was when they fed Blu-rays from Kaleidescape (at least it wasn't a cable/satellite signal split 20 ways) to the three TV's with the overhead lights off, which created a somewhat normal ambient light environment. The Panny's simply didn't "blow away" the Sammy at all. In fact, even when toning down the brightness of the Sammy, it showed pretty well against the Panny's. In fact, to some extent we kind of liked it a little better, but the well documented strengths and weaknesses of all three panels were evident. Believe me, I'd prefer a Panny "brand" on my wall over Sammy, but, in the end, I really don't care about brand and simply want the TV that's the most versatile.
3. I'm curious about the bias factor of the professionals, if any(?). After reading the reviews and comments, and watching the videos of the shootout, I got the impression the event was biased toward Panny (ie having the attendees only compare the Panny's to the Kuro). Given Sammy's QC's issues with their previous plasmas, which the pros hated, is it much of a stretch to say that the pros in the room (and elsewhere) carry a bit an of anti-Samsung bias? I'll let you guys fight about that amongst yourselves.
4. My bottom line is that if you're happy with your current TV and/or can wait a year or so, you might want to consider holding off to see how the soon-to-be released UHD sets perform or if OLED will become a reasonable reality. Or, hold off until prices drop a bit. I think these sets are overpriced for what you're not getting. Of course, if you're loaded, get one now and replace it in a year or two.