|3) if you hook a DVD player up to an HDTV ready TV, will you have the high quality video?
The simple answer is yes. You will have much higher quality video than a standard TV.
I would use this parameter as a top qualification. Do they spend alot of time watching DVDs? If not and they don't plan to purchase an HDTV receiver either, definitely go with a 4x3 set like the Sony mentioned.
If they plan to invest in HDTV and watch widescreen DVDs, I would recommend getting a widescreen set. Contrary to another post, a majority of primetime programming is widescreen HDTV (even more so this coming fall season, checkout http://www.hdtvgalaxy.com/broad.html
). I found that the 4x3 Sony sets (HS10) looked great for DVDs but their HDTV quality could not compare to true 16x9 HD displays.
Regarding the Panasonic, be warned that the light output from their rear projection sets is not as great as others I have seen (I once had the Panny 56" I returned). You must be able to control ambient light with these sets. From my observations the Toshiba, Mits, Sony, Hitachi and Pioneer seem to have much greater light output (I can personally vouch that the Hitachi, and Mits output is much greater - Mits=mine Hit=Dad's).
I would not recommend the Mits for your parents since it is more of a tweaker's set. The pioneer's will be more expensive. I would recommend you look at the Hitachi, Toshiba, or Sonys (I don't really like the low end sonys, the high end models are awesome to me).
My budget minded purchase would have to be a Toshiba all the way. 4x3 or 16x9.