OK, so I just got back from Robert's. I really want to thank Robert & Wendy for their typically superb hospitality. I'm telling you, you just won't find two nicer people in retail. I really mean that. It was quite a sight with Robert and I buried under my 'tent'. Thankfully Wendy never dialed '911'.
So first off, the F8500 is indeed sharper than the VT50. There is no doubt about it and both Robert, I, Robert's installer and D-Nice agreed (I was there at opening and D-Nice showed up in the early afternoon and was tremendously helpful). We froze frames on the Dark Knight and the added sharpness was definitely apparent. There was detail that could be made out on the 8500 that could not be seen on the VT50. It was subtle, not 'in your face', but definitely visible to us. If you're the kind of viewer who appreciates this, it's a real plus. D-Nice felt there was some kind of processing going on to explain it and, if you went right up the screen, you could see some of the processing going on in the form of a kind of a subtle video noise. BUT, this noise was only
visible with your nose pressed up against the screen (literally). As soon as you moved back to anything resembling a viewing distance, even a close viewing distance, all you saw was added sharpness and no artifacts. The VT50 didn't display this subtle video noise up close, but it was less sharp at viewing distance. I really liked that aspect of the F8500.
BTW, Robert had both the 60" and 64" 8500 set up for our viewing in the same area as the VT50.
The actual measured 64" 8500 black level is .0016 as measured by both Kevin & D-Nice and the 60" was a tad lower at .0014. Kevin preferred to be conservative and round up, but D-Nice confirmed these readings with his meter. This was with the Black Optimizer on. There were no ill-effects from having it on. None
. There was also very little difference, if any, between the Black Optimizer being set to 'Dark Room' vs 'Auto'.
Subjectively, the black levels were exceedingly close between the 2 panels (VT50 & 8500) under my makeshift tent.
We could not see any illumination to the crop bars on the Dark Knight. Perhaps if there was zero light, we may have seen the slightest amount, but under the tent, we simply couldn't.
Screen uniformity was absolutely perfect. I was really impressed with that.
My overall impression of the 8500 was a better PQ than the calibrated VT50 close by. The additional detail and brightness of the 8500 was clear. However, as with any overall PQ assessment, there is a certain subjectivity to this. Robert and I definitely preferred the 8500, no question and I believe D-Nice did too, but I'll let him correct me if I'm wrong.
The 8500's picture is very smooth and the colors look great. The actual color rendition was extremely close to the VT50...almost identical as you'd expect. This gets back to what I've said about 'perfect color'. If you already have it in one panel, you're not going to improve upon it in another. It either perfectly conforms to Rec709 or it doesn't. But brightness is something that can be improved as can black levels.
The evidence of ABL was more subtle in the 8500 than the VT50 and we suspect that's due to a beefier power supply (which it does have...remember no energy star rating) and it's accompanying greater brightness.
Motion handling was very close between the two. I saw no pros & cons with either. Others may be more sensitive to this.
The only negative, and of course this played on my one fear, was that we saw a bit of IR. Robert and I didn't pick it up until D-Nice pointed it out. It was very subtle and difficult to see, but once pointed out, you could see it if you were really close up. D-Nice said, most of the Panasonics he's seen show some kind of IR when you look closely. So I suspect that many that don't think they have it, have it. Robert and I both missed it on the Samsung. So I could see that happening. Of course you can make the argument that if you can't see it, then it's not an issue. But the fact remains, plasmas are prone to IR if you're not careful. No two ways about it. Now I should add, when we came back to the panel later in the day, we could no longer find the IR. So thankfully this was IR and not burn-in.
As a side note, Robert also had the calibrated F8000 on his wall. The pluses of that panel were a great picture when viewed head on. And I do mean head on. I have not seen such a limited viewing angle on a display before. The picture on-center was really beautiful. But I noticed certain scenes actually looked more contrasty on the 55" F8500 plasma sitting on the same wall right alongside. Other scenes looked more contrasty on the F8000. I couldn't understand why there was this variation with scene since when the F8500 looked more contrasty, it was certainly not a scene where the F8000 wasn't capable of producing the brightness the F8500 was. I pointed this out to D-Nice who agreed. This viewing area was quite bright in the store as opposed to where the 65" F8500, 60" F8500 and VT50 were located.
The answer to this oddity came when D-Nice discovered the HDMI black level had been set improperly. Once adjusted, both pictures were much much closer and the scene to scene variation was gone.
So the F8500 is an unquestionable contender for me along with the XBR950. The one thing that the F8500 has over the Sony, clearly, is its screen uniformity and obvious lack of banding. The Sony can not match that. OTOH, as bright as the F8500 is (and it may be bright enough for me) it still could not match the brightness potential of the Sony and without any effect of an ABL. It's obvious that to some, this is meaningless. To others it may not be. The Sony would also be capable of better black levels with its excellent implementation of full array dimming, but I really question how much you'd see that with typical viewing.
It's a tough call. Some really nice panels this year guys.