I think several important points have been missed or inaccurately stated in this discussion. I thank Scott for his observations and write up. I particularly agree with his comment, 'the differences were miniscule'. Yet we have many raging fights over these miniscule differences. Pretty funny when you think about it. We're quite a group.
First, I'm always amused by dismissive remarks like 'The F8500 is suited for a bright room, not so much for a dark room'. Interesting. I've been using the 8500 in a dark room since I received it. Since the measured MLL of the 8500 is at least as good, if not a bit better than last year's VT50, I wonder why comments like those were not made about the VT50? No, instead I read nothing but 'inky blacks', 'superb blacks', 'velvety blacks' etc. in all the VT50 reviews. Revisionist history is a wonderful thing, isn't it?
The fact is the 8500 is very well suited to a bat cave environment and yes, the blacks are
inky, the blacks are
excellent and, without an A/B of the ZT/VT60, they look exceptionally good. Hell, they look excellent even with a ZT or VT next to it. Perhaps not quite as dark, but still damn good. Only in the darkest rooms with the darkest material, is the difference apparent and even then, it's subtle at best. I was at the shootout and yes, you could see the difference, but it surely was not earth-shattering and seen only with the darkest of material. The funny thing was that in viewing the Kuro demo material, even then, for most of that demo, the blacks looked identical. Fades to black, yes, you could see the difference. There simply is very little material, IMO, where the difference is noted.
So my point is it's very silly to dismiss the F8500 as a 'bright room display', with the sometimes not so subtle suggestion that it's 'really not well-suited for bat caves'. It most certainly is.
Second, the issue of color. I see some people referring to the 8500's color as 'under-saturated' and the VT/ZT's color as 'over-saturated'. Some call the 8500's color 'cool' and others call the VT/ZT's color 'warm'. Hmm. I thought that when a display calibrated well and to the proper points within Rec709, it was considered 'accurate'. At Robert's VE store, I saw a VT50 sitting right next to an F8500, both calibrated by Kevin Miller. I would defy anyone
to see any difference in the color between the two. Flesh tones were spot-on, colors were beautiful on both panels and there is nobody that could have objectively called one 'warm & over-saturated' and the other 'cool and under-saturated'.
Could there be differences in calibration between these two different panels? Of course. But I'd bet that without a very very careful A/B, the differences would be virtually impossible to spot. They're both considered accurate.
I've lived with the F8500 for several months now and watched a wide variety of material. Interestingly (and not at all surprisingly), I've seen cases where the color seemed over-saturated, under-saturated and spot-on. Additionally, I've seen cases where the color appeared a bit cool, very cool, slightly warm and very warm. I've seen flesh tones which appeared spot-on, too cool and too warm as well as under-saturated, over-saturated and spot-on. How could this be? Hey, wait a minute, I know!!!! Source material is all over the place...all over the place. It never ceases to amaze me how many issues that can be traced back to the source, are instead blamed on the panel. Blame the directors, blame the colorists, don't blame a properly calibrated and accurate display. The issue of 'stylized movies' is a whole other argument and from my standpoint, it's used way too much.
The bottom line is that colors on both the Panasonics and Samsung can be beautiful and accurate when properly calibrated. It seems to me that Tom Norton described the color of the 8500 as accurate, not cool or under-saturated. I do recall seeing one review (can't recall where) that did refer to the Panasonics as having a bit over-saturated flesh tones and the 8500 having a bit under-saturated flesh tones. That was one review. Even if true, I doubt that such subtleties could be detected if not conducted in an A/B environment.
Third, and IMO the elephant in the room that most people don't appear willing to discuss, ABL. I'm not particularly concerned that the pros hardly ever mention it and I'm certainly not concerned about posters referring to me as the guy who carries on the 'one man campaign'. The fact is, as I read through a number of threads, I see more and more people becoming aware of it. To me that's a good thing. Engineering issues only get addressed as more people discuss it. To me it's simply another aspect of PQ that cannot be ignored. I can see its impact in a bat-cave, I can see it in a bright room. It's there no matter what conditions you view in.
A better behaved ABL, and the greater apparent sharpness of the 8500 were the main reasons I chose the 8500. Don't get me wrong, the 8500 is certainly not 'ABL-free', no plasma is, but I see much less of it on the 8500 than I do with the VT or ZT. To my eyes, whether I'm more sensitive to this issue or not, it negatively impacts many scenes. In fact, the % of scenes where I would see a difference in black levels between these sets is much less, IMO, than those that I'd see the impact of ABL. Having done many A/Bs with my Sharp Elite, it's quite apparent when ABL kicks in on the 8500 and it kicks in far more often than many here are willing to admit.
I suppose if you do nothing but watch very dark movies in a very dark environment, you might not be bothered by ABL. But if you watch a variety of material, from dark movies to nature shows to hockey games to many other types of content, the impact of ABL could certainly be there. I honestly think many don't know when it's occurring. IMO it's not much different than the consumer who doesn't recognize his colors are off on his uncalibrated display since he's never had a display calibrated and probably has never seen what one looks like. If you don't know what a scene should look like, how would you recognize there's an issue?
The bottom line is that these 3 displays are great and any of them would work well in a reasonably light-controlled environment. To me the main distinction is that for very bright rooms, the 8500 is better suited but it's certainly beautifully suited for dark rooms too.