I literally joined AVS just a minute ago, and am happy to finally be a part of this community. I have been a Home Theater enthusiast for over 20 years, and greatly enjoy the qualities of pristine audio and picture quality. Like most AVS hobbiests, when it comes to purchasing a television I have no problems buying a smaller TV with a superior picture over a lesser quality TV that's 5" - 10" bigger. I can't imagine anyone subscribed to this site that would purchase a mediocre TV no matter how big (or cheap) the price is. Maybe a 2nd TV for the garage, but certainly not as their primary viewing source.
The title of this thread defines the current dilemma I'm facing. Before we go there, I would like to share my personal thoughts on the subject. I have been a loyal fan of Sony since I entered the hobby. Their "Trinitron" series of CRT's were exceptional TV's (even with the stabilization wire). Since then, I purchased a 35" Proscan CRT followed by a Sony 720P CRT (a very nice one, actually). My next two flat panels were Sony LCD's, which I felt were decent quality but not quite to the level of the their CRT sets. Both are 120Hz, and deliver a fine picture quality overall. I'm quite happy with how they handle motion (for what they are), and always had a preference for their "natural" look over the "vivid & robust" appearance of some of their competitors. I found the sharpness of the Sony models to be "just right", and while I do enjoy the overall look of the LCD's I own they come with a sacrifice of some snowy blacks during darker scenes (the dreaded flashlighting / clouding effect). These aren't full-array local dimming sets obviously. These are CCFL displays that came out several years before the LED's came out. My current home theater CCFL monitor at least does frame dimming (but as we know that's a cop out, and takes a second or so for the dim to actually occur - which is a little annoying in itself).
During normal TV and movie watching, the contrast surprisingly looks very good (almost excellent). As long as the scene shows low-medium bright, the blacks appear plenty dark enough to show a nice contrast ratio. The sacrifice is mostly noticed only when the picture faded to black (or switched to a very dark scene). The TV can show very good detail in the shadows, but that is sadly at the cost of also seeing some "pixel glow" around the sides & corners. Reducing the blacklight / contrast / brightness at this point ultimately makes the picture appear TOO DARK. That's the "crux" of Sony televisions. On the flipside, Samsung's TV's appear exceptionally bright & vivid (overly so out of the box IMO). Dropping the contrast on the Samsungs (not because of clouding but more from their overall brightness) seems to give a similar effect where the TV's picture and detail is a little too dim - causing slight loss of detail in darker areas of the picture.
I spent a lot of time demo'ing the 3 mentioned TV's for a few weeks now, and have done enough research to say my head is spinning! So much information and mis-information. Reading claims how "every" 120Hz & 240Hz TV's inserts black frames to reduce blur. Then reading this theory crushed by reading how better quality LED-LCD sets (i.e., Samsung & Sony) insert actual true frames and not "cheat" by using the easier method of flashing black pixels. I guess that's the difference between a "true" native 240Hz panel vs. a 60Hz-120Hz panel faking 120Hz-240Hz (I don't see any 60Hz these days thank goodness).
Along with this search, lies a semi-strong interest with Plasma. I first considered purchasing the Panasonic ZT60 or VT60 models before they ran out of stock. Heck, I was highly considering the ST60 model due to it's incredible cost value! After doing the demo in stores, I was abruptly turned away from them for several reasons:
1) Our viewing room is not a lightless basement dungeon. There is often low ambient light in the room. We rarely watch movies in the room "pitch black", but also realize the importance of dimming as much as possible to remove ambient light (just like movie theaters but not quite as drastic).
2) While I found the inky blacks of the Panasonic sets to be SUPERB, I was *not* happy with their whites! Imagine watching a TV going into an Apple commercial, and instead of seeing the brilliant crisp white, what you see instead is a faded light shade of gray. The lumen rating of the Panasonics appeared close the Pioneer Elite Kuro's (also very low). That's the essence of plasma, so either you like it or you don't.
3) I could easily hear a static buzz coming from the front of the monitor during the demo! And that was sitting at least 6-7 feet away. Some users also report hearing a soft fan noise while the unit cools. Unfortunately, I'm even more an audiophile than a videophile, so I immediately knew I wouldn't like hearing soft humming sounds during the quiet parts that may be brightly lit. I'm sure it happens more often than people realize.
4) Last (but NOT least), while at the TV store I could clearly see a SEVERE case of image retention on the lower-right corner! Now, granted... this was Paul's TV (and not Best Buy's Magnolia store), and they tend to loop the same exact scenes over and over again (complete with the marketing static logo). I do realize that company-store floor models suffer 100x more abuse compared to an individual's home environment. But I'm sorry... a $3k+ price TV just shouldn't have these problems with image retention. IMO, it is the WORST problem that plasmas have. Even if the full-blown "burn-in" is resolved, image retention clearly isn't.
I've read that properly breaking in a plasma TV for the first 100-200 hours, it's less likely to have permanent burn-in damage happen. I also heard stories of people accessing a TV's menu for 10-15 minutes and seeing briefer moments of I.R. Someone can play PS3 / Xbox for 3-4 hours and witness even more severe I.R.
IMO, seeing that "ghost" of image retention is almost as bad as seeing motion blur. In some ways it's worse because at least during a movie motion blur comes & goes at random. But with the retained image, I would be constantly waiting for the next bright scene to see if the defect is still there.
Because of these "burning" issues (pun intended), my mind quickly shifted back to the LED backlit sets. I knew I would prefer one that performs well with local dimming. Both Sony's W900A and Samsung's F8000 series have very good feedback on their technologies. W900a's have "Dynamic Edge Lighting" (versus regular edge lighting but still the same concept). F8000's have "Micro Dimming" - which supposedly can dim hundreds of different areas somehow. Vizio (yeah, I know) at least has a full array local dimming unit - but it's kind of silly since it only dims 16 sections. As well all know, there's a lot more stuff that goes into picture quality than (just) local dimming. I seriously considered the W850A model for its bigger size of 65", but every time I visited the stores I could see significant flash lighting problems. I soon deducted the 55" W900A model might work better for me since it has the "Deep Black Panel" that the 850a's lack.
One Best Buy store showed the Samsung 8000's to have very rich & inky blacks! In fact, their blacks during a movie's end credits were highly impressive (almost no flashlighting at all). I go to another store, and the 8000's models there are even worse than the 850A!!! What gives? So in my frustration I start to go against my own promise and reconsider the plasma again. But instead of the dim Panasonics (which are mostly out of stock by now) I started looking at the Samsung F8500.
WOW! What an amazing picture. I demo'd the same end credits, and the white/black edge separation was outstanding. The whites only resided with the text (as it should be). No clouding of white specks on the sides or corners. Every space surrounding the text was perfect pitch-black! Not only that, it was pitch-black at just about every angle that I viewed the TV. LCD's, on the other hand, tend to show more brightness the more you sit to the side of the unit. I would honestly say the Samsung plasma is 98%-99% as close as the Panasonic's (in terms of rich inky blacks). What's amazed me most about this set is their bright lumens. I think their rating is around 150 (as opposed to Panasonic's 70). Please don't quote me on these numbers, I'm just throwing an approximate guess. As for the LED tv's? I'm guessing their lumens range from 200-250?
Furthermore, I heard no fan noise from the F8500. The stand is elegant, sleek, and sexy as hell. The picture was stunningly beautiful. However, my main 2 gripes of concern (image retention, and faint static hum) still hold me back from pulling the trigger.
It's frustrating being in this position. I really want to like these plasmas so bad. The 600Hz refresh rate provides excellent motion for sports (although, I would actually prefer using LCD's motion-flow interpolation). With regular TV or movies, absolutely not. I *LOATHE* the "Soap Opera Effect" to no end! It's awesome for sports, but TERRIBLE for movies.
I was also comparing other scenes. On rare occasions, the LED LCD would slightly outperform the plasma - mostly in detail with the darker areas (even with the picture being changed from "vivid" to "normal"). More often than not, the "overall picture" of the Plasma was either slightly better or considerably better than the high end LCD's. Most of the time it was just slightly better.
So I'm really at a quandry. I don't know what I should do. The Sony W900A has the best deal & price right now, but it's 'only' 55". In my situation, the 55" is a better size due to other constraints in the room. Distance-wise, we would be better off with a 60"-65" television. A 60" could provide the best compromise between optimal distance and aesthetics, but the 850A doesn't come in 60" (it does come in 65"). I do prefer the Sony LED models over the Samsung's due to their "natural" look. They seem to mimic the plasmas better than most other models (Samsung included). But for about $500 more I can get a 60" plasma F8500 over the Sony 55" W900A.
If I wasn't "allergic" to plasma, this would be a very easy decision for me. I'm just not convinced that I will never hear the static hum (even at 12-14 feet), nor am I convinced I will never have any issues with image retention. I prefer not to run maintenance schedules of washing out the screen several hours a week, or performing rituals to make absolutely sure the TV is not kept on the same channel for more than a few hours (those damn channel logos). If (and that's a big if) the Sony model proves to have excellent black levels that rival the plasmas, I'm confident the W900A is probably the right decision for me. I don't expect it to be 98% as close, but even if it's 75%-80% as close I would be very pleased with the Sony.
It's also possible that no current LED TV can never get there because of the limits of edge-lit technology. But I have also read some people had GREAT success with either the W900A and/or the W850A model on their first try! Some had to go through 1 or 2 exchanges before landing the most trouble-free unit.
Any thoughts on the subject are appreciated.