Originally Posted by Zinthar
That's an interesting comment -- I was shopping around for my plasma over the summer and was debating between the Pio 5080, Samsung 5054, & Panasonic 50PX75U. After a few trips to local big box stores, I found that the 5080 looked absolutely mind-blowing and the 5054 looked very good -- and the Panasonic looked a little washed out.
I was leaning more towards the Samsung because it was $1k cheaper at that time, and then I went to a few upper-end retailers that only carried the more expensive models but had them in calibrated dark rooms. Their only two 50" plasmas on display were the 50" Kuro 1080p Elite and the Panasonic 50PZ750U. I was surprised at how much closer they were to one another when in a dark room and calibrated. The Elite certainly looked a little better, but nothing like the shocking difference present at big box stores in brighter conditions.
I was >this< close to buying a Panasonic 50PE700U at Costco when they dropped their instant rebate. That's when I did some more shopping and research. I was really shocked that the Panasonic wasn't better, given all the great reviews it had. I was wondering why some LCD models not even touted for great black levels blew away the Panasonic, side by side on the same material, no matter how I adjusted the settings.
The short reason for the better black levels I noticed on the Kuro and some LCD models like the Samsung 5271 I considered is that the screen material itself is visibly darker. When there is ambient light, that makes the blacks signifcantly better and gives a much better overall picture quality for my preference. The Panasonic and most other plasmas were much lighter grey in a moderately lit showroom and looked washed out in comparison. This wasn't even a judgement call- it was obvious.
Now take the same sets in a very dark room. You're no longer seeing the light reflected off the screen material as the basis for black level, but rather the light emitted by the display itself. In this situation, LCDs tend to have much worse black levels because of the brighter backlight. The advantage of the Kuro is probably a lot less over other plasmas, if there is any at all. The typical measurement with a sensor suctioned to the front of a display also tends to eliminate the effect of reflected ambient lighting, so the numbers are usually only meaningful in a dark viewing room.
Just my take, anyway, and it seems to explain the differences I noticed. Of course, a darker screen material might mean less overall brightness or worse shadow detail if all else is equal. In the case of the Kuro, I haven't found this to be an issue so far, though.