Depends on the size and use. 720p is just as good for 50" and below unless you want to use a computer with it. It's actually slightly better on 720p material.
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I bought a 50" 720 Panasonic this summer at Costco for $1200 and my wife just got a 42" Panasonic 1080 for $900 and I can't tell any significant difference on Direct Tv. Actually, mine has a better picture because I am using a better HDMI cable. I am getting her a better one for Christmas. When you get one invest in a $9.95 HDMI cable from MONO PRICE. It is much better than the one you get from direct , etc. I would get a 720 from Panasonic or Sony or Samsung or one of the big companies rather than a 1080 from a lesser company. Check reviews from CNET and others. Costco is a good place to buy, they double your warranty and , I believe, do in home service.
I have a 50" 720p DLP display as a main TV, and a HT with 720p front projector on a 10 ft screen (see my system page). It's more than just "decent" IMO and I'm very happy with the resolution (even with the 10 ft dedicated theater), though maybe if I had spent any time with 1080p my expectations would be higher.
720p is just as good as 1080p for 50" and smaller. I can quote numerous reviews and expert opinions that all support this. I just bought a 50" plasma 720p from Sears for $900 (minus 10% if you buy on line with their credit card and have it delivered to the store=$810!). Panasonic Viera TH-50PX80U. Fabulous picture on HD material and excellent on SD DVD depending on the quality of the film.
It is nice to see that true audio video people can see the difference. I get sick of all the 1080p people going nuts over it. They are not going bluray and have no Idea what true 1080p is. If going at or below 50" and not going to do anything besides cable or satelite then forget about 1080p. As far as budget plasma is without question the much better option. I have the 81 series samsung Lcds and love them. But look at the price. If you are going bluray the 720p will still give you a great picture. Just buy what you like. I would go samsung panasonic or pioneer.
I agree 100% that the size vs resolution is a major factor and at a tight budget I dont think one has much of a choice. lucky for them it doesnt matter. I will go one step further and say 1080P is still a questionable purchase due to individual viewing. A guy who wants to watch mostly sports and cable/sateltite with the occasional Blu Ray ofcourse still doesnt need 1080P. For the guy who watches or intends to watch 1 or so Blu Rays per week then it becomes a more reasonable option and the premium is more justified.....even so a 720P with Blu Ray is still going to look fantastic and you can be careful with your cash, something many of us think about these days.
It does no good to have the best resolution if it never or almost never gets that signal....and only Blu Ray offers TRUE 1080P at this time.
Phasecorrect- I think everyone missed mentioning what I think is the key here; how far you sit from the set. You can not be anymore than six seven feet or so from a 50-inch set to discern 1080p resolution. Much more than that and 720p will give you the same result. In any case, dive in; you'll love 720p.
12-11-08: PhasecorrectA 42" in 720p should be plenty good. If two or more people are watching at once, it'd be difficult to sit close enough to see the difference, especially on cable.
I've been watching a 55" 720p for almost 3 years now and still enjoy it immensely.
With 42" 720p will be fine. Enjoy! You'll even notice the improvement over cable or dish when you get a Blu-ray player.