I would wait for the Vizio 55 inch LED to be released next month VF551XVT. Should be under $2000. I think Plasma's have great pictures. But I've seen nothing touch the new LEDs in 3D imagery.
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If you can use a stand-alone monitor instead of a television - I'd recommend that you look at Panasonic's industrial monitor line - the current 50" 1080p set is The TH-50PF11UK.
I've had personal experience setting up a decent handful (maybe 25 or so) Panasonic plasmas over the past ten years, and I think that the industrial monitor line consistently delivers a better picture than their consumer counterpoints - which I attribute mainly to better video processing/scaling, and more accurate color and contrast scale calibration. I also wonder if maybe the industrial models receive better plasma panels (a more select grade from production) than the consumer models?
Also, they're much easier to integrate with A/V systems - they usually have discrete IR codes for power and input selection, excellent RS-232 control, more setup options in the menus for picture size and calibration, and tons of different input cards for expansion or future input types (i.e. HDMI input cards were back-compatible a couple of generations when they first came out).
I understand that they're probably a little more money because they won't be heavily disounted everywhere, and they don't include a table stand, wall bracket, little speakers, etc. out-of-the-box. But who needs that cutesy crap anyway . . . also the optional accesories for the industrial models are much higher-quality (because they're not freebies). And if you have digital cable or satellite, what need is there for an off-air HD tuner?
If the budget is a big issue, then I'd actually personally have a lower-resolution industrial plasma (like the TH-50PH11UK, which is 1366x768) than a consumer-grade "full 1080p" set - I think the overall picture quality is still better, despite the lower resolution.
I find the differences are bells and whistles one normally would not use. I would go with the least expensive 1080p Panasonic plasma you can find. And if you dont need a tuner a monitor is perfect.
LCD has nowhere near the picture quality of Plasma - I find them washed out or too bright and the LED gimmickry some use to artificially inflate the contrast ratios produces ghosting, halos and other undesirable effects.
Plasmas will be the display of choice for me until SED/FED hits the market.
Hi Bob . . . I just use the digital cable box, or the satellite receiver for DirecTV/dish. The latter usually has a terrestrial ATSC tuner in it as well, for an off-air backup during heavy rain.
If you really need just an off-air ATSC tuner, they're pretty cheap. Having a separate monitor and tuner is still nice for i.e. a typical setup with a high-end surround receiver - the receiver generally has some HDMI routing and transcoding for standard-def signals, so just one cable can go to the monitor. Then all of the input selection for audio and video together can be done right on the receiver.
Yes, a digital cable box functions in effect just like a stand-alone component tuner . . . conceptually very similar to an audio tuner. It provides all the on-screen program guides and channel selection.
As far as the audio goes . . . all of the industrial monitors have basic audio source-switching and preamp functions, as well as a little (i.e. 7 watt) stereo power amp to run some optional accessory speakers that can bolt on the side. But for a system where you want high quality audio . . . the audio sections of ANY mass-market television or monitor should be avoided, as they're typically very noisy. So usually, some sort of receiver or processor (the audio/video correlary to an audiophile line preamp) is used for audio decoding and preamp functions, and for video source switching . . . the latter of which is passed to the monitor for viewing.