Take a look at a third choice, namely DLP ( Digital Light Processing ).
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If you are willing to pay $3000 for a 50" Plasma, then you should check out the Panasonic 50PX60. It is listed at $3500, but street price should be around $3000.
Panasonic should be a close second to the Pioneer but is much lower in price.
LCD panels still have a few years to catch up with Plasma and are more expansive at the same size.
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I bought the Panasonic 42" plasma hdtv (th-42phd8uk) - industrial model - no tuner, no speakers - picture is by far the best i've seen anywhere (especially the black levels - when watching hi def live sports it is like looking thru a window into the scene (heard this comment from everyone thats seen the tv)I use cable box and HT for sound. I beleive there is a consumer model of this TV also.
I just went through the angst of LCD versus plasma a couple of months ago. There's lots of information on the AV forums on this type of thing.
They both have their unique advantages. The advantages of plasma are being eroded by LCD more quickly than the advantages of LCD are being eroded by plasma.
First, unlike LCD, the plasmas are subject to burn in, no matter what the marketing people tell you. They're working on it, but it still could be an issue when you have station logos constantly displayed on the screen. It could also be issue if you watch something broadcast in 4:3 on a 16:9 screen and have black bars on the side of the screen. You could stretch the picture of course, but I don't like the distortion it causes. The black bars could also cause screen brightness to fade unevenly with time. Advantage to LCD on the burn in issue.
Second, LCD should last longer. Plasmas run hotter which will shorten their life considerably. They use less power too. And when you see specs saying 20,000 hours of life, and so on, take it with a grain of salt. You'll notice brightness drop off long before that. Advantage to LCD again.
Third, off-axis viewing angle is no longer an issue with LCD. That advantage which plasma had over LCD is gone. I call this one a draw.
Fourth, plasma screens will reflect glare and images. You have to be careful with placement and lighting or you'll be looking at reflected images of objects in the room. Advantage to LCD.
Fifth, sixth and seventh: colour saturation, contrast ratio, response speed are all to plasma's advantage over LCD (and to CRT's advantage over plasma). I was very concerned about these points when I initially went shopping. However, after seeing the current generation of LCD, I no longer felt it was a significant advantage to plasma. As long as you don't cheap out and buy a budget brand, LCD is very good on these points. I watch a lot of sports with fast moving balls and pucks. Once you get below about 8-10 ms in response time, fast moving objects like balls no longer have a comet tail as in earlier LCDs. In my view, although plasma does have better specs on these points, LCD has closed the gap to the point that it is no longer an advantage for plasma. Same with colour depth or black/white contrast. Advantage to plasma on these points though.
Eighth, and to me this was very important: pixel size. LCDs have smaller pixels. You will get sharper clearer pictures as a result. If you are going to go into high definition, this is a significant advantage for LCD, and plasma is not closing the gap on this point to any significant extent at this point in time. Advantage to LCD.
There is another effect caused by plasma's larger pixels. You have probably heard of the "screen door effect". Looking at a plasma screen is like looking at the picture through a screen door. You see the grid caused by the spaces between the pixels. Early LCDs were very bad for this, but it is now virtually non-existent for LCD. Not so for plasma. When I'm walking through a store, I can spot the plasma grid from twenty feet away. It's the type of thing that once you notice it, you always notice it. I find it incredibly annoying. Advantage to LCD.
Once I satisfied myself that LCD was fine for response speed, colour depth, and contrast, the sharper detail in LCDs due to the smaller pixel size, and the lack of an annoying screen door effect, made LCD a clear, unequivocal winner over plasma in my purchase decision.
Use your own eyes to see which you prefer, plasma or LCD. Whichever one you choose, remember that you get what you pay for. Avoid the budget brands. I found the budget brands to have noticeably inferior pictures. Stick with brands like Pioneer, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba. I ended up with a Sony LCD, but I was very impressed with the Panasonic LCDs as well.
I wouldn't bother with DLP. No rear projection is as good as a direct view TV. DLP is a very good technology, but I don't think it will ever be developed to its full potential. I don't think the market wants it, especially now that plasma and LCD are dropping in price and evolving in operformance at the rate at which they are.
On the point of price. "Cheap" plasmas are not expensive but, as noted, you get what you pay for. "Good" plasmas are still expensive. They are still less than the price of LCDs though if you're looking at large screens. Advantage to plasma on this point.
Now if you can hold off for a year, wait until you see the new SED TV's. If these things are priced competitively when they come to market, plasma and LCD will both go the way of eight track cassettes. Well,... LCD will hang around for specialized applications like laptops, small TV's and cell phone/PDA screens. Plasma will be in the garbage can of history though. I think of plasma as being more of a transition technology and not likely to be around for the long haul. Not that it matters for your purchase decision today.
Anyway, that's my opinion, for what it's worth. Enjoy yourself looking for your new TV. It's always fun to go shopping for toys.
I have gotta agree with all the Pro-Plasma comments. Plasma also has a superior off-axis viewing. I think it is as close to the Direct View tube as one can get without all the weight. If Toshiba and Canon ever get their SED out on the shelves that may be the only thing that can beat the Plasma in flat panel.
I agree with those who prefer plasma for picture quality. A well calibrated plasma has superior color accuracy, quicker response time (less odd blurring of moving images) and superior black level (very important). The primary drawback is that the pixel structure is much more evident if you sit close and look for it. I also tend to see more mosquito noise with plasma, but again, when looking for it and not when just enjoying the picture.
I've noticed that some of the larger screen LCD sets that have multiple backlight sources tend, as they age, to develop uneven lighting so that one part of the screen seems brighter than the other.
Another hang on the wall option are the very shallow DLP sets (around 7" thick). They are surprisingly good, with reasonably sharp images at the edges (should be the achilles heal with such a short focal length).
The next big thing, supposedly, are SED sets. These promise the superio black level of old CRT sets and extremely fast response time.
Another option is the Loewe Opta Aconda 38" HD CRT TV. This tube beats plasma and LCD by a mile in true black, depth, and definition. It is absolutely 3 dimensional and natural. www.loeweus.com.
I have had one for five years and it has been absolutely reliable with no degradation is picture quality. Only drawback, heavy and deep. But it is very modern in design and looks gorgeous with great curves.
Though my wife is prettier:)
I prefer the PQ of plasma over LCD. For a tad more I went with a 55" Hitachi, which I thought was better than Panasonic, Samsung, Philips etc. The only plasma I saw that had a higher PQ was the Pioneer. However, it wasn't worth the extra dough given that I was getting approximately 95% of the Pioneer's PQ.