I have a plasma and although leary about burn-in, I use the gray bars for watching 4:3 source. Thankfully, that is not a lot since there is a lot more 16:9 HD content on now.
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I view everything in OAR (original aspect ratio); e.g., I view 4:3 in 4:3.
For cable sources, I use the darkest side bars I can in my HD STB, but I would describe them as dark gray rather than black. If black were an option, I would use that.
IIRC, 4:3 DVD sources have black side bars.
One of the reasons I bought a microdisplay based RPTV is to view everything in OAR since they do not suffer from burn-in, and I hate stretched images.