Flat panel televisions are all the rage. But with so many models in the marketplace today, it’s hard to know whether you are choosing the right TV for your needs and budget. The perfect television will have the proper balance between picture quality, feature offering, and price.
This year, there are a number of excellent plasma and LCD televisions available featuring new technology and feature packages. The prices vary greatly, but ultimately, each of these televisions will bring you years of high picture quality and enjoyment.
Best Flat Screen TVs
1. Sharp Elite PRO Series
Sharp hit the nail on the head when naming this particular LCD series “Elite.” The viewing experience on the Sharp Elite PRO is one of the best that I’ve had in many years. This particular model offers viewers a great balance of bright, accurate colors, bottomless blacks, and a great at home 3D experience.
- Price: Starts at $4,550
- Pros: The Sharp Elite PRO produces some of the deepest blacks of any LCD TV I’ve ever reviewed. In fact, the blacks are even better than most higher-end plasmas, which provides amazing contrast. Furthermore, this TV manages to retain its picture integrity in a variety of normal viewing angles which is something that most local dimming TVs have yet to master. The color palette is, for the most part, pretty accurate and really pops against the inky blacks. Add to this the ability to retain excellent contrast under ambient lighting, its energy-sipping design, amazing shadow details, and 3D capabilities, and you have yourself an amazing television.
- Cons: There are, of course, a few drawbacks to this model. The price is probably the most notable. The Elite series represents some of the most expensive, if not the most expensive, LCDs on the market today. There are also a few issues with screen uniformity and extreme off angle viewing, which I didn’t expect to see in a TV of this caliber.
Overall, the Sharp Elite PRO series delivers a solid viewing experience, but you should expect to pay dearly for this pleasure.
2. Samsung PND8000 Series
The age-old rivalry between the Samsung plasmas and the Panasonic plasmas may have come to an end thanks to the introduction of the Samsung PND8000 series. Introduced in 2011, the Samsung PND8000 took the market by storm, eclipsing nearly every other available plasma model. The Panasonic VT30 is the only other model to come even close to matching the exceptional picture quality.
- Price: Starts at $1,600
- Pros: First of all, the overall picture quality offered by this TV is outstanding. The black levels produced by this model are bottomless, which provide more than adequate contrast to the highly accurate color palette. The near-perfect screen image uniformity and ability to handle even the most brightly lit conditions with grace make this the perfect TV to add to any room. Generally, I am not a fan of at home 3D technology, but this unit delivers one of the best 3D experiences of any TV I have seen. Add to this integrated Wi-Fi capability and the SmartHub application (designed to allow you to stream video from a wide variety of sources without the addition of any peripheral equipment), an easy-to-use web browser, a remote that integrates a full QWERTY keyboard, and Bluetooth connectivity, and you have yourself an entire home theater packed into one amazingly thin panel.
- Cons: Of course, all of this technology comes at a price – a very steep price. Couple that with poor shadow quality capabilities and a lack of proper 1080p cadence and you might want to look elsewhere. However, despite these downfalls, the Samsung PND8000 remains a strong contender for plasma TV of the year in 2012.
All in all, the Samsung PND8000 delivers on its promises. If a spectacular TV viewing experience is what you seek, you will find it here. This TV is a great addition to any home theater system, even at a higher price point than many of its competitors.
3. Samsung PND7000 Series
The Samsung PND7000 is the slightly less capable cousin to the mighty PND8000. Once again, Samsung scores big in the picture quality arena with this plasma, which has the added benefit of being somewhat less expensive than its feature-packed counterpart.
- Price: Starts at $1,300
- Pros: For the most part, this TV is on par with the ultra-expensive PND8000. Black levels are deep, colors are accurate and eye-catching, screen uniformity is strong, and the matte screen surface keeps ambient light glare and reflections to a minimum. The TV includes integrated Wi-Fi and SmartHub, and looks as good when the power is off as it does when the power is on.
- Cons: There are a few notable drawbacks. First, while this model is less expensive than the PND8000, it still resides on the higher end of the price spectrum. The TV has issues producing good shadow details, and the 1080p cadence issue exists here as well. Plus, in lieu of a full QWERTY keyboard remote, the PND7000 comes with one of its more basic models.
Even though it’s priced better than the PND8000, the PND7000 is still an expensive investment. However, it may be worthwhile, as it delivers a great picture with very few flaws. This is a great TV to add to just about any room – just be prepared to pony up some dough at the register.
4. Panasonic TC-VT30 Series
For the last few years, Panasonic has been at or near the top of the list for best plasma TVs, and 2011 was no exception. In fact, the Panasonic VT30 is the only plasma on the market to give the Samsung PND models a run for their money.
- Price: Starts at $2,000
- Pros: The Panasonic TC-VT30 has an excellent overall picture quality. As a matter of fact, in today’s market, there are only two other models that even come close. The black level performance is outstanding, providing excellent contrast to the accurate, eye-catching colors. In addition, the image is almost perfect in terms of picture uniformity, and the 3D quality is one of the best. The one area where this TV truly excels over the Samsung models is in shadow details. Details are sharp and rich, something the PND series TVs are missing. It includes a variety of integrated video and audio streaming apps, as well as one pair of active 3D glasses.
- Cons: The main issue I have with this particular model is the fact that you have to use a Wi-Fi dongle in order to use the Wi-Fi enabled features. Panasonic should have gone the extra step and integrated Wi-Fi reception into the unit itself. Price, of course, is also a major problem here – this is an extremely expensive TV. This, coupled with the fact that this is an electricity guzzler, makes this one expensive TV to own both in terms of your initial investment and overall carrying costs.
All in all, the Panasonic VT30 is a plasma powerhouse. The picture is sharp and amazingly realistic. It is feature rich and has the ability to be amazing under just about any lighting conditions, making it one of the more flexible models available today.
5. Sony XBR-HX929 Series
- Price: Starts at $2,300
- Pros: The Sony XBR-HX929 offers some of the deepest black levels of any LCD on the market today – no small feat when you realize that producing deep black levels is one of the hardest things for an LCD TV to do. The shadow details are crisp and realistic, and the colors are well saturated and accurate. This is one TV that looks just as good off as it does on, thanks to its smart design. Plus, it includes a host of integrated features such as Wi-Fi, a suite of video and audio streaming apps, and plenty of widgets to keep you busy.
- Cons: There are some pretty significant issues with image blooming. For those of you not familiar with LCD lingo, “blooming” refers to the overt lightening of darker areas that touch lighter areas of the picture. It was a little disconcerting when watching movies that included star fields and such. Additionally, I was pleased at first to see that Sony had finally ditched the PS3-styled menus, but I found the new menu configuration to be somewhat clunky and tough to use. I was also a little less than impressed by the failure of Sony to include any 3D glasses with this particular model. And, of course, price is a consideration when contemplating this purchase.
The Sony XBR-HX929 is one of the best LCD/LED models available in today’s market. The overall picture quality is exceptional, both in 2D and 3D, and the TV is feature-rich. However, the price tag on this Sony may put it out of range for many consumers.
There are many LCD/LED and plasma televisions out there for you to choose from. When shopping for a new TV, first decide whether your emphasis is on picture quality or an expansive feature package. The strength or weakness of the models you view will lie in how well it fits into your idea of a great television. For example, if integrated Wi-Fi is a must-have on your list, TVs that offer a great picture but little else will hardly fit the bill. And, of course, what you choose must fit within your budget, so it may be best for you to search for the best deal on a new TV.
For those of you who have already taken the plunge, what advice do you have for prospective TV shoppers? For those of you in the market, what are you looking for in your new TV?