We've teamed up with the HD Guru himself, Gary Merson, to publish the absolute best five TVs you can buy right now. As you'll see (and might already notice above), there are some surprises on the list.
Panasonic's flagship HDTV is its thinnest 54-inch plasma HDTV ever, with only 1-inch depth. They did it by eliminating a third sheet of glass found in all other plasmas except Pioneer's Kuro, and bonding the anti-reflective coating directly top glass. The Z1 employs SiBEAM's 60GHz 1080p for wireless glitch-free images sent via the included transmitter/media box from up to 30 feet away. The Z1 has THX picture mode and a custom calibration mode, plus nice bonus features including VieraCast Internet connectivity for YouTube and Amazon VOD and an SD card reader for photos. The Z1 delivers amazing performance with full 1080 line motion resolution, accurate HD color, deep black levels and 96Hz for judder free movie viewing.
The sexiest HDTV of 2009, the TC-P54Z1 will set you back $4000.
Update: Many of you have commented that you prefer Panasonic's excellent Viera V10 series, and to Gary's credit, he gave the TV his highest rating, and is including it in his top 10 list, which he'll publish next week. There's nothing wrong with that TV, and if we indicated six here, it would certainly be shown. It has the same NeoPDP panel as the Z1, but it's not the same picture, because it has the third separate piece of glass with anti-reflective coating.
You know it's been a weird year for TVs when not one but two of our top picks are no longer being manufactured, but are still being sold. Pioneer's sweetest (and last) Kuro line is technically a monitor: There's no tuner or audio. But the Signature models offer the deepest black of any high definition display on the market—without any white-letter-on-black-background halos occasionally seen on LED-based LCD TVs. The Signature models features hand selected parts, 2.5-in. depth, Custom Calibration, 72Hz refresh and control over the internet via its Ethernet connection. The Pioneer uses a single top sheet of glass to minimize internal reflections, with the anti-reflection coating bonded directly to the surface.
The Signature models are available at scattered retailers around the country in the 50-inch size (PRO-101FD) for about $3000 to $3500, and 60-inch size (PRO-141FD) for $4000 to $4800.
The 8500 series is Samsung flagship LED LCD TV. It feature packed with thin 1.6-inch depth, white LED local dimming backlights for improved uniformity, dual-chip 240 Hz plus a scanning backlight for excellent motion resolution and the best black level of any LED LCD observed to date. The 8500 features four HDMI inputs plus internet connectivity with Flickr, YouTube, weather, news and other widgets. It also has a PV+C input for connection to your computer or HTPC. This is a benchmark LED LCD to judge against every other make and model.
All this performance comes at a price. The LNB8500 series comes in 46-inch (UN46B8500) and 55-inch (UN55B8500) screen sizes, currently on Amazon for $2620 and $4020, respectively.
This LG has all the hot LCD performance features video freaks crave, including white LED dimming backlights for excellent black levels, wide viewing angle LCD IPS panel, accurate color, and 240Hz (120 refresh + scanning backlight) for excellent motion resolution. This LG also has all the tweaks anyone could ask for including ISF CCC mode for calibration, THX certification and LG's "picture wizard" for user set-up without calibration discs or external test signals. The LH90 isn't the thinnest LED LCD, but it more than makes up for it with its price.
The LG LH90 series is available in 42-, 47- and 55-inch screen sizes at street prices that are considerably lower than many competitors' edge lit 120 Hz LED edge lit models. The 42LH90 is online for $1200 to $1500; the 47LH90 sells in the $1700 range; and the 55LH90 goes for $2200 to $2800. In case you couldn't tell, the LH90 series is the value/performance leader of the pack.
A comparable model never replaced Sony's 2008 flagship model in 2009. It is the only HDTV available with separate red, green and blue LED backlights (rather than all white), with local dimming for deep black levels. Though slightly thicker than other TVs in its class, the XBR8 has accurate HDTV color, enough brightness for a beach house, a non-glossy anti-glare screen coating (rare for 2009), 120Hz refresh rate and Sony's Bravia Engine 2 signal processing.
You can still find the XBR8s—we spotted the 46-inch KDL-46XBR8 for under $2200 and the 55-inch KDL-55XBR8 for under $4000.