I was at the shootout over the weekend, and I wanted to share my thoughts for what they are worth.
First, a big thank you to Robert, Wendy, and the rest of the VE family for every year hosting such a great event and being such gracious and terrific hosts. Also thank you to D-Nice and Kevin Miller for their always excellent work calibrating the panels beforehand and presenting at the event itself. I don't think most people appreciate the hard work and time that goes into this event - it is a lot more than inviting a bunch of people over and looking at the panels. This is the only event of its kind in the country as far as I know, and a great service to people who want to know how the top tv's in a given year compare to each other, and it is also a very fun event for video geeks like us.
As for my impression of the panels, I know we like to discuss (me very much included) small differences and dissect whether one panel is slightly better than another or the tradeoffs between panels, but sometimes we cannot see the forest for all the trees in the way. For me, the big takeaway about the 6 panels at the shootout was that there was a fairly large difference between two groups of 3 panels. The Panasonic TC-P65VT30, Samsung PN59D8000, and Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD were all very, very nice tv's and although I have a preference and some comments between them (see below), I could definitely live with any of these as my main tv and be very happy. They aren't perfect but they are beautiful. I put the other three tv's, the LG 60PZ950, Samsung UN60D8000, and Sony XBR-55HX929 in the second group of tv's that in my opinion are not in the same class as the top group. I would not want to have one of these as my main tv - just too many areas where they are deficient compared to the top group, and when you have them all next to each it really becomes apparent they aren't at that top level.
As for the individual panels, I personally rate the Samsung PN59D8000 as the best overall panel at the shootout. I was surprised at this result, as based on last year's shootout (which I also attended), I expected the Panasonic plasma to come out on top, with the caveat that these new Sharp Elites might give it a run for the top spot based on what I've been reading about them. Well, Samsung has really done a terrific job and should be commended for taking on the challenge of making a better plasma tv. Particularly in color accuracy and saturation, the Samsung plasma is really beautiful. I know the measured results show the Panasonic and Sharp Elite had better black levels and contrast ratio, which for me are usually the biggest issues on a display, but in person I found no fault with the Samsung plasma's black level and contrast ratio (all three of these tv's were excellent in this area), and the color really put it over the top to me. The Panasonic was also a great tv, but it seemed to have a little red oversaturation on people's faces - again this is really nitpicking and it was a great overall TV.
Sharp should really be commended for the job they did with the Elite. Although Sharp was a big player with lots of brand cache in the early days of LCD televisions, they haven't been a real player in making top line tv's in years. They really stepped up their game and put themselves back on the map so to speak. Elite is great in many areas including black level, contrast ratio, and particularly motion resolution - managing to have interpolation but without giving much of the soap-opera effect. The Elite also did an excellent job on reducing blooming, which has been a problem for full-array local dimming LED LCDs. This was really noticeable comparing white text on a black background next to the Sony XBR-55HX929. The Elite still has some areas to work on though - the color decoding error was noticeable, but seems an easy firmware fix. Sharp should be commended for responding so quickly and promising to fix this asap. Also, in addition to that, I agree with several people who have written about the fact that the color seemed de-saturated compared to some of the other tv's. This is separate from the teal color issue, and I am not sure if this can be dealt with through firmware. Also, although the Sharp people are claiming they have better off-axis viewing with this TV than other LCDs, it is still a significant issue. Particularly with vertical off-axis viewing, going from sitting dead-on to just standing up caused a very noticeable decrease in black level and color, at least to my eyes. The best LCD I have ever seen with respect to off-axis viewing was the 2010 LG LX9500 series that was in last year's shootout. So better off-axis viewing is possible with LCDs. I hope Sharp can do some work on these issues for next year's sets. But I am definitely glad Sharp is putting a lot of effort into making a great tv instead of just another tv. For a first model, they have done a terrific job with this tv. Also, as with all technology, there will hopefully be a trickle-down effect so that things learned making these great sets can be applied cost-effectively to other sets in the future. That benefits all of us to get better tvs within what our budget allows.
The most disappointing TV for me was the LG 60PZ950 plasma. The black level and contrast ratio simply were not good on this TV, especially for their flagship plasma. Also, the TV had some of the worst image retention I've seen on a plasma in years. In last year's shootout, the LG LX9500 LED LCD was very impressive. This was an excellent TV but for one problem - on uniform color fields (such as the sky) you could see a distinct grid pattern presumably correlating to the full-array LED backlighting grid. If LG fixed this one issue, they would have a terrific tv. It is disappointing that LG withdrew the 55LW9800 from this shootout, but David Katzmeier's review at CNET makes it sound like LG took a step backward with this TV rather than forward.
Finally, one last observation from attending several of the VE shootouts over the last few years. With some blips along the way (see, e.g., LG) the top group of televisions from the premium manufacturers are getting better overall. Last year, the Panasonic VT25 plasma was the unanimous choice as the best panel in the shootout. This year, significant numbers of people liked the Panasonic, the Sharp Elite, or the Samsung plasma. It was much more of a split vote this year. To me that reflects the fact that the tvs are getting better and we have more choices than ever for great tvs. That's something everyone who is interested in video quality should be happy about.
Thanks for reading my long (hopefully not boring:innocent