Hthman, the Bravia? C'moooon. I took a good long look at it at a couple of the electronics stores in town here, and the refresh rate is so poor that I often got the impression of moving figures bleeding colour and pixels.
For dealy, the panasonic has definitely got better blacks. The hitachi model is nice, with the little benefit of slight SDTV upconversion. Hitachi, as far as I know, is the only company whose TV's upconvert to 1080p and then back down to something close to 720 for DVDs or regular cable. However, all the scaling doesn't transfer well to the picture, which comes out looking less than smooth, and a bit washed out. The blacks in particular look suffering when compared with the Panasonic TH-40PX50U, which is even only the ED model. The Highdef 42PX500U model is ridiculously awesome, with an advanced speaker system and necessaries like the ATSC tuner. If the price twists you a bit, go for the panny ED, which is still far superior to the Hitachi.
As for the 1500, sounds like a good plan to me. I'm sold on my monster bar. Clean power is almost a necessity for plasmas, because the pixel-technology is extremely power-sensitive. Plus, the manufacturer usually only replaces the screen either after 7 or more pixels have gone dead, or one appears smack in the middle of the screen. Even the best service plans or extended warranties can usually only protect your screen to the manufacturer's standards. Clean power prevents you from having to deal with the headache of squeezing money from the manufacturer, and adds extra warranty to the TV. Depending on the bar, there will be a minimum $150,000 connected equipment warranty; so if your equipment is hooked through the bar and fried by surge, Monster will replace all your equipment. If the price still grates you, at least Monster's stuff is all lifetime warrantied, so you only pay the price once. If it quits on you, or in my brother's case, your Rotty puppy chews through the wires, Monster pays the store to replace it for you on store level.
Best of luck with making a choice.
(Get the panny! ;o) )