Panasonic TC-PVT30 series
Panasonic's VT30 delivers the best plasma picture quality of the year--by a nose. That nose doesn't flash red or lead sleighs through snowstorms, but it does cost a pretty penny. For deep-pocketed videophiles who demand the deepest black levels from their 2011 plasma TVs, however, paying that penny will be worth it compared with the competing Samsung models.
Samsung PND7000 series
Samsung's second most expensive plasma is runner-up for best plasma picture quality of the year, second only to the significantly more expensive Panasonic TC-PVT30. Meanwhile the more expensive Samsung PND8000, which has a basically identical picture, simply costs more with extras like a QWERTY remote that you really don't need. The Samsung PND7000 strikes the perfect balance of videophile picture quality without putting you in debt for the rest of the year.
Samsung PND8000 series
Remember one slide ago how we said the Samsung PND8000 has "extras like a QWERTY remote that you really don't need"? Maybe you're such a heavy app and Internet-on-TV user that you really do need that clicker to make text entry on your TV easier. Maybe you just want the top-of-the-line model and don't care to quibble over a couple hundred here or there. Or maybe you're filling out a wish list and somebody else is buying. For you, the Samsung PND8000 is perfect, and its picture quality is also nearly top-notch.
Sony XBR-HX929 series
Our favorite LCD TV of the year also happens to be one of the most expensive. Blame that on the Sony's local dimming, full-array LED backlight, an extra that also allows this TV to deliver some of the best non-plasma-sourced pictures we've ever seen. That beautiful Monolithic styling and a feature list longer than Santa's "Nice" roll don't hurt, either.
Sony KDL-NX720 series
Our second-favorite LCD of the year is, surprising even to us, also a Sony. The NX720 packs much of the goodness of the HX929 for about half the price. Its picture quality is the best we've ever tested from an edge-lit LED-based configuration, and keeps the panel vanishingly thin. As long as you don't care about its 3D issues, the NX720 should provide plenty of holiday cheer.
Panasonic TC-ST30 series
Like a kid eyeing that big box in the far corner, we've saved the best for last. The Panasonic ST30 is our go-to recommendation for people who want excellent picture quality yet don't have money to burn. Available in six (!) sizes from 42 to 65 inches, it offers 3D compatibility, our favorite Internet suite (Wi-Fi dongle included) and yes, those deep blacks and wide viewing angles you can only get from plasma. Did we mention it costs hundreds less than any other TV this year that earned an 8 or better in our Performance category?