Samsung's second most expensive plasma tops the recommendation tree as our star TV of 2011. It delivers excellent picture quality second only to the significantly more expensive Panasonic TC-PVT30, and in our opinion the differences are slim enough that the price step-up isn't worth it. 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.
The second plasma on this list delivers the best 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.
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.
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.
In case you haven't noticed, LG is pushing its passive 3D over the active variety found on most of its competitors. And passive certainly has its advantages. For example, the four pairs of included passive glasses means your family can watch "Polar Express" in 3D right out of the box. Meanwhile the LW5600's 2D picture, to which you'll be returning time and again, isn't too shabby itself.
When Panasonic detailed its 2011 plasma TV lineup at CES this January, we immediately pegged the TC-PST30 as the one model that "might hit the value sweet spot." After putting it through its paces we're going to eliminate the uncertainty from that phrase. The TC-PST30 may lack the THX certification of its more-expensive brother the TC-PGT30, but picture quality between the two is largely a wash, and excellent overall in both cases. Both share identical, well-stocked feature sets, highlighted by improved Internet suites, Wi-Fi dongles, and 3D capability (albeit sans included glasses). The ST30's only major downside, and the reason why some buyers might spring for another model, is pedestrian styling. At each of its six sizes, the Panasonic TC-PST30 series is our early favorite for best plasma TV value of 2011.