Just saw your report on the new plasmas from Panasonic at CES. I was all set to get an TH-50PZ800U, your current Editors' Choice, but these look better. Should I wait or buy the 800U now?
--Anonymous, New York City
If I was in your situation I would wait for the new models, but if you're a bargain hunter, then there's no better time to buy than now.
Every year around this time, the flood of new gadgets announced at the January Consumer Electronics Show washes the diligently researched product picks from the wish lists of thousands of careful shoppers. The product you had your heart set on suddenly looks obsolete in the face of the latest and greatest, and the CES hype machine (guilty as charged) somehow makes even the lowliest entry-level gear seem shinier and more desirable than the cobweb-encrusted former flagships rotting away on store shelves today.
Every year improvements are made, such as the "better picture quality for half the power" claimed by Panasonic with its plasmas; the new 240Hz and LED-backlit LCDs, at least one for a formerly unheard-of price; and the addition of Netflix streaming. But are the improvements worth it?
Before last week the best HDTVs of 2008 seemed pretty dang good...and they still are. Yes, I do expect the new Panasonic plasmas to have better black-level performance than the current 800U--perhaps as good as or better than the current Pioneer Kuros--but the 800U is still superb in this department, and it costs around $2,000 for the 50-incher.
Although prices for the 2009 models weren't announced at CES, I expect the least-expensive plasma featuring Panasonic's ballyhooed "NEO PDP" panel, the 50-inch member of the S1 series (shipping in March), to sell for around the same price. I'm guessing $2,499 list and $2,299 street at first, but don't quote me.
One wild card is power consumption--if Panasonic's claim of better energy efficiency is legit, then any price difference between the two could be erased by two or three years worth of lower electricity bills.
So once again it basically comes down to a question of "how much more are you willing to pay?" I'm guessing the 800U will still have more accurate color, while the new S1 models will have better black levels. You'll have to wait until March at least to get the new one, and the old one is available now. And again, let me stress that this is all speculation; until the new models are available and reviewed, complete with pricing, we don't know anything for sure.
For bargain hunters, buying a 2008 product deeply discounted in 2009, before the new models arrive, is a no-brainer--that's when some of the best deals are available. And in this economic climate, everyone could use a good deal. But if you're willing to deal with pricing uncertainty, and wait a month or two for the review, it'll probably be worth it.
What do you think? Are you waiting for the 2009 models or pulling the trigger now, while the savings is oh so tempting? Which HDTVs from CES are you dying to see in action? Is my pricing guesstimate woefully off-base? Sound off in comments.