So what did you do on your holiday? Replacement TV search update
Ben in particular was interested, so I thought I'd explain where I'm at.
It's probably easiest to summarise what we now know about the contenders (based on reviews, rather than direct experience at this point). Excuse me if I'm repeating information you all know. I'm guessing most have worked through recent Panasonic plasma reviews.
In terms of black level and overall contrast, the ST60 improves on last year's Panasonics, and the vertical banding issue is apparently fixed.
The ST60 has a more subtle colour management system and can be more accurately calibrated than the ST50.
Input lag is a problem on the ST60, measuring higher than all 2012 Panasonic plasmas. I'm a very occasional gamer, though this is possibly a deal-breaker for some.
While it's relatively inexpensive for more screen acreage, the more expensive Panasonic plasmas offer bigger gains in terms of picture performance. I also use the Freesat platform. The ST60 doesn't have an integrated Freesat tuner, so I'd need to buy a PVR to watch TV with decent reception. The HDD PVR option is also absent from the ST range this year.
The 55ST60 is a safe bet, but I'd suffer from GT/VT envy.
HDTV Test's new reference TV (the GT60, VT65, and ZT65 are not yet reviewed by this website).
Goes notably blacker than last year's Panasonics. Most importantly, black levels are consistent across all picture presets, including fully adjustable Professional and Custom modes. The brightness cap on prior Panasonic plasmas is no longer in place. This means we can finally mix reference greyscale and colour with reference contrast performance (or at least so close to reference as to be inconsequential).
Has full 10 point greyscale and gamma adjustment controls.
Like the ST, the vertical banding issue is apparently fixed, or at least not evident at this stage of the television's life. There's no guarantee that uniformity problems won't appear later on, though I guess you can say this of any TV.
Has a single integrated Freesat tuner and basic PVR functionality.
Matches the GT60 in terms of black level, but can't go as bright. However, the VT65's screen filter is more effective for bright room viewing and pictures are still bright enough. Like the GT60, black levels are consistent across picture modes and there's no luminance cap.
The VT65 has the new red phosphor, meaning the TV can fully saturate red (unlike preceding Panasonic plasmas).
The 50Hz bug is apparently fixed on the VT65. According to the guys over at AV, the VT65 bests the GT60 in terms of motion performance, with less dynamic false contouring, noticeable dithering, etc...
Has dual Freeview HD and Freesat tuners. Add an HDD and you've got a great PVR (as far as I can tell, timer recording is possible, but not series link).
Has beefier (side mounted) speakers. According to reviewers, the VT65's sound performance is better than other Panasonic plasmas and flatscreens in general. I'm not expecting sonic fireworks, but it'd be nice to have a semi-decent sounding TV for general viewing.
This is the luxury option and to be honest the front-runner.
Samsung has definitely stepped up this year, but black levels only rival last year's Panasonic's and are unstable. The screen filter is reportedly supremely effective.
Certain niggles with previous Samsung plasmas persist, notably brightness pops, though they're less frequent and severe than last year. There are early reports of horizontal banding.
Samsung's image processing is reportedly excellent; and the TV resolves SD images better than Panasonic plasmas, based on what I've read.
Like the VT65, the F8500 has dual Freeview and Freesat tuners, which is nice.
Input lag is a problem on this TV, so it's perhaps a no go for serious gamers.
The short version is that, while Samsung has made great strides with the F8500, Panasonic has moved further forward. As always, the proof will be in the auditioning. I now have to wait until local stores have all these TVs in stock.