First, while all DTV is compressed, MPEG-2 compression in cable and OTA, most OTA transmissions are less compressed, so they look great. My TV fix is either OTA signals or Internet TV, streamed from the networks themselves, or Hulu, or Amazon Prime. I've had to dedicate a PC to this Internet TV job, connected to a nice 42" HDTV, simply because the devices that SHOULD be designed to do this are inexplicably handicapped. They only allow a handful of web sites. How ridiculous is that? There's a world of Internet TV out there, and the typical Roku or AppleTV boxes don't even know!
You can buy an audio system to connect the TV audio to, as I did, and then get an HD Radio tuner for that. HD Radio is the new(ish) US version of digital audio broadcast. Your NPR station probably has two or three separate programs airing on its frequency channel, if you pick up the digital NPR signal.
You can go for a 5.1 channel surround sound audio system, or a simpler stereo as I have done, in which case no problem using your existing speakers! My TV does have the two standard RCA jacks for audio out. Some do not, but even there, you can use their serial digital audio output and feed it to a conversion box with stereo outputs. Or some TVs have a headphone output that works fine too. If you go with an A/V receiver, those receivers will take the TV digital audio output directly, and give you 5.1 channel surround sound.
In short, it's all doable, Rick. Best Buy, last I checked, does carry HD Radio tuners for stereos, or you can buy online.
Hmmm, I have a SanDisk Clip and you're right, it's a nice little device, but mine gets little use. I originally bought it for use in the car on extended drives. But frankly it's an extra thing to carry along and (for me) serves only one function, while my iPod and iPad (which I will often have with me anyway) serve many purposes.
And for mobile music listening at home I wirelessly stream digital audio files from the library on my media server to my iPod/iPad, which have the added advantage of being able to display album covers etc., so the Clip loses out big time here.
I like bobdvb's suggestions - keep your speakers, use one of those home theater setups and get a Samsung TV.
Stay away from the gold cables - the only gold there is your gold to them. Plain old copper was good enough for Tom Edison and should work for you, too (and it's better these days, anyway).
I went a little further myself but I had a lot of old and very nice speakers and some time to mess around - built my own amps using one of the many STA450 kits out there. Each amp has its own 'dumb' headless single board PC (and sucks power off their PSUs) with Ethernet and HDMI interface and I control them using one of the many free remote control packages available - all from this box. Sound in every room - differnt sound if I really want to confuse my (grown up) kids - and I run video off the HDMI outputs of the SBCs to big (and small) flat panel displays.
This works because I'm not interested in anyting on cable or broadcast TV - DVDs or BluRay is the extent of my interest, and those can be played over the network using VLC Media Player's streaming capabilities. Guess I could put a TV tuner thingus in this box and stream it - but what's to watch? Presidential debates? Meh.
And yes, I can get Pandora or whatever radio for my FM.
Although I'm past the biking/running phase (I like my knees they way they are, thanks) I still use my son's Xen X-Fi if I really, really, really need to listen to FM radio. Works fine. Lasts a long time.
Forgot to mention. Once you enter the station call letters in Wikipedia, if you click on the location coordinates, it will give you a Google map of the transmitter antenna location. If your home is within 35 to 40 miles from the transmitter, a modest antenna for less than $60 will work well. The non-amplified ones work the best. The amplifiers always seem to cause problems from overload.
I get my TV from over 65 miles away using a high-gain Yagi antenna that cost me about $50. It's up about 25 feet above the ground. The quality is HDTV all the way, no drop-outs and completely free. I get about 35 channels + Netflix for movies.
I agree with you about everything except the 720P. Go with the 1080P. And don't buy anything less than 42 inches. 45 to 50 inches is a nice size and reasonably priced. You won't be sorry. As time goes on, more and more stuff will be 1080P.
If you are looking at a Cable TV signal right now, it is compressed. So you are not seeing the full potential. I get my TV Over-The-Air and it is far better resolution than cable. You can really see the difference between stations that broadcast 720 vs 1080.
Most PBS stations are 1080 and the difference is definately noticeable. You can see what the station of interest is broadcasting OTA by checking out the call letters on Wikipedia.
There might have been more smoothing on the Panasonic which isn't present on the Samsung. It might be worth looking at "sharpness" and "noise reduction". Remembering that blocking artifacts are more usually introduced at the origin and just scrubbed out at the receiver.
(For clarification: I am the CTO of CE software company Pixsan)
I also ended up with Samsung...and now a Samsung Blu-ray player on order.....
I was disappointed with the Samsung compared with the Panasonic I had before......
Samsung at 1080 lines shows up the blocky artefacts, much more than the Panasonic did at 720 lines.
Everyone tends to compare specs at the top end of television picture quality but you actually spend a lot of time watching poor, low-energy pictures....so the TV that handles low quality best could be the way to go.