Rick, I really don't know where to start, this was like reading forum post from a Steam Train fan club....
Okay, lets start with the TV:
If you aren't going to pay too much for a Panasonic TV then buy Korean, they are the only ones really doing "value for money" these days and the quality of LG and Samsung is good. Most of 'the rest' are actually outsourcing to other companies anyway, so brands aren't what they used to be.
Keep your existing speakers, assuming they are in good condition and you paid good money for them, then just buy an AV amplifier or Home Cinema system, they don't cost alot these days. Take a look at the Onkyo TX-NR 515 or 525, they won't break the bank and are quite good (and they include an FM radio).
Get a slim Bluray player for less than $100, wouldn't hurt for it to match the brand of the TV you buy because HDMI-CEC will probably work (terrible interop) and will possibly allow you to control the player with your TV remote via the HDMI connection.
3D? Waste of money hype increasingly being abandoned. UltraHD? Too early, buy now and regret it forever. Expensive gold HDMI cables? Won't do anything for the digits. "Smart TV", TV manufacturers tend to abandon their products after they launch them so I prefer to think about external devices (like Roku or Apple TV) when thinking about adding internet functionality to the package.
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.
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 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.
@BobDVD Sounds good--and frank-- except--can't I get a receiver with a CD/DVD player in one unit? This is the era of minaturization after all. I am not into a rack of boxes with a nest of wiring behind it.
There are surround DVD players but frankly they often aren't great, plus they focus the DVD playback not general audio. Given that they are mechanical and possibly the last physical media format I don't see a problem in keeping it separate. The new devices are only about 2in high so they don't take up much space.
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.
@BoBsView: Great advice I woulod never have gotten elsewhere. Who would a thunk the Cableco would be the purveyor of mediocre video--naw, really? I love the nature documnetaries on PBS so the thought of them over the air is about the only thing thsat really drives me to 1080.
Resolution is a function of the display size and viewing distance. If the display is relatively small then the resolution doesn't matter because you can't resolve above 720p. This chart is my favourite from an EBU review:
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.
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.
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.
For off-air HDTV reception, there is a neat little dual tuner device called the HD Homerun, which connects to your router and streams HD content across your home network for watching or recording on any device that can handle MPEG2.
It is true all HDTV is compressed to some degree, but the level of compression can vary based on the source. I based my conclusions from observations of my TV with OTA broadcasts vs. my neighbor's TV with cable showing the same broadcast. And my neighbor's TV is higher quality than mine.
Football games, for example, are much more "crisp" for lack of a better word. The level of fine detail is much higher with OTA broadcasts for the same program. A standard I often use is this; you should be able to see tiny blood vessles in an announcers eyes if you get within 3 feet of the TV screen. Another indication is you should be able to resolve the individual threads in an announcer's jacket. If they all blurr together, then it's not really up to the full potential of 1080p.
And yes, size matters. Below about 36 inches screen size, 720p is sufficient. But since the prices have fallen so dramatically for the 42's and above, I don't see much sense in buying anything smaller.
The best HDTV picture I have ever seen, and it continues to be excellent, is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The production is so realistic and the colors so outstanding I feel like I could just reach out and touch the performers. They must be using the best cameras and have the best production equipment available. I've watched this for several years now and every time I see it it continues to impress. The Disney Christmas Parade also is outstanding.
Keep in mind, many HDTV's have a VGA port available for use with a computer. An HDMI port may also work. I use my 42 inch TV as a computer monitor in addition to a TV with a computer dedicated just for the TV. I use it to present slide shows of digital pictures I have stored on the hard drive from my camera. They look great on a 42 inch set. I always keep my camera set to the 16:9 aspect ratio so it fills the entire screen.
1080p works well with a computer. 720p may not. Even with a smaller TV, say 32 inches, you may someday want to use it as a computer monitor.