I'm trying to buy my first HDTV.
This is a huge entertainment purchase for me. Aside from a few computers that were around $1,000, I've never spent this much on electronics. The closest I've really come to a purchase like this was when I bought my first LCD monitor.
The purchase process is a confusing nightmare.
This market seems to be a huge mess. Depending on who you listen to you are either wasting money by buying a name brand, or saving yourself from huge problems. You should buy a TV that can display 1080p, unless your viewing distance is greater than 360 deg.* 60 * pixel pitch / 2 * Pi. I'm not kidding, either. Most TVs have VGA hookups, but if you use those many display at full resolution and you have to use a DVI to HDMI converter.
When you walk into a store that sells these you can immediately see the difference from brand to brand. Unfortunately, many commentators online will tell you that the people in the stores don't know how to properly adjust the units, so you can't even trust that. It makes perfect sense for an electronics store to spend time adjusting a set with a high profit margin while leaving a set with a low profit margin alone.
Finishing off the whole negative experience is when you find out that you're going to need $50+ worth of new cabling for this TV. Also, the salesman informed me that I need some outrageously expensive surge protector. If I bought the setup he was selling it would cost me nearly $300 in cabling just to accomplish my goals.
Who do you trust?
Trust your senses. Well, the safe bet is to pick a unit that has a good picture and a good price in the store. Then go home and find out what the bargain basement price is for that set. Trust your eyes. Trust your common sense.
Trust the manufacturer. The manufacturer will have some spiel to try to get you to buy their product, but the facts about the unit must be documented. While a reseller has an excuse, and a reason, to have vague or misleading product information, the manufacturer really doesn't. Any manufacturer that is vague or misleading shouldn't be trusted and should be avoided. If you can't trust the people who made the device then why would you put down hundreds of dollars for it?
Trust the consensus. Don't listen to any one individual, especially online. Remember that a dissatisfied customer is generally 5 to 10 times louder than a satisfied one. Also, a satisfied customer typically feels good about their purchase and any negativity about that product makes them question their decision, so they get defensive. The only way to reconcile this is to get a consensus of opinions. If you can't find a negative comment on a product then it's probably not very popular and you're running the risk of spending money on an untested product. If a product has nothing but poor reviews then it is, at best, mediocre. Mediocre products rarely have fans. Ideally you'll find a comfortable ratio of good to bad reviews, somewhere between 5:1 and 10:1 is a safe bet, note that a bad experience is far more likely to earn a review so these ratios really heavily favor a good product.
Don't trust salesmen. They are there to sell you something. They want to make you feel good about spending as much as possible. They can help you find what you want, but you have to walk in with a budget and an expected price point. The salesman will fill that price point and then try to nickel and dime you with cables and extended warranties. Don't fall for this. The extras that the sell at those stores are horribly overpriced and you may not even need some of them. You will need some new cabling, and if you only have cheap surge protectors then a new one isn't a bad idea. Don't pay these people for them.
Don't trust haters or fanatics. This goes back to the idea that you shouldn't trust a single source. A hater will dislike a brand because they had a bad experience with that company, or someone they know did, or they're merely a fanatic for another company. Fanatics won't allow reason to influence their decision that only one company sells a product worth buying. Often, they have a distinct lack of reason for why that is the only brand they'll accept. These people are only worth listening to if you also plan on listening to their contemporaries with differing opinions so you can decide who is the most persuasive.
I really wish this were an easier process. I don't like spending this much time and effort to make a purchase for a device that I'll merely be staring at. Hopefully in another 5 years the quality of these products will be to a level where few deviations in picture, features, and durability will exist. When that happens the whole process will be as simple as it's been for the last 20 years to buy a CRT. Until then, it'll be a headache. Right now that headache is mine.