Robert is just getting started in the whole home-theater game, and he has some basic questions:
What is the best LCD TV from Sony or Panasonic between 47 and 60 inches? I'm looking in the price range of $1500 to $4000.
Who is the best calibrator to hire to calibrate my HDTV?
Should I get 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound?
Which 5.1 or 7.1 system should I get?
Okay, let's take these one at a time. First of all, the largest Panasonic LCD TV is 37 inches, which is smaller than you want. As for Sony, I really like the XBR4 line, which currently includes a 46-incher for $3300; see my review of the 52-inch KDL-52XBR4, which seems to have been discontinued. I just got the new 52-inch KDL-52W4100 ($3000), so look for that review in a couple of weeks. I can also definitely recommend the Samsung LN52A750 ($3200) and, by extension, the LN52A650 ($3000), both of which have 52-inch screens. In fact, I prefer the Samsungs over the Sony XBR4 line, though the Sonys are no slouches.
The next question is easy: Hire a calibrator who has been certified by the ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) and/or THX. You can find an ISF-certified calibrator by clicking here and specifying the state in which you live. Be sure to select "ISF dealers with calibration equipment." THX's calibrator-certification program is very new, so there is no calibrator-finder function on its website yet.
As for whether to get a 5.1 or 7.1 surround system, this could stimulate some debate (which I welcome). In my opinion, 5.1 is finevirtually all movies are released with 5.1 soundtracks, so why spend the extra money on a 7.1 system, which will synthesize the back two channels. I'd rather hear the soundtrack as the studio intended. On the other hand, I've started to see a few Blu-ray titles with true 7.1-channel soundtracks, so perhaps it's better to get 7.1 to be ready for the presumably growing number of such releases.
As for which sound system to get, that depends on your budget, which you don't specify. There are many good options here, from all-inclusive home-theater-in-a-box systems (complete with speakers and wiring) in the $1000-$2000 range to A/V receiver-based systems (which require a separate set of speakers) in the $2000-$10,000 range to systems with a separate preamp/processor and power amplifier (which also require a set of speakers) in the $6000-$25,000 range and even higher. Each of these categories offer increasing performance and complexity of set up, as you would expect with increasing cost.
You don't mention a source device, but I definitely recommend a Blu-ray player, which can also play standard DVDs. My favorites are the Panasonic DMP-BD50 ($600) and the Sony PlayStation 3 ($400-$500), which also offers a killer game console in the deal.
If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.