The top 12 flatscreen TVs in the world today
The HDTVs you would buy if only you could actually afford them
The phrase 'credit crunch' has become the most overused phrase in the English language these past few months.
That's because those pesky hotshot bankers have royally screwed the world over to the extent that it's affecting every single one of us as individuals.
The world of the flatscreen TV, too, has certainly not escaped the crunch's far reaching clutches.
Firstly, most of us are suddenly confronted by the painful fact that we just can't afford to buy a new telly. Those of us in the UK will soon feel this pinch even tighter, as the crummy exchange rates push imported TVs (that would be all of them, then) to an absolute premium.
What's more, Pioneer has decided to withdraw its world-beating Kuro TV range from the shelves altogether due to punishing losses - we'll be bidding a final goodbye to its TV wares some time next year.
So... if we can't afford to buy one, we at least owe it to ourselves to do a bit of window shopping. Where would we be without wishful thinking?
Sharp LC-52XS1E - £8,999
At £9,000, the Sharp LC-52XS1E is the approximate price of a brand-new Peugeot 206 – and that's a lot of lolly, especially considering the current climate.
However, should you choose to lavish your wonga on any of these alternatives, you'd miss out on what is the best LCD TV yet to grace our Technical Labs.
At 23mm it's also the slimmest production TV in the world, and sports the most brilliant LED backlighting technology in any TV ever made.
Pioneer Kuro KRP-600A - £4,400
Get ready for a quadruplet of super plasma TVs from Pioneer.
The superb KRP-600A is the best of the bunch - although frankly, anyone owning any of these four Kuro plasmas is a very lucky duck indeed.
In pure picture performance terms, it's the KRP-600A's black levels that set this screen apart from the herd.
But what's not generally trumpeted so much are the dazzling peak whites, which are remarkably clean and radiant. In short, this is a no-holds-barred flagship plasma screen for those looking for something special.
Pioneer Kuro KRP-500A – £2,200
The 500A (and the 600A above) are the first Pioneer plasmas in a long time to sport external tuners and multimedia receivers - and Pioneer did this for three very good reasons.
First, connecting all your AV gear to an external box does away with the horrible cable-spaghetti most TVs have. Instead you just get a single lead between the AV receiver and the 50-inch screen.
Taking all the tuner and connection gubbins out of the screen has also helped Pioneer make the set barely half as deep as its regular plasma TVs.
The most intriguing potential advantage of using an external tuner/receiver, though, is that by removing the spatial constraints imposed by trying to fit everything into a slim TV, it's been possible to improve image quality.
Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX6090 - £3,800
For its G9 panels, Pioneer nigh-on eliminated light bleed from individual cells and, therefore, can directly control the luminance of each separate pixel of the 1920 x 1080 resolution without any 'muddying' of colours or, indeed, black itself.
This has a secondary benefit; while blacks retain their integrity, brightness (white) is also represented with pinpoint accuracy.
Add in excellent colour fidelity and you get an astonishing picture. A simple example is illustrated with many disclaimer scenes at the front of DVDs or Blu-ray discs, which are generally white text on a black background.
Most, if not all, TVs will show glowing or ghosting around the edges of the words, not so here. On both of these Kuro screens, they are as solid as if they'd been printed.
Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX5090 - £1,800
The LX-5090 is essentially the same telly as the one above but with a 50-inch screen instead of a 60-inch one. Amazingly, the contrast ration on this model beat that of the 60-inch version in our test lab - 50,615:1 instead of 47,869:1.
No other screens tested have ever come anywhere close – apart from the ones listed above.
What that means is that even though you won't get quite as much of a cinematic feel as the larger set, quality is retained and even improved in the smaller model.
Philips 42PFL9803H - £2,100
The 42PFL9803H is Philips' first LCD to use LED backlighting.
LED backlights are a big deal for a number of picture quality reasons, all centring around the fact that LED TVs use an array of individually controllable backlight segments – 128 of them, in the 42PFL9803H's case – instead of the single, always-on fluorescent lamp used in normal LCD TVs.
This approach can massively improve that traditional LCD weakness of poor black levels, since it allows you to completely switch off the LED segments in dark areas of the picture, achieving near perfect blackness.
At the same time you can leave the LED segments in bright areas of the picture running at full brightness.
Samsung PS50A756 - £2,800
The set's connections are what really indicate what makes this plasma special.
Alongside a very handy four v1.3 HDMIs can be found two significant multimedia options: a USB 2.0 port and a DLNA-certified ethernet jack that allows you to stream in similar ﬁle types from a connected PC.
You can also hook up to a dedicated server set up via Yahoo, from where the TV can retrieve news, weather and ﬁnancial stock reports, specially formatted to suit the TV screen.
Elsewhere, the PS50A756 benefits from a healthy stack of image processing systems, including 100Hz, and Samsung's Movie Plus system which interpolates extra frames of image data to make motion more ﬂuid.
And ﬁnally, the screen sports a full HD resolution and a huge claimed contrast ratio of one million to one.
Philips Aurea 42PFL9903H - £2,500
It's easy to be cynical about Philips' Aurea TVs. After all, shouldn't a TV be more about picture and sound quality than having loads of brightly-coloured flashing lights around its edges?
It's lucky then that the 42PFL9903H has more to offer, including four v1.3 HDMIs, a USB input for playback of a wide variety of multimedia formats from USB storage devices, and even a DLNA-certified Ethernet port for access to files stored on your PC.
The good times continue with the 42PFL9903H's AV performance.
Pictures come courtesy of the same screen employed on Philips' 42PFL9703D, meaning they combine Philips' Perfect Pixel HD video processing engine with a Full HD pixel count and wide colour-gamut LCD display. The results are as mesmerising as the antics of the Light Frame.
Panasonic TH-50PZ800 - £1,500
As Panasonic's flagship plasma TV, you'd expect big things from the TH-50PZ800. And unsurprisingly, it's formidably featured.
Four v1.3 HDMI inputs instantly hit the right groove and these are joined by plenty of other useful in and outputs including a PC port and a digital audio output.
With hi-def material; from a nice Blu-ray or Sky HD feed the screen's pictures are almost uniformly excellent. The full HD resolution, for example, is most evident in the amount of fine detail on the screen, and in the superb scaling-free purity with which these details – and sharp edges – are reproduced.
This exceptional clarity of HD pictures is enhanced by the TV's excellent black level response, which is natural enough to enable the screen to render shadow details to perfection. The only thing that slightly lets this telly down is its handling of SD broadcast content which can be quite noisy.
Samsung LE46A786 - £1,300
Samsung's aggressive pricing is matched by the resilience of its R&D departments to enforce premium quality, and the upshot is some of the best ﬂatpanel TVs on the market for some of the best prices.
At just over £1,300 for a 46-inch TV, the Samsung LE46A786 already represents an attractive proposition, but considering that you get an Ultra Clear Panel 100Hz screen with LED backlighting for your wodge, it's a steal.
And it looks great too, especially as it's the ﬁrst Sammy TV with a 'Crystal Design' surround that isn't spattered with red. This one has a blue tint haloing the fascia, and we prefer this colour.
Sony KDL-52W4500 - £1,500
The Sony KDL-52W4500 is the first telly on our list sporting a traditional LCD screen. And while that often signifies weakness, when all's said and done, this is an outstanding TV which doesn't disappoint.
Its picture processing is close to state-of-the-art, producing images that have a three-dimensional depth be they standard or hi-def.
Given that this isn't one of the most expensive large screens on the market (similar sized TVs can easily command as much as a grand more with only minor differences in specification), it should be considered a bona-ﬁde star.
With the KDL-52W4500, Sony is back with bang. This really is a brilliant Bravia.
Philips 47PFL9603H - £1,400
Simply put, we've never seen a ﬂatscreen that handles motion as ably as the Philips 47PFL9603D.
Thanks to clever use of advanced processing technology, eliminating LCD's traditional judder and motion, this TV is so smooth that you'd expect it to order a vodka Martini and steal your girlfriend from right under your nose.
It also delivers stiletto-sharp detail and crisp colours, and sports a superb array of features, top class connectivity and an eye-catching design – making it one of the ﬁnest big-screen TVs on the market.
The eye-popping picture quality is mainly due to Philips' suite of proprietary image-enhancing technologies, most drawn together under the Perfect Pixel HD Engine banner.
In brief, it combines several scaling, contrast-boosting, noise reduction and motion processing modes, all of which can be adjusted separately by the viewer.