I'm not sure this is the right place, so feel free to move this post or take it down or whatever, but I'm thinking of getting a new TV and this was the closest category I could find. I'd like the advice of somebody with a bit of experience in these things, so I'll lay out what I'm looking for and hopefully somebody can help:
* I live in Maryland, so either local brick-and-mortar chains or convenient (cheap) shipping are a must
* I don't have a ton of space, so I think about 32" is the biggest I can do
* I'd love to spend under 500, but if I have to spring for a bit more to get decent quality I'm willing to
* I'll be watching recorded TV using a laptop with a VGA output, and maybe an Xbox 360 or a PS3.
* We don't watch cable much, plus Comcast's QAM implementation is HORRIBLE -- all the channels are bunched together as like 101-1, 101-5, 101-7... with about 50 channels between 101, 105, 111, and 114!!!
* I'd like it to be light enough to carry by myself, so I guess probably LCD
Otherwise, I just want it to be good enough I'm not pissed about the quality -- I'm not picky, but if e.g. games ghost horribly or something I might regret it.
I'm thinking of something like the 32" Vizio model Costco carries ($600 is near the top of my range, but probably worth it?). I might get that while I'm stewing over other options, because Costco being what it is I can always return it if I change my mind.
It sounds like you have already made up your mind. I am personally considering a 50" plasma. Size is one of the biggest factors when chosing between LCD and plasma.
Other differences include blackness, viewing angle, burn in, and what I'll call blurring.
Burn in was an issue on some plasma but that has supposedly been fixed on newer models.
LCD's apparently are not always able to keep up with image changes and can blur/pixelate.
Sometimes you'll notice LCDs my the same company with the same size and everything, but one is $600 more or however much. And the reason for that would be the lastest buzz phrase for HDTV: refresh rate. Refresh rate is important to look at, but apparently refresh rate is important now too. TVs with a refresh rate advertised at 120hz will prevent the blurring and pixelating that crdowner mentioned. I've only seen it advertised for larger sized LCDs, such as 46" inch and up, but it might also be something they are doing with smaller ones.
Something with 10,000:1 contrast ratio (blackness) will spit out a good picture for sure, but if you aren't picky, you can go with something less.
Most LCDs today have a viewing angle of 178 degrees, which is good if you plan on sitting beside your tv to watch .
If 32" is the biggest you can get, then you should be able to have no real problems carrying it yourself. You you plan to put it on a tv stand, or mount it on the wall? Mounting it will incur more cost for the mount, which is something to take into consideration when pricing out your TV
I think that you are on the right track with the 'Costco idea'. I recently purchased a Magnavox 52' that Costco had on sale for $1200. Although I could not be happier with my set, it is nice to know that for 90 days you can carry it back if you change your mind about it. It is hard to get a feeling for a TV looking online and demoing in the store...
Concerning weight, even at 52 inches, my set only weights 100lbs - though requires 2 people to pick up because it is an awkward 52 inches I agree with that eday2010 says: if you are getting a 32, you should have no problems handling it yourself.
Brightness, contrast ratio and response time are all things I would definitely take note of. The better you are able to get on these, the more likely it is that you will be happy in the end. What I always do is go to several stores that have models similar to what I think I want, write down the model numbers and look on AV forums online. This way you can get to know what other owners think about your potential set. If the set is a new model (as mine was) then you may be limited on the amount of info available, but in most cases you can get a good feel for the pros and cons of the set.
Concerning the watching shows from your laptop and connecting consoles to your set, I am sure this goes without saying, but make sure you have the connectors that you need or that you can easily/cheaply get the adapters that you need. I have my desktop, which I obtain videos with, connected from my DVI on one of my videocards (SLI) to HDMI on my TV via a DVI to HDMI adapter and an HDMI cable... with this I am able to get 1080P to my TV from my computer - which is AWESOME! You will want to find a tv with VGA, or find an adapter (ebay is where I get mine) that can allow you to connect a VGA to a supported input on your set - I actually have a VGA to S-Video for my notebook out. Also, with the video games, I can definitely recommend 1080P for the xbox 360 - I LOVE PLAYING HALO 3 @ 1080P.... Though, they do say that on less than a 36' set, most people will not be able to tell a difference between 720 and 1080... other than the difference in price that is...
Sale at costco:
If anybody cares, I got the Vizio set over the weekend, and so far I'm pretty happy with it. I've got my PS3 hooked up by HDMI, my 360 hooked up by component, and my laptop hooked up by the DSUB VGA port. The computer and PS3 pictures look great, and I haven't spent much time with the 360 but I expect good things there too. I got Uncharted to celebrate my purchase, and it looks *awesome*, especially in the cutscenes. I know it's not some mammoth 50+-inch plasma, but I'm still happy =-)