This is my 2 cents on this topic. As I am building an HT room, I have been researching a lot of TV's LCD & Plasma. One salesman whom is a friend told me that if I was buying an LCD TV, look at the 3 "S" brands, as they are the best (Sony,Samsung,Sharp) for LCD. If looking at Plasma, look at the Panasonic, Pioneer, and Samsung, as Samsung has made some recent advances.
I personally own a Hitachi 42" Ultravision Plasma (2 years old), and even though the blacks were not rated the best, and it had some other quirks, noted by the reviewers, I have had no problems with this TV and the picture quality is great.
Reviews are good to rule out inferior brands, as reviews are very critical, but it always comes down to your perception on the picture quality.
Hope I have not muddied the water's even more.