We reviewed last year’s 8000 series plasma, and you can read that here:
I understand your problem—you want the best picture, but you don’t need all the bonus stuff that comes with the premium models. The trouble is that companies put all the bells and whistles on their top line products, so it’s difficult to get a bare-bones TV that still includes the best picture feature elements. A few companies that focus on the custom install market do that—Runco and NuVision are two.
On the other hand, those bells and whistle features aren’t really adding a lot to the cost of the television. They’re mostly firmware/software issues (exept for things like built-in wi-fi). The real cost comes from the quality of the TV panel.
Regarding contrast—you’re quoting dynamic contrast ratio, which is almost a made-up, or at least, unimportant number. Dynamic contrast is a feature you want to turn off anyway, so don’t rely on that as a guide. If you’re not going to get the TV professionally calibrated, then put it in movie or theater mode (manufactures give it different names) and use a setup disc like Avia or Video Essentials to set the main contrast, sharpness, color and tint controls.
Aside from the Dynamic contrast number, it appears the main differences between the two models you mention are cosmetic. Go to a showroom where you can view the same content side-by-side with the TVs set in their movie and see what you like.
Also, don’t knock some of those online apps features until you try them. Netfilx, Pandora and others can be very useful.