You can get the Panasonic at Costco and that is a damn good price. But, then you can pay sales tax, and then you can schlepp it over to your house if you have a pickup truck and so on. Even so - that is a damn good price. In that case I would probably get the Panasonic set as they are just excellent quality too. But, there is no difference in the Elite PQ. It just features a media server and some extra bells and whistles. The display is no better - you are just paying for stuff you probably don't really need with the elite/ big whoop. The point being no way the sets are priced 2-3 times higher now. They were when they first hit the market, but now a few generations and a recession (Depression?) later- and they are very competitively priced.
If you compare aples to apples e.g. a plain Kuro up against a Panny they are both excellent sets and of comparable price. I would take either. If I could get the Kuro for around 300 more than a Panny I would take it as I have used a Kuro at my brother in laws house ( a 60 inch one) and the black levels are second to none on this plasma.
I bought a 42" 720p Panny 5-6 years ago and the damn thing is like the day I put it in- excellent PQ. Wonderful set. I almost wish it would break so I could get a 60 inch 1080p.