As we're looking at getting HC and Operations runs going, I figured I'd do a little research into them (available gear, how well geared you need to be to attempt stuff etc). Unfortunately, most of the information is pretty scattered (I couldn't find a "So, you just dinged 50" type guide that I could just link to), but I've had a good poke around various places during my lunch the last couple of days, and I think I've got it pretty much all straight. So, for anyone interested in venturing into endgame with us, but who doesn't really know the details, here it all is.
Gear levels for starting off HCs are not too taxing. Everything I've read says you'll be fine in orange modable stuff as long as you've got a nice selection of mods from the daily quest vendors and daily heroics. You don't need to have every armour and mod slot filled with the epic mods from the dailies, but you should have a fair few. The reason you don't need to worry about having every slot filled with a purple is that these mods are equivalent to the gear from ops, so balance out with the regular mods you'll probably already have from Corellia to give you HC ready stuff (if you don't, go finish Corellia, spend commendations on mods). If you're not decked out in orange, or don't have any patience for dailies, you'll need a nice set of blues from Battle of Illum, False Emperor, Directive 7 and Kaon Under Siege (Directive 7 seems to be counted as a lvl 50 flashpoint in terms of difficulty and drops, even though officially it shows up as 49).
Endgame gear comes in 3 flavours, Tionese, Columi and Rakata. Tionese and Columi gear comes from HCs and normal mode operations, Columi and Rakata comes from hardcore mode ops, and nightmare mode ops drop Rakata exclusively. One of the great things about the gear sets is that the set bonuses are constant across all 3, so you don't sacrifice bonuses as you upgrade (i.e. you've got the 4 piece bonus from Tionese gear, you retain it even if you upgrade an item for Columi). You also gain Tionese and Columi commendations for completing the daily and weekly flashpoint quests. The commendations work like any others, the vendors are on Imperial Fleet. 3 items of Rakata gear (earpieces and impalnts) are available with daily commendations at 120 commendations a piece. You'll want to pick these up as soon as you can. You also want to make sure you get a crystal from one of the vendors at Imperial Fleet. If you pre-ordered, there are now lvl 50 Black-Yellow crystals at the pre-order vendor. They're 250k a pop, but there are multiple flavours granting +41 to a chosen stat, which makes them the best crystals in the game. For those who didn't pre-order, the new colour crystal vendor at Imperial Fleet sells various colours of crystal, which are better than anything you'll find outside of ops by the look of it.
The heroic flashpoints in order of difficulty are:
Battle of Illum
Directive 7 and The Foundry apparently have quite easy final bosses (The Foundry is supposed to be the easiest final fight), but Bulwark and HK-47 respectively are supposed to be very tough fights. Bulwark is a DPS race, whereas HK-47 is still buggy as hell and often triggers his "you screwed up" abilities even if you do everything right. There appears to be a lot of frustration about this, people are having a very hard time determining if they're doing it wrong or if they just keep getting ganked by bugs. There's a lot of advice for how to best manage the fight to minimise occurrences, but we'll worry about that when we get there.
The final boss in each drops 1 token for a piece of Columi gear. The token is class specific, and allows the purchase of a specific item (boots, gloves etc) from the Columi vendor at Imperial Fleet. Each class has a choice of items each tailored for different roles. Each item has a single mod slot, and apparently they're sub-optimal. What is recommended is that you choose the item you take off its base stats without the mod, then use any duplicate tokens you pick up to buy gear with a better mod which you can strip out. The drops are as follows:
Black Talon: Bracers
Boarding Party: Gloves
False Emperor: Chest
Battle of Illum: Offhand
Directive 7: Leggings
The Foundry: Boots
In addition, some bosses drop a piece of Tionese gear (note, a piece of gear in this case, not a token):
Black Talon 1st boss: Belt
The Foundry, HK-47: Primary (everywhere calls it this, I'm not sure what it means, I'm assuming main hand weapon)
False Emperor, Sith Entity: Implant
Directive 7, Interrogator: Bracers
I haven't included anything about PvP, but apparently doing your dailies and weeklies for the champion bags is also a good way to go. Champion gear is supposed to be at least as good as the Tionese stuff for PvE effectiveness (some people are putting it slightly below Columi), so it'll serve you well in HCs and ops if you've got it while you wait for Columi tokens to drop.
All the HCs drop good gear in addition to the endgame stuff, so they're worth running even if you're not able to finish. You don't get locked out for the day until you down the last boss, so if, for example, you fancy getting everyone in the group a nice Tionese belt, you can just farm the first boss in Black Talon by resetting after each kill.
Normal mode operations are supposed to be no harder than the heroic flashpoints. Current advice is to stick with 8 mans, as the 16's are supposed to be far harder even though they only drop the same stuff (just double the amount). This is not intentional, and Bioware say they're working on it, but right now 8 is the way to go. Most people's recommendation seems to be, if you've got a bit of heroic experience under your belt and you have the numbers, give them a bash. Apparently heroic and nightmare ops are totally broken (in that they're supposed to drop Rakata gear, but don't), but hopefully they'll have that fixed before we're at that stage. It's pretty criminal they've left something that bad go on for so long anyway so I can't believe it's not a top of the list bug, must be hurting them pretty bad with the hardcore crowd.
That's that then. Hope to see some bodies online to get us rolling.