Once you actually get into the Netflix service, this is where the first true difference between the PS3 and 360 show up. While the basics of the interfaces (viewing titles and info, adding or removing from queue, rating videos, etc) are virtually identical in what they do, the way they are presented to the user shows the maturity of each version. Because the Xbox 360 Netflix interface has been around longer, Microsoft has had the chance to launch and improve upon it significantly. As a result, they have incorporated avatars into it and present it with a much sleeker look than the PS3 version. The design is also easier to navigate, with all of your titles and their information always visible while the PS3 has several sub menus that are not clearly marked. Once you figure out that they are there, then it isn’t too big of a deal, although your information for each title is displayed on separate menus and cannot be viewed all at once.
While the Xbox 360 interface is without a doubt easier to get to and much more refined, it really doesn’t do much differently than what the PS3 disc based version offers you. The only significant selling point the way both versions are currently is the Party viewing system on the 360. However, it does require a gold membership level to enjoy this feature and some people simply aren’t willing to pay $50 a year to watch a movie with someone that isn’t sitting next to them. I personally haven’t used it and do not see a ton of appeal to it, but I can see the benefits to users that have grown up in the social networking world we live in now.
The last comparison is the quality of the images that the two devices are outputting to your TV. These of course can vary, based on whether your console has an HDMI output, the quality and type of your cables and what kind of TV that you are using. I had seen some chatter from people that the PS3 version didn’t look as good as the 360 (these came from a decidedly 360 crowd, so take it for what its worth) but in a controlled environment with identical setups, both consoles streamed HD and SD content that looked really good and without any noticeable differences in my testing.
There are a few other differences that are not related to the interface, picture quality or load times. The foremost of which has been the amount of discussion regarding the “price difference” between the two. Because the Xbox 360 Netflix cannot be accessed unless you have an Xbox Live Gold Account and the PS3 Instant Streaming Disc is free, the Microsoft version has been criticizes for costing $50 a year. While this is accurate, it does not take into account that the $50 also covers the entire XBL service, including multiplayer as well as creating a robust and smooth Netflix interface and subsidizing the cost and development of the upcoming services such like the Facebook and Twitter integration. Unfortunately, I think the cost thing gets blurred when trying to compare the two services. While the Xbox Live Gold Membership cost cannot be ignored, I do not believe it is as big a deal as some are making it out to be, because those individuals that are most likely to have a Netflix subscription probably subscribe to a gold XBL account. When you also factor in that many higher end TVs, most Blu-Ray players and any PC can also interface with Netflix, those that choose not to pay for a Gold XBL account are not being shut out. However, free is free, and PS3 owners can put that feather in their cap even if their version of the service isn’t quite as refined as the Xbox 360 version is.
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