October 15, 2010, 8:00 AM — Yesterday brought some good news to US Playstation 3 owners who are also Netflix customers. First, the rumors of the Netflix disk going away were true and next week we'll be able to download a Netflix app that will sit in the Video column of the XMB. It is generally accepted (though as far as I know, never proven) that Microsoft bought a year of Netflix exclusivity that up to now has prevented Sony (and Nintendo) from offering Netflix directly. The deal apparently had a loophole that allowed the functionality to be delivered via disk.
So that's good news, but even better was the news that the new PS3 version of Netflix would support Dolby 5.1 surround sound as well as content streaming resolutions up to 1080P (Sony first reported 1080i, but later updated that to 1080P). Now it only remains to be seen what percentage of Netflix's content supports these features, but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth; after all it isn't going to cost us any more than it does now (beyond the very reasonable $9 or so that Netflix charges). The PS3 is the first Netflix-capable device to support Dolby 5.1, but don't expect it to stay exclusive to the PS3. Netflix continues to improve the streaming experience across all devices.
So that's the news from yesterday but I can't help but fan the Xbox 360 vs PS3 flamewars a bit. A lot of coverage talked about how the PS3 is over-taking the Xbox in terms of offering a better Netflix experience. I suggest that even before this update, the PS3 was the better vehicle for watching Netflix, at least for some of us. This fall the Xbox will offer a dashboard update that adds search functionality to Netflix on the Xbox. This update led Microsoft's Mark Whitten to say "We are also adding Netflix search to existing features like movie parties to ensure Xbox LIVE continues to be the best way to enjoy Netflix." All well and good, but the PS3 has had the same search feature since last June.
The Xbox 360, as of right now, has the benefit of not requiring a disk, and having that strange "party option" (where you form a party with your Xbox Live friends and sit your avatars in a virtual room and watch Netflix on a screen-within-a-screen while chatting with said friends). This last seems more of a gimmick to me, but then I'm the guy who's always hushing people who talk during a movie anyway. The PS3, as of right now, does require a disk and doesn't have the party option, but it does have search, and to me that's huge – a much bigger deal than having to insert a disk or being able to listen to distant friends chomp on popcorn via a headset. Microsoft also seems to agree that search is huge, from the way they're promoting it for their fall update.
So for me, even before the next round of updates I prefer the PS3 Netflix experience to the Xbox one. (Though in truth I generally turn to the totally silent Roku over either of the consoles with their cooling fans.) And after next week the PS3 will clearly be superior, at least until Microsoft adds surround sound and 1080P to their Netflix experience; hopefully we won't have to wait for the next Dashboard update for these new features. In fact maybe Microsoft will manage to get this into the upcoming fall update, though I suppose if that were the case we would've heard about it by now.
If you're not in the US none of this matters, but there's some news for UK PS3 owners too. According to a post at VentureBeat the Playstation 3 will soon get Lovefilm support in the UK. I'm not familiar with Lovefilm but VB calls it "European Netflix." You can get more details on the Lovefilm site.
Here's a quick video talking more about the Netflix on PS3 experience, courtesy of the Playstation blog. On Page 2 you'll find a press release talking about Netflix's partnership with Dolby.