Which Is Better for Netflix – PS3 or Xbox 360?

By now I’m sure you all have heard that Netflix streaming functionality is coming to the PS3 in the next month or so. This is good news for those who have a PS3 and no Xbox 360, but if you have both consoles, which one offers the better deal? What factors will go into your decision to use one console over the other for Netflix viewing? Ultimately, you have to answer that for yourself, because each person’s situation is different. But, to help you out, let’s break down the facts and look at each system specifically.

First, the Xbox 360 – this is the old reliable. Yes, laugh it up and say that “reliable” and “Xbox 360” in the same sentence is an oxymoron. But, as long as your Xbox 360 is working, the native Netflix application works wonderfully. In the last year or so, we’ve seen updates and improvements to the original incarnation of the service on Microsoft’s console. What was once an exercise in frustration has now become a rather smooth viewing experience, especially over an Internet connection that can handle the HD streams of modern television shows and movies reliably. There is one downside, however – you must have an Xbox Live Gold membership to use the Netflix service. This is in addition to the minimum of $8.99 you’re giving to Netflix for their least expensive monthly rate. So, that’s $50 a year and $9 per month on top of that. What it boils down to is asking yourself this question – are you getting your money’s worth?

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Speaking of the cost of Xbox Live – Netflix might be worth $50 to you, but is it worth $100?  Michael Pachter seems to think someday soon you’ll be shelling out a Benjamin every year for the service.  Why would our beloved Microsoft do such a thing, you might ask?  They have you hooked.  The Xbox 360 is so entrenched in many gamers’ lives that they will feel obligated to pay the $100 to continue the service.  Or, in layman speak, to keep up with the Joneses.  Although, with Microsoft’s video service, which will soon be streaming video in 1080p, they have another hook in our mouths.  If,  in fact, the service does go to $100 per year, will they add more services, perhaps even those to compete against Netflix?  Consider a full HD streaming service for all the movies and TV shows they have available today – which is more than is available to stream on Netflix.  Think of having access to all those streaming, anytime you want, included in your $100.  How does that sound?  When you’re considering which console to stream Netflix on, you might be well advised to consider future prospects, as well.

If you’re already paying for a Gold membership, and you play a lot of games online, then, for the time being, it will likely be worth it to stick to your 360, because you’re going to be paying that $50 a year whether you use Netflix a lot or not. But, if you don’t, perhaps a look at the PS3, assuming you have Sony’s console, might be advised.

That provides a nice segue into why the PS3 might be the better option if you have an issue paying $50 (or more, in the future?) every year for Netflix access – Netflix on your PS3 is only $8.99 per month. Period. There is no yearly fee for playing games over the PSN, like there is with Xbox Live, so Sony is, for all intents and purposes, providing a pipeline to feed Netflix streaming to you for no additional charge.  You may think that Xbox Live is the superior service, but, while that has been true in the past, that might not necessarily be true anymore.  Sony has been taking strides with the PSN and bringing it pretty darn close in quality to Xbox Live as of late.  More quality exclusive titles are also bringing more people to the PSN, which causes Sony to drop even more money into improving the service.

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The downside here is that the Netflix application will not run natively on the PS3, for whatever reason. (Read: Sony is probably too lazy to update the system’s firmware soon enough to support the Netflix app.) To that end, you will have to order a disc from Netflix and will have to have that disc in your PS3 whenever you want to watch something. The disc is free to all Netflix subscribers – for now. I expect them to begin charging for it at some point, but it shouldn’t be much.

There is also a ray of sunshine in this regard, if you feel that you’re too lazy to get up off the sofa to swap discs in your PS3 when you want to stop playing Uncharted 2 and watch 30 Rock instead.  Notice the wording from the official press release:

Initially, watching movies instantly streamed from Netflix via the PS3 system will be enabled by a free, instant streaming Blu-ray disc that is being made available to all Netflix members. The free instant streaming disc leverages Blu-ray’s BD-Live™ technology to access the Internet and activate the Netflix user interface on the PS3 system, which must be online via Wi-Fi or Ethernet.

This seems to imply that Netflix may be working with Sony to get the application integrated natively, much like its Xbox 360 cousin. The use of the word “initially” seems to me to imply that the disc is a stop-gap measure to bridge the gap between when Netflix wants to go live with the service and when Sony is able to build the functionality into the PS3’s firmware.

One last thing to consider is the fact that Netflix is pretty darn reliable on the Xbox 360, while its reliability is untested on the PS3 as of yet (sans internal testing, of course). If you’re looking for a smoother experience and worry about interruptions in viewing, perhaps the 360 is the route to go until you can test the PS3’s capabilities over your connection.

If you own both consoles, it’s a toss up as to which one to use as your primary Netflix viewing device. If you are going to subscribe to Xbox Live anyway, I would probably recommend that console for Netflix viewing, simply because the application runs natively on the Xbox 360, and who knows when Sony will get around to integrating it into the XMB on the PS3. Myself, I will probably continue to use my Xbox, however I’ve already pre-ordered a PS3 Netflix disc, as well, just to have it in case my 360 goes belly-up. If you are thinking of buying one or the other for Netflix, the above information will be useful in determining which is the best route to go.

Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of using each device for Netflix viewing purposes:

Xbox 360:
Pros: No extra software to run, Netflix runs natively ~ Has been tweaked over the last year to run smoothly on the console
Cons: You must have an Xbox Live Gold membership to use Netflix, which is roughly an additional $4 per month on top of the base Netflix charge of $8.99 per month.

PlayStation 3:
Pros: The PSN is free to use, and Sony is allowing the Netflix application to continue that tradition.
Cons: A disc is required to run Netflix on the system initially ~ Untested reliability

A word on the availability of titles: The exact same titles will be available on the PS3 as is currently available on the Xbox 360 and other streaming devices, so don’t worry about that. When Netflix gets the rights to stream any given show, they have the rights to do so on any device that they serve.

My final thought: The better deal, at face value, is obviously the PS3, even if you have to go through some extra hoops to watch that episode of Heroes that you missed last week. The final decision rests with you, however, and whichever one you feel suits the way you use your consoles.

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