September 8, 2009

360 vs PS3 - Which Offers a Better Home Theater Experience?

Troy Benedict Says Welcome to part two of my comparison of the Xbox 360 Elite and the PlayStation 3. This article will focus on which system offers the optimal home theater experience.

I will briefly go over the structure of this series. During the comparison I will first look at the simple facts of each category and pass a judgment based only on the facts. I will then take a deeper look at each system's strengths and weaknesses in each category. For example, I will offer a counter-point in some instances or discuss any hidden fees or required accessories that aren't mentioned in the simple facts.

Most people might immediately think that the PlayStation 3 is the better deal, simply for Blu-ray. But is it really? Simple Facts:
  • The PS3 and Xbox 360 can play CD and DVD format discs.
  • Both can be easily set up to stream video over a home network, from a Windows-based PC running Windows Media Player 11.
  • Both can output resolutions of up to 1080p.
  • Both systems have standard and high-definition television and movie content that can be "rented" from their respective online video service. Each video services has some exclusive content only viewable on that console.
  • Only the PS3 has the option to buy and own select digital movies from its online video service.
  • Only the PS3 can play high definition Blu-ray discs.
  • The Xbox 360 can play HD-DVD formatted discs by using the official HD-DVD drive, however the HD-DVD format is no longer supported.
  • On average, Blu-ray titles are significantly more expensive than the DVD version.
  • Both systems have one HDMI port.
  • Only the PS3 has an optical digital output port.
  • Both systems come packaged with standard definition cables. HDMI or component cables require additional purchases.
  • The Xbox 360 has Netflix integration, but requires a Gold membership and a Netflix account to use.

Judgment: Blu-ray is a really good selling point for the PlayStation 3. However, you're not going to experience the benefits of Blu-ray unless you have an HD television and either an HDMI or component cable.

On standard definition television, using the included composite cables, both systems are equal.

However, on high definition televisions, the PlayStation 3 is the better deal, hands down.

Deeper Look: Both the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are capable of high resolution graphics and video, but neither system comes packed with the required cables. The non-Arcade versions of the Xbox 360 used to come packaged with a set of component cables, but this is no longer the case with the new Xbox 360 Elite packages. I find it a little more forgiving for the Xbox 360 not to come packaged with any HD cable, simply because it doesn't have a high-definition disc drive. The PlayStation 3, however, because of it's Blu-ray functionality should, in my opinion, come packaged with at least a set of component cables. Essentially, some additional costs are required for high-definition, regardless of which system you own.

It is a fact that only the PlayStation 3 can play high-definition Blu-ray discs out-of-the-box. But is it also a fact that both the 360 and PS3 systems can play DVDs, and both can upscale DVDs to 1080p (but the end product isn’t as crisp and clear as true high-def, as should be expected). DVD is still the most popular and accessible video disc format, despite what popular online retailer's top-ten lists may say. Most popular movies will see a Blu-ray release, but not all content released on video will make it to Blu-ray. Standalone Blu-ray movie releases are typically $10 more than the DVD equivalent, and are $20-30, if not significantly more, for boxed sets.

The Xbox and PlayStation offer premium video content in both standard and high definition versions. Both systems have exclusive movies and television series that can only be watched on the respective system. Typically, rentals run no more than $6. The PlayStation store allows users to purchase and own select movies for around $15. Some titles are available for cheaper. The Xbox 360 does not offer a download-to-own services for movies.

The Xbox gold members with Netflix accounts can watch any available Netflix Instant Watch movies or television series. An annual subscription for a gold membership is $50 and the cheapest Netflix membership runs about $10 per month.

The Netflix Instant Watch began as an option for Netflix members to watch a movie instantly from their computer’s web browser, and has grown to integrate itself with other hardware systems, namely the Xbox 360.

The Netflix integration was included with last year's major update to the Xbox 360 dashboard, nicknamed The NXE (New Xbox Experience). Since then, the available video catalog has grown tremendously and the functionality of Netflix on the Xbox has improved greatly.

Entire seasons of television shows and a larger selection of movies are available to watch in HD through the Instant Watch. Improvements to the streaming service, included with this year's most recent update, load movies much faster than they ever have, and even those who have slower broadband connections, now claim to be able to watch HD content without issue.

While the selection of quality titles and variety of available HD-content via Netflix Instant Watch is impressive, only a very small percentage of popular titles are actually available in this format. As I write this article, only 4 titles of Netflix's Top 100 list are available to watch through Instant Watch. 4%, no matter how you spin it, is a VERY low percentage.

I truly and honestly think that that digital distribution is going to be the way of the future, but it’s going to take time. One only needs to look to music distribution services like iTunes, Zune, and Amazon to see how viable this option is. Xbox and PlayStation both have a tremendous library of games available only for download, and both have an ever increasing catalog of video on-demand content from their respective video stores, both in standard and high-definition. With digital content, one doesn't need to have a Blu-ray or HD-DVD drive to watch high-definition content, but we're not quite to that point where everybody is on board with this idea. Disc-based formats, especially for games and movies, is still a very popular and preferred option.

Netflix for the Xbox can be a huge rival to the blu-ray HD exclusiveness of the PS3, but it's going to take some time. The availability of HD content is slim, and only a very small percentage of the current popular titles, are available through the Instant Watch.

Chances are, if you have a PlayStation 3, you probably also have a Netflix subscription to take advantage of their available Blu-ray library. Netflix offers Blu-ray discs as part of its rental service, and more than 85 of the Top 100 movies are available in Blu-ray.

Even though Blu-ray is more expensive, the costs are becoming more reasonable, and it's obvious that the format is gaining popularity. No matter which system you go with for your home theater experience, you are going to have to spend some money.

If you're looking for the best high-definition home theater experience, you're going to need a high-defintion television. The best and easiest HD experience comes with the PlayStation 3.

While Netflix's Instant Watch might make for a pleasant experience for some movies and television series, until it offers more popular titles, in high-definition, the PlayStation 3 and Blu-ray will have the upper hand.

These are reasons why the PlayStation 3 is the best option for your home theater experience.

Next up on the pound-for-pound comparison of the Xbox 360 and PS3 is: which one has the better game library?