Hands-on: Netflix streaming on the PS3

CNET takes a hands-on look at Netflix streaming on the PS3, and compares with Netflix streaming available on other devices.

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
3 min read
Finally: Netflix on the PS3.
Finally: Netflix on the PS3. Matthew Moskovciak/CNET

The PS3 has picked up a lot of momentum as of late (thanks to price cuts, PS3 Slim, Uncharted 2), and the addition of Netflix streaming is the most recent blow in the feature-war against the Xbox 360. While Netflix streaming is nearly identical on most devices that support it, there are some significant differences with the PS3 that make it worth testing.

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Unlike Netflix streaming on other devices, the PS3 requires the Netflix Streaming Disc for PS3. That means you'll need to request a disc from Netflix and it will come in the mail like a standard Netflix movie. It doesn't count against your allotment of movies allowed out and you never need to return the disc. The disc uses Blu-ray's BD-Live functionality to enable streaming, and this is by far the best use of BD-Live we've seen so far.

Once you insert the Netflix Streaming Disc, it shows up in the XMB in the video section. Select Netflix from the XMB and the experience is largely identical to streaming Netflix on other devices, with a few new features.

The main interface shows you the cover art of the movies in your instant queue, arranged horizontally. If you select a movie, it will show a screen with more detailed information, a summary of the plot, and a star rating. You're also able to scroll horizontally within the more detailed view, without having to return to the main screen. If you stop watching a movie, you're able to resume where you left off or start again from the beginning.

The step-up over standard streaming Netflix devices are the tabs at the top of the interface. With other devices, like the Roku Digital Video Player, you're only able to access movies that you've added to your Instant Queue using a PC. On the PS3, you're given some additional tabs that allow you to browse new arrivals, movies Netflix thinks you'll like, and categories you use often. That's not quite as good as the Xbox 360's Netflix interface, which allows you to add new titles to your instant queue without using a PC, but it's a welcome addition to the basic Netflix streaming available on other devices.

While we've seen some reports that the image quality of streaming Netflix isn't quite as good as it is on the Xbox 360, we didn't notice any significant quality drop-offs in our testing. In our experience, the image quality of streaming Netflix movies is basically identical across devices. We've commented extensively on the image quality in previous hands-on reports, but the main takeaway is that the content labeled "HD" is nearly DVD quality. The other content is watchable, but videophiles will definitely notice plenty of compression artifacts.

The major frustration with Netflix on the PS3 is that you need to insert the special disc to use the service. That's not the case with Netflix streaming on any other device so far and couch potatoes will complain about that extra trip to the PS3 every time they want to stream a movie.

That being said, we're willing to live with the compromise. As we understand it, the use of a disc is simply a workaround for Netflix's prior agreement with Microsoft to be the only game console with Netflix streaming as part of the software. In that case, we definitely prefer having this optional workaround to no streaming at all. (It appears that Microsoft's exclusivity deal ends in late 2010, at which time Sony can properly integrate Netflix into the software, so you won't need the disc.)

It's also worth pointing out that there's no additional cost (beyond a Netflix subscription) to use Netflix on the PS3; Xbox 360 owners need to have an Xbox Gold Live subscription, which goes for $50 a year.