If you thought Netflix going native on the PlayStation 3 simply meant you wouldn't have to spindle a disc, think again.
Sure, when Monday next week rolls around and a new PS3 update rolls out grafting Netflix to the XMB cross-menubar overlay, the disc Netflix employed to circumvent timed exclusivity with Microsoft becomes a coaster. But you'll also see a few features even the Xbox 360 version doesn't sport yet.
For starters, the PS3 version of Netflix will now support Dolby Digital Plus 5.1-channel surround sound for movies and TV shows streamed from the service. To be honest, I didn't realize that wasn't already an option because my 5.1 kit's in mothballs, but for those with pimped surround gear, your sonic bliss is here.
For videophiles, the visual quality's been upgraded a tick as well, allowing select movies to stream at 1080i, or 1920 x 1080 lines interlaced. Of course 720p rates better for video playback, since it renders frames in sequence and doesn't require anti-aliasing techniques to soften interline jitter. Why no holy 1080p grail? Because it requires twice the bandwidth of 1080i. Perhaps in 2011?
Update: It seems the original press release was in error. According to Sony's Greg Peters, amending an error on the official PlayStation blog, Netflix will in fact support 1080p streaming video next Monday after all. Celebrate good times then.
Miscellaneous tweaks include faster start times for movies, i.e. faster caching, and incrementally better subtitle and alternate audio track support for movies and TV shows.
But all of that's obviously in the offing for the Xbox 360. The most important discrete change to the PS3's take on Netflix involves its functionally overhauled and stylistically renovated interface. Check out Sony's promotional video below to see it in action. It looks nothing like the clunky barebones spread you've been using, and smartly builds on the XMB's intuitive "text menus on the left, browsable pictures on the right" architecture.
The best version of Netflix as of October 18? On the PlayStation 3, obviously.
For how long? We'll see.