There are always things I know before others that I can’t share until someone else does. (rules suck) Ars technica did an article that only sratched the surface of the differences in video quality between the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Microsoft learned a lot of lessons from its first console experience, and its second gen console shows the benefits of that experience. X-box was plagued with issues for HD TV owners. Playing a game that only supported 480i on my Samsung meant I needed the Component cables in a different input than a game that supported 720p. This resulted in me putting a Y connector on my cables so that I didn’t have to swap cables just select a different input. Microsoft learned its lesson and fixed this for 360 with the introduction of an inexpensive hardware scaler “ANA”. Ana is not an amazing piece of tech, it is quite litterally just a resizer, it takes an image at 1280×720, or 1920×1080, or 1920×540 and sizes it to what ever the output resolution is. ( I don’t know how 4:3 vs 16:9 is handled by games )
By doing this scaling Xbox 360 ensures compatibility with all displays, which is good, but it also means your TV is not trying to “Fix” the image. Normally a TV has to convert a signal to its native resolution, because it is optimized for “Real life” images it quite often compensates for the softness of scaling by then applying a sharpen and denoise filter. Rendered images don’t have noise, and tend to already have sharp edges, so the TV’s Scalar only serves to fuzz up the image.
This is the primary reason I use the VGA cable for the 360. My TV doesn’t try to enhance VGA images it just displays them.
PS3 has no hardware scalar. This means games have to either support the Mode the Display is in, or the display has to support the mode the game is in. If we all had beautiful CRT’s that operate at 1080p this would work great. But we don’t. If you have an inexpensive LCD you quite likely have a display with an odd resoltuion 1366×768 or some other odd size, which would be supported by the 360 on its VGA cable, but the PS3 is always going to go through scaling.
Wii since we are talking… Doesn’t do HD, so it doesn’t have to deal with these issues.
PC’s have video cards that cost nearly what an Xbox 360 costs, and they just render at what ever resolution you want. The Problem with this on a console, is often you don’t want to use the full resolution you might be asked to… 1920x1080p 60 is a lot of pixels, and rendering all of those for a game like Ninety Nine Nights is likely overkill as you will likely appreciate more polygons, and better textures more than you will the reduced jaggies that 1080p would offer compared to 720p which would have less than half the pixels (1/2.25).
If I could get my hands on a PS3 for more than a few minutes I’d do some quantitaive analysis, comparing Black levels, and Dyanmic range, and find a game like Call of Duty 3 and do some image comparison between the two, but currently I don’t have a PS3 at my disposal, but if anyone wants to send me one…
Oh, and lastly the HDMI question… VGA vs. HDMI, is only a matter of noise in the signal path. HDMI is digital and noise Free, VGA is not. My experience has been that the noise in the dispaly itself masks any difference between HDMI and VGA on anything but an LCD, and on an LCD I sometimes welcome a small amount of noise as it takes the Edge off of the Banding that often occurs in 3D Rendered images. For HD-DVD playback of something shot on HD or entirely mastered digitally I might prefer the HDMI but I don’t have much content like that, so the VGA is prefable to me because it supports odd resolutions as mentioned before, while HDMi is limited to 1080p,1080i, 720p, and 480p.