November 8, 2010
New Xbox Live Update: Reviewed!
It’s a pretty well-known in the video game world that Microsoft releases a relatively big Xbox Live update each fall. (For those uninitiated, Xbox Live is the online network that let’s Xbox 360 users play games together from anywhere in the world, purchase, rent and watch movies and music, and more.) This year has been no different, as Microsoft released their Fall Update last week, introducing some new tweaks to the user interface, as well as some nice new features that most users will probably appreciate. From ESPN3 to Netflix’s new abilities, Kinect connectivity to Windows Phone 7 integration, we’ve got it all here for you, so read on to see what we think!
The New User Interface!
The first thing you’ll notice after updating your Xbox (which is required in order to use Xbox Live once the update hits your system) is the refreshingly clean and simple interface. While basically every part of the system’s UI has been tweaked, including Last.FM and Zune, the most significant changes were made to the Xbox 360′s Dashboard. The “blades” on the dashboard are now super simple with a green and white color scheme. The simple new looks is way easier on the eyes than that of the old, and makes it look way more modern as well. In addition to the new look, the Dashboard’s interface is now also snappier. One of my biggest gripes with the Xbox 360 Dashboard has always been its speed, and I’d be lying if I said all my concerns were gone, but it is a little quicker overall, which never hurts.
Netflix Gets an Upgrade
Netflix on the Xbox 360 has been a major selling point for the 360. While all the other major video game platforms have it now as well, it was first to the game, and got a decent advantage because of it. Netflix on the Xbox offers anyone with a Netflix subscription the ability to stream hundreds of titles right to their TV, instantly. For many people, the presence of Netflix on their Xbox significantly changed the way they watched movies in their living room. Since its release though, Netflix’s features have been relatively stagnant, and its always been missing one major feature: search!
Until now, if you wanted to watch something specific, you had to go on your computer and add it to your Instant Queue, which would then be available on your Xbox. Now though, you can search right from your couch for whatever specific movie you’re in the mood to watch. In addition, Netflix saw some of the same speed and simplicity updates that the platform got basically across the board, making it much more convenient and usable today than it was this time last week.
While some will probably never use ESPN3 on the Xbox 360, some (like myself) will find ESPN3 as a welcome addition to their living room. For anyone who is a) a sports nut or b) has dumped cable will likely love ESPN3. It’s a great addition to the XBL Dashboard, adding a nice bit of extra (and free!) content to the system. The biggest problem that I see with it is that it needs way more content. Without more games, or at least Sports Center or something, it’s going to be tough for ESPN3 to really gain traction. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, in fact I think its pretty likely that they will end up adding more and more content (maybe even exclusive clips and shorts) in the future, I just know that without content, many really great ideas have failed.
From video games to video chat, Kinect is Microsoft’s big bet on the Xbox 360′s future. In a Wii-competing move, Microsoft has introduced Kinect (a play on kinetic, or the energy of a moving object) to get you off the couch. One of Kinect’s main features is its high-tech capabilities, allowing you to interact with your Xbox without even holding a controller (even if it is the brand new one!). In addition to playing games with your entire body, you can even control things like your Dashboard and DVD or music playback with just the flick of your hand, or even your voice.
One place I hope Microsoft really takes advantage of Kinect’s technology is video chat. It’s been made clear that there will be some iteration of video chat on the platform, but if done right, this could really be an idea that brings the living room into the future many of us have been waiting for. The option to call a friend or family member for a live video chat on your 40″ flat screen is really appealing to a large segment of the population, and would give Microsoft one more strength in the living room. (And with the so-far failure of Apple’s FaceTime platform, they appear to be in good position so far.)
(For more on motion sensor gaming see our PlayStation Move overview here.)
Windows Phone 7 Integration
One part of the new Xbox software that’s usefulness remains to be seen is its integration with Windows Phone 7 devices. In theory, and I’m sure in practice, these are really cool features. But basically no one has a WP7 device yet, it we don’t yet know if they’ll be good, or worth buying at all. Assuming that they are good though, there are some cool ideas in play. First are Xbox Live Extras for WP7. These allow you to do thinks like view profiles, game libraries and more on the go. On top of those abilities, you can see what friends are doing online, read messages you’ve received on Live, and invite friends to play in WP7 games with you, just like if you were on Xbox Live. Lastly, even the little things like avatars and the ability to edit them, as well as achievements go with you. And WP7 games with achievements will even add into your GamerScore, so game on the go to add to your bragging rights!
The New Xbox.com